Residents oppose a development project that tears down a darling Old Florida-style jungle to make way for 70 new homes.
Several neighbors hit the corner of 60th Avenue East and 29th Street East on Friday, where developer Pulte Homes plans to go ahead with a housing project. The County Manatee Commissioners Council is expected to vote on the proposal at a public meeting on Thursday.
Residents fear the development will destroy much of what is described as “dense jungle”. Protecting the existing wildlife in this 18.75-acre stretch of land is the main concern of protesters, who believe at least one endangered Florida panther inhabit the area.
“I’m not against development, but it’s special ground,” said Katherine Nelson, a resident of the Oakley Place subdivision to the north.
“It’s for real. There is a panther in there. We are trying to mobilize because it would be a tragedy to destroy this region. I hope the community or the state will buy this land and turn it into a wildlife sanctuary, ”said John Nelson, Katherine’s husband.
Naylor Environmental Solutions, an environmental permitting company, conducted a site survey in March 2020 that found no evidence of federally or state protected species.
Wildlife experts estimate that fewer than 200 adult Florida panthers are alive today. The endangered species is more common in southern Florida, closer to the Everglades.
According to an interactive map, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has only verified a handful of sightings of Florida panthers in Manatee County since 2014. All four were at least 20 miles east, in undeveloped parts of the county.
But panthers are hard to spot and even harder to capture in a photo. Producing evidence for their sightings is an uphill battle, neighbors say. In a letter to the commissioners, Lisa Brave, who describes herself as a wildlife specialist, testified that she herself spotted a Florida panther.
“… I was so shocked to see an endangered species in this little bastion of the wilderness that you are probably in disbelief upon hearing this sighting,” Brave wrote. “When we moved to the area, several neighbors told me that they saw not only one, but a mother and a cub / kitten. I believed them (wrong) at the time, but have now seen one with my own eyes.
The thicket, located just north of Ellenton Premium Outlets, is also home to bobcats, woodpeckers, foxes and countless other species, neighbors said.
“I am here to fight for the life and freedom of our Florida panther. Animals have rights too, ”said Ella Haremza, Oakley Place resident. “We cannot make everything a concrete jungle.”
“They have to be represented because they can’t represent themselves,” added Victoria Shaffer, a resident of the Oakley Subdivision just west of the property.
According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser, the developers bought most of the Marwood Subdivision property about 30 years ago for $ 150,000. A smaller parcel in the southwest corner of the land was purchased by the developer about 10 years later for $ 35,000.
Environmental concerns are not the only complaint residents have to the proposal. In letters to commissioners, neighbors argued that traffic and safety issues would arise if the land was developed.
Similar objections have been made against other developers along West 60th Avenue, where the county has approved an incoming hotel, movie theater and luxury apartments in recent years.
Commissioners are due to vote on the rezoning and preliminary site plan for Marwood development at Thursday’s land use meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. at the Manatee County Administrative Building, 1112 Manatee Ave.