Download a PDF of the Villages plan here.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — After more than a decade of planning, Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch finally can move forward with the first village-style development ever approved under Sarasota County’s 2050 growth management plan.
The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners on May 12 voted 4-1 to approve the development of regional impact for the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South and its accompanying rezone and comprehensive plan amendments. The roughly 5,100-home urban-style project is expected to bring more than 1,000 permanent jobs to a 5,500-acre parcel south surrounding the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park.
Commissioners also approved a deal with SMR to ensure the company will pay for its share of off-site infrastructure improvements.
“I think Lakewood Ranch has a great track record of quality development,” Commissioner Nora Patterson said after the vote. “While they don’t conform to every tenant of 2050, I think they’ve captured the spirit, and the development will be a success and a desirable place to live and work.”
Commissioner Shannon Staub agreed, adding she’s glad to see the 2050 plan put into action.
“It’s a pretty monumental step,” she said. “The location of those villages with the corporate park is going to be great for the community. I’ve always been impressed with the fact that Lakewood Ranch has become such an advocate for sustainable building. I think that’s really important.”
Todd Pokrywa, SMR’s vice president of planning, echoed similar feelings for the project, which will be centered around seven large lakes.
“It’s been along road,” he said. “We’ve worked cooperatively with the county along the way. It’s a plan to be unrivaled.”
Only Commissioner Jon Thaxton dissented, saying his concerns about fiscal neutrality and enhanced conservation areas made him vote against the proposal.
SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen said he’s purged himself of emotion over the project over the last 10 years but is glad to see it move forward little by little. Last week’s approval is a major step but still only one of many to come, he said.
“Really, what we’ve gotten is a road map to get to our final resting place,” Jensen said. “I got another step in the process. I’ve got some confidence now. I’m happy, but since I’m not done yet, I’m still preparing for more process and procedures.”
SMR had planned to pay for off-site infrastructure improvements through the concept of concurrency, but the transportation deal reached over the last few weeks has Jensen reconsidering his options. The agreement basically requires SMR and the county to mutually come up with a proportionate share payment for off-site transportation improvements within five years if it wishes to use that funding mechanism; for the county to choose which projects it wants done under that agreement; for SMR to continue to pay impact fees; and for SMR to accelerate the build out Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road south to Fruitville Road.
Jensen said he intends to fully explore his options regarding proportionate share mitigation.
“I frankly was not even thinking this way,” he said. “I think it’s opened up a good possibility for a mutually beneficial solution.”
Both county and SMR officials said the deal potentially could help Sarasota County construct an improved road network rather than giving “band-aid” fixes to under-built intersections.
The project has received overwhelming support from organizations such as the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, whose members turned out in full force to two public hearings in support of the project. The only resident to oppose the project at the hearing was Sarasota attorney Daniel Lobeck, who spoke on behalf of one couple who lives near the project and for himself as president of a group called Control Growth Now.
SMR plans to begin construction of the Villages in 2012 with build-out occurring in three five-year phases.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.