LAKEWOOD RANCH — If Lakewood Ranch Country Club residents want complete ownership of their gates and to oversee who goes in and out of them, they need to take control of the roads. The path to privatizing the roads, though, is daunting.
During Community Development District meetings June 12, at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, CDD board members revealed a group of CDD board members formed a committee to investigate the possibility of privatizing roads within CDDs 2, 5 and 6. All three of the CDDs, which are located within the boundaries of the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, are gated.
But, because the roads were paid for with a bond through the taxing districts that residents are paying off, the roads must remain open to the public.
For some concerned Lakewood Ranch residents who live in the gated districts that’s a problem, because guests who enter don’t have to stop and report where they are going.
CDD 6 Assistant Secretary Bob Burstein called the pathway to privatizing the roads “very important.”
Although the communities are investing in new technology to make their communities safer, Burstein and others think more needs to be done.
“We’ve installed additional video that shows drivers, audio of conversations and who the person is and where they are going,” Burstein said. “But the reality is it’s not enough.”
CDD 6 also installed new LED barriers to increase safety and visibility in its community at night.
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall Executive Director Eva Rey, though, warns the concept is years away from coming to fruition and might not be possible.
“It’s an exploration of what legislative changes would be needed for something like this to take place,” Rey said. “It’s very far out, and it’s not even certain if Lakewood Ranch can do this because of the bonds tied to the road debt that are still needed to be paid off.”
Currently, roads within CDDs 1 (Greenbrook) and 4 (Summerfield/Riverwalk) are maintained by Manatee County. CDDs 2, 5 and 6 (Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club) maintain roads within their boundaries because when they were built out and gates were installed, Manatee County declined to operate and manage the districts’ roads. The country club roads, however, remain open to the public.
“If the roads were privatized and in the hands of the homeowners association, we could become a real gated community,” said CDD 6 Vice Chairman James Hill. “But before that talk is valid, there needs to be legislation that enables it. It’s a complicated matter. For everyone in the community, we have to learn as we go.”
The Florida Legislature could change a law some day that would allow the CDDs to buy the roads, but state laws aren’t the only hurdle.
“Can you just pay off the road debt bond currently in place?” Rey said. “We don’t know the answer to that.”
In the meantime, the three CDDs are also starting preliminary discussions to consider becoming one unified CDD.
But, just like the road-privatization issue, the Legislature currently doesn’t allow such mergers of taxing districts.
“It’s a moot issue until legislation is changed, but it needs to be on the table if the time ever comes where it’s allowed,” Hill said.
The CDD documents and ordinances that created the taxing districts already include language that would allow for mergers if and when the time is right and the state allows it.
Rey said that issue is also one that’s most likely years away from being more than a discussion, but she agreed it makes some sense.
“Those three CDDs have a lot in common,” Rey said. “But the reality of that happening is uncertain.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]