Palmer Ranch residents told the Sarasota County Commission Tuesday they do not want a proposed Interstate 75 interchange at Central Sarasota Parkway.
Residents have flooded the commissioners’ email boxes in recent days with protests of the project, which they had learned about during their March 6 Palmer Ranch Communities Coalition meeting.
Several of them appeared during the public-comment portion of Tuesday’s regular commission meeting in Venice, to make their feelings known.
Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson waived the usual time limit for public comments at the opening of the session, to allow all those who wanted to speak to have that opportunity before the board began addressing agenda items.
Palmer Ranch Communities Coalition President Margaret Brading, a 17-year resident of the development, told the commissioners, “We don’t need an interchange.”
The County Commission had agreed in May 2010 not to construct the interchange, and it had voided a contract with the Florida Department of Transportation for the project in favor of an interchange farther south, at State Road 681.
Representatives of Palmer Ranch Holdings LLC informed residents during the coalition meeting last week that the resurrection of the interchange project would jeopardize plans announced by two national homebuilders, to construct housing communities and a commercial town center in Palmer Ranch.
Brading asked the commissioners to remove the Central Sarasota Parkway interchange from the county’s Comprehensive Plan once and for all and to let Palmer Ranch proceed with that new construction.
“I hate to see that property just sit there, waiting to become an interchange, when we don’t need it and we can utilize that property now as a neighborhood,” Brading told the Sarasota Observer after the meeting.
Palmer Ranch resident Norman Klingerman told the commissioners he was shocked to hear the news that the interchange plan had resurfaced.
“We were actually gliding to a very smooth completion of a community (on the proposed site) and the possibility of a town center, which we all thought would be a great possibility for our community,” Klingerman said.
The interchange, Klingerman added, “is a game changer.”
Palmer Ranch resident Andy Papineau questioned why staff was proposing the interchange again.
“We encourage you and beg that this item be put away for good,” Papineau said.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton told the group the only way the interchange officially could come out of the Comprehensive Plan was by a commission vote, after a public hearing.
“There’ll be plenty of room for (public) comment,” Thaxton said. “It’s just a recommendation from staff. It still has to be vetted by the community.”
Commissioner Joe Barbetta, however, expressed the same level of frustration the Palmer Ranch residents had voiced.
“We did direct staff to proceed with removing (the interchange),” Barbetta said. “It was much to my surprise to hear just the opposite.”
Palmer Ranch Holdings LLC Vice President Justin Powell sent a letter to the commissioners earlier this week about the matter, but he also addressed them Tuesday.
As recently as December, Powell said, the interchange was not in the comp plan.
“The staff report is a complete 180,” Powell added. “This (issue) should have been vetted and handled before the (staff) memo ever was released. Please, as a county, reach out to the residents and let us know when you are going to throw a curveball.”
As they fight once more against the interchange, the Palmer Ranch residents have an ally this time in the form of their communities’ developer, Hugh Culverhouse Jr. Palmer Ranch Holdings did not publicly support the residents’ opposition to the interchange a few years ago, because Culverhouse wanted to build a 200,000-square-foot commercial project in the area.
But times have changed. Powell confirmed for residents last week that Palmer Ranch Holdings doesn’t support the interchange proposal, because it has the housing development contracts in place (see sidebar).
Managing Editor Rachel Brown Hackney contributed to this story.
What’s At Stake
If the Sarasota County Commission agrees to reconsider an Interstate 75 interchange at Central Sarasota Parkway, the following developments will be in jeopardy:
• Taylor Morrison is under contract to purchase 100 acres behind The Glenridge to build approximately 260 homes. The development would include a clubhouse with amenities for residents. The project is 18 months away from breaking ground.
• DiVosta Homes, a division of Pulte Homes, is under contract to build a 350 single-family home community in the vicinity of the proposed interchange.
• A 100,000-square-foot community town center, which would include an anchor tenant such as a Publix or a Whole Foods supermarket.