By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
RUSKIN – It would hardly seem to be the place for a showdown between a developer and residents. Mill Bayou is a very narrow strip of land with trees and scrub that stick out into the Little Manatee River. From the gravel road that leads to an existing private home at the end of the sliver of land, Mill Bayou doesn’t appear remarkable — except in that it still exists at all. The trees and scrub are so thick the water is barely visible. But it is easy to see that Mill Bayou is one of the remaining wild places on the Little Manatee in Ruskin.
In 2006, the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners approved a permit for 22 homes along the east side of the Little Manatee near Mill Bayou. At that time, the commissioners denied an additional permit to develop the spit of land sticking out into the river.
Last week, the developers, Little Manatee Reserve, LLC, returned to the BOCC armed with a court ruling stating the commission did not provide enough evidence to properly deny the permit. The developers were seeking permission to build eight homes on the 46-acre tract containing roughly nine acres of uplands.
The project was opposed by the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay, which encouraged residents to make their opinions known during the June 8 hearing at County Center in Tampa. An estimated 50 people showed up in opposition to the development. In a 6-to-1 vote, the commissioners voted again to deny the application. Commissioner Jim Norman cast the sole vote in favor of the development.
Beth Griffiths, representing the Sierra Club, encouraged commissioners to look beyond the immediate impact.
“If we don’t protect this wonderful natural resource now, future generations will never have the opportunity on this river,” Griffiths said. “Look at the big picture; take the long view.”
Griffiths added that the Sierra Club has spent millions of dollars while working to protect and preserve the river for recreational and wildlife purposes.
Commissioner Kevin White moved for denial of the application saying, in part, “When you start looking at the removal of trees and vegetation, I am not opposed to that and I am not opposed to growth and development. But we must make our growth and development smart. Once we start removing trees and vegetation — and reading the report, over 250 native plants to Florida — those things cannot be replaced. We need to look and listen to the people most affected and impacted by these decisions,” he said, referring to those opposed to the project.
Upon Commissioner Mark Sharpe’s second of the motion to deny, the audience broke into cheers and applause.