Wetland mitigation plan questioned
When developers of a proposed Whole Foods commercial center sought Sarasota County's approval to build on a protected wetland, they identified a similar wetland in nearby Manatee County whose purchase they said could mitigate the loss.
Describing the Manatee County wetland as “highly vulnerable to development considering it is prime waterfront real estate,” the group said its plan would save this threatened ecosystem and contribute a net increase in the conservation of valuable swampland overall.
The developers said their mitigation plan far exceeds the legal requirements for such a project, and demonstrated the company's environmental commitment.
The pitch convinced Sarasota County's planning board and County Commission to strip longstanding protection from the targeted wetland, essentially green-lighting the commercial construction at the busy southwest corner of Honore Avenue and University Parkway. The developers acknowledged they wanted to build on as much of the land as possible to maximize profit.
But a closer look at the Manatee County mitigation site shows that because of flooding, it carried limited chance of development beyond, perhaps, a house. The wetland also already benefits from local, state and federal protection. Nevertheless, the developers bought the Manatee County wetland months ahead of the votes by the Sarasota County planning board in December and the County Commission in January.
The purchase raises a key question: If the Manatee County wetland already was protected, and the parcel in which it sits faces significant development hurdles, does it mitigate the loss of the Honore-University wetland?