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Bird rookery near Venice now barren of vegetation

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- Residents in a Venice neighborhood say they've watched a local bird rookery die right before their eyes this past month.

The property is part of a new development called Villages of Milano by Neal Communities. It's located off Jacaranda Boulevard between Laurel and Border roads.

The 700-home project was approved a little more than a month ago. Right after, neighbors say a very big change started to take place to an island rookery there.

All that is left now looks like a pile of dirt.

"It was glorious nature, and it has been destroyed." Venice resident Bob Fuqua is seeing a big change in his neighborhood. "I am here almost every day walking the dog. I always admired the big green mound of vegetation; lots of birds coming and going. It was just a great thing to see."

Video shot by ABC 7 when the development was approved in late July shows green vegetation covering the island.

Just days later, Bob started seeing a difference. “I noticed the vegetation out here was turning brown."

Video from the beginning of August shows some of the birds sticking around. Now, within a month later, there is nowhere to stick. "All of the dead trees and vegetation has been taken away. It's looked like this ever since."

A response from Neal Communities Thursday says the removal of nuisance vegetation and nests at the site were done with a permit issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "After extensive monitoring, it was verified that the nests all appeared vacated. The FFWCC was then informed and removal activities commenced."

They also say herbicide was used to kill Brazilian pepper trees, assuring its seeds did not spread.

"Spraying a herbicide on this nice lake, which drains into the Myakka Watershed…it had to have a negative impact on the fish, the birds, all kinds of wildlife here," says Fuqua.

Within just a few hundred feet of the site are more birds and more wetlands. In the company's response, it says the area is an old burrow pit, and more changes are to come. "The closed burrow pit operations are to be reopened as part of the development process of the Vica tract, and the dirt will be used for roadways and other development purposes."

That means the whole island and more is about to go.

Those like Bob say it's just the beginning of many changes in his neighborhood he's not looking forward to. "It's a very disturbing start."

Many in the neighborhood did not want to see the land approved for all those homes, saying this is exactly what they can expect.

Neal Communities has plans to build another 263-home development elsewhere in the area. That project has drawn even more criticism and has not yet gone before council members for approval.