EAST COUNTY — A panel sent to evaluate Manatee County’s plan for growth praised the county’s plans and pushed leaders to follow through on them.
Michael Maxwell, a managing partner for a Miami real-estate development firm, led a panel from the Urban Land Institute in a work session with the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commission members May 14.
In March, the Urban Land Institute panel, part of a non-profit research and education organization meant to provide leadership on land-use issues, toured the county and reviewed its two-year “How Will We Grow” study, a plan that examines three alternatives for growth.
In a report the panel will finalize in the coming weeks, the panel supports Alternative 2 of the county’s plan, which refocuses the county’s comprehensive plan and land-development code to achieve high-density growth and infill primarily in the area known as “Southwest County.”
The Southwest County focus includes extending the urban core to focus on all unincorporated lands south of the Manatee River and west of Interstate 75, an area with already established infrastructure, schools and roadways.
Although this alternative places 60% of the county’s future population growth there, Maxwell says it’s important not to forget other parts of the county.
“You still have to create unique identities across the county and have differentiation,” Maxwell said. “For example, Lakewood Ranch should be a model for the county. It has its own niche and embraces what makes things successful in the 21st century — good schools, new infrastructure and caring about people.”
Maxwell also said the county should use athletic facilities, including IMG Academy and The Premier Sports Campus, as well as the county’s parks and preserves, as branding tools to help make Manatee “the sports capital of Florida.”
“You all (commissioners) were elected to be bold leaders,” Maxwell said. “Now’s the time to think real big and be bold.”
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