The developer can have residential uses, not commercial, at major intersection

MANATEE COUNTY — Despite the objections by the developer of the Tara golf course community, the Manatee County Commission on Thursday unanimously agreed to permit homes and residential-support uses — such as a church or day care center — rather than commercial zoning at the busy southwest corner of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70.

Several Tara homeowners spoke in favor of the decision, even though they would prefer that nothing be built on the heavily wooded 3.3 acres that buffer wetlands.

The commissioners hope that, by allowing some use of the property, they can settle a lawsuit that Lake Lincoln, the developer, filed in 2012 when the board denied its request for commercial zoning.

No representative of Lake Lincoln spoke at the public hearing. Previously, Patricia Pertruff, an attorney for Lake Lincoln, complained to commissioners that commercial uses are on the other three corners of that prominent intersection and the site is too close to noisy traffic for residential development.

Robert Lincoln, an attorney representing the Tara Master Association, called the commission’s decision to allow residential zoning “a viable compromise” and “a defensible decision.”

Lincoln noted that residential development is already allowed at intersections of other thoroughfares such as University Parkway.

Several Tara residents urged commissioners to adopt the proposed zoning ordinance and development order amendment.

“I hope we can finally put this to rest,” Janet Reardon said of the ongoing dispute.

“It seems like a reasonable compromise,” Mario Del Vicario said.

Speaking for many of her neighbors, Cathy Woolley reminded commissioners that Lake Lincoln got its rights for commercial development at that corner transferred to the other side of Tara Boulevard for construction of a bank and to a site to the west on S.R. 70 for a Taco Bell. It did so to avoid impacting the wetlands, she noted.

John Lane, also a Tara resident, accused Lake Lincoln of “a betrayal of trust” for wanting to build in what homebuyers presumed would remain “a conservation area.”

The county-initiated change affects the nearly 40-year-old development plan for Tara, a 1,124-acre golf course community southwest of the Interstate 75 and S.R. 70 interchange.

In June 2017, to avoid paying possibly $3.5 million to $4 million in damages, a County Commission majority accepted attorneys’ advice to settle the litigation by allowing a commercial use.

However, when the settlement came before Circuit Court Judge Lon Arend, homeowner associations from Tara intervened in the lawsuit to express their opposition.

Because of the county’s previous position, which claimed a commercial use would violate the county’s comprehensive land-use plan and land development code, Arend sent the settlement back to the commission to address whether those conflicts are still an issue.

Earlier this year, a capacity crowd of Tara residents filled all 150 seats in commission chambers and overflowed into an upstairs conference room to watch the proceedings on monitors to show their opposition to commercial development on the property.

A majority of county commissioners then decided to at least allow residential and residential-related uses on the property.