The Sarasota County Commission Wednesday approved a request by Taylor Morrison of Florida Inc. to construct 267 single-family lots on Palmer Ranch Parkway, even though the development will have only one fully functional road when it opens.
County land-development regulations require any residential development with more than 100 units to be accessible with two or more fully functional roads.
Taylor Morrison, which is in contract talks to purchase more than 238 acres of property owned by Palmer Ranch, had requested a variance to build the homes on the site, which is located at the northeastern terminus of Palmer Ranch, east of Honore Avenue.
A secondary access road, which could provide emergency ingress and egress only, would connect to the intersection of Clark Road and Catamaran Drive.
Sarasota County Public Works Executive Director James K. Harriott asked the commissioners for guidance on the issue, adding that other developers had brought up similar situations.
The problem, Harriott said, is that developers are hesitant to move forward with their projects if they have qualms about meeting county guidelines.
“A justification for a change in the process is it would allow us to tell landowners what they can build, and (we can) approve such a variance at the staff level,” Harriott said. “Many don’t want to come into planning development process until they know the number of units they can get with the number of accesses they can initially provide.”
Although Commissioner Nora Patterson expressed concern that a variance such as the one requested might lead to congestion — and residents’ headaches — if neighboring parcels were developed soon at the Palmer Ranch site, Harriott promised another access point would be completed.
“In the future, the second access point needs to become fully functional and it will be,” Harriott said. “You need two fully functional, paved, public-access points, unless the county and the fire marshal approve a variance.”
Since 2005, the county has approved seven variances similar to the one discussed Wednesday.
According to a memo provided to the commission, staff believed the following points justified the change in policy:
• Advance approval of a variance would provide developers certainty during the planning, due diligence process
• Staff approval of a variance would assure developers they would not have to endure lengthy and costly rezoning or site development processes for projects that might not gain approval
• The process would help landowners in their marketing of parcels
• Within the urban service boundary, development is more difficult, and additional infill may need some access consideration.
• The process would maintain beneficial use of infill property.
The commission unanimously approved both the variance request and a planning policy change that will allow staff to approve future variances with one fully functional access point at the outset for developments with no more than 325 units.
Land development regulations regarding residential access points
“Residential condominiums, single family subdivisions, villas, duplexes or apartment complexes having 100 dwelling units or more shall have two or more fully functional access points unless the county engineer and the fire marshal determine that the design of a single access provides safe and reliable ingress and egress.”
— Sarasota County Land Development Regulation