Manatee County voters will have the opportunity this fall to create a new program that would purchase and preserve open land, the first of its kind in Manatee County.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Manatee County's population has grown by 24.9 percent over the past decade. Marsha Wikle, a volunteer with the Manatee-Sarasota chapter of the Sierra Club, says that as the county has grown, it has lacked a comprehensive plan to conserve undeveloped land.
"Our county is growing faster than almost any other place in Florida," Wikle says, "and we are not creating any open spaces between subdivisions and shopping centers, which doesn't make it very livable or very healthy."
Late last month, the Manatee County Commission voted to place the measure on the county's November ballot. If approved by voters, it would create a .15 mill property tax that would last for 20 years and raise up to $50 million. The money would be used to acquire land to protect water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, to preserve environmentally sensitive land and to create public parks. The measure was created in partnership with The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that helps communities preserve land.
According to Wikle, only 13 percent of Manatee County land is currently designated as open space to be preserved. She says the popularity of Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton demonstrates the demand among the public for more open space, and that environmental crises like the area's 2017-2018 red tide outbreak have shown the need for healthier waterways.
"As a community, we need to take a stand that we care about clean water and wildlife habitat, and this is something we can each do," says Wikle.