Community leaders advocate for strategic planning

As new growth explodes in Manatee County, community leaders are calling for strategic planning to prepare for future development.

A panel of community officials presented their case to a packed house at Thursday’s Tiger Bay Club luncheon, where they discussed strategies for managing the rapid population boom in Manatee County.

County Commissioner George Kruse said Manatee has taken a reactive approach to managing rapid population increases over the past decade. He wants to be more proactive.

“Manatee County has not grown and is not growing strategically,” Kruse said.

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He said more than 25,000 new residents have moved to Manatee in the past three years.

“You can have your perspective on it, but you have to understand your reality,” he said. “We’re the sixth fastest growing county in the state of Florida…We’re outpacing all of our neighbors like Sarasota, which used to grow faster than us, and now everyone is moving here.”

Kruse is advocating for comprehensive updates to the county’s comprehensive plan to encourage greater density in urban areas like downtown Bradenton and Palmetto, where housing is needed for local employment centers.

“We need to start looking at how we want to structure Manatee County in the future and change the compensation plan now to encourage development where we as a community think is best for us today” , Kruse said.

Affordable housing in need

Community advocate Glen Gibellina was part of a group of 4 panelists who spoke at Thursday's Tiger Bay Club luncheon about the need for strategic growth in the face of Manatee County's population boom.

Community advocate Glenn Gibellina offered strategies to keep Manatee homes affordable for residents.

He currently serves on the Manatee County Affordable Housing Advisory Council and is CEO of Uncontained 360, a company that offers entry-level homes and secondary suites made from shipping containers.

“Sometimes growth can be painful for people, but painful growth for our community is housing for the workforce,” he said. “If we started today, we would still be 20 years behind the development of workforce housing.”

Gibellina said the county is about 50,000 short rentals and labor houses. He advocates for more vertical construction in the county’s urban core and for using impact fees to create an affordable housing trust fund.

“When our first responders, teachers, junior executives, and certainly the hotel and hospitality industry can’t afford to live in the community they serve, we have a problem,” he said.

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‘Eagles, scrub jays, bobcats’

Meredith Barcomb, representing POWER, was part of a group of 4 panelists who spoke at Thursday's Tiger Bay Club luncheon about the need for strategic growth in the face of Manatee County's population boom.

Meredith Barcomb, who represents Preserve Our Wildlife Environment and Resources, spoke about the risks the development brings to the local environment as home building progresses east in Manatee. She also echoed the need for more affordable housing.

Barcomb advocated for the preservation of the County Urban Boundary Line, which was established as part of the Manatee Comprehensive Plan in 1989 and intended to remain in place until 2040. The line represents the furthest distance is that the county plans to provide services like water and sewer. and is a means of preventing urban sprawl from spreading eastward into predominantly agricultural areas.

“Our rural way of life may very well become suburban,” Barcomb said.

“If you live in Bradenton or on the island, you already know how hard it is to navigate the ridiculous traffic jams,” Barcomb said. “Why would you come to East County and create this problem for us? We are home to Florida panthers, bald eagles, scrub jays, bobcats, gopher turtles and hundreds of other creatures amazing.”

“Maybe it’s time to focus on our downtown core, the areas surrounding downtown Bradenton and focus on the affordable housing needed by low-income families,” Barcomb said. “We don’t need more Lakewood Ranch…we need more affordable housing.”

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