EAST COUNTY — When Sarasota County officials approved their 2050 Plan in 2002, they had a specific vision for shaping growth in undeveloped areas of the county, particularly lands east of I-75.
Developers shared their enthusiasm for creating urban-style, walkable communities with a variety of housing and employment options.
But, more than 10 years later, only one project has been developed — Neal Communities’ Grand Palm development, in Venice.
Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has held off on starting its Villages at Lakewood Ranch South project, a 5,500-acre community clustered around seven large lakes east of I-75 and south of University Parkway, despite receiving county approval in May 2010. Other developers, including Neal, have followed the same lead.
“There have been some obstacles that have prevented anyone from building under 2050, except (me),” Neal said. “I’ve got the only 2050 project ever built, Grand Palm. It (took) eight years and $1 million in approvals for a fairly simple project. (Our) new project would be more complex than that, and I believe most everyone believes the complexity is unnecessary.”
Sarasota County commissioners heard from county staff Jan. 30 about recommended changes to 2050 — changes meant to help development going forward. Based on meetings with property owners and representatives of SMR and Neal Communities, county staff is recommending modifications to 2050, including ones pertaining to fiscal-neutrality conditions, housing-type requirements, density limitations and others.
“We have to be cognizant of the changing market conditions,” Commissioner Joe Barbetta said. “This plan is 11 years old. I think we need to adjust it. I’d like to see something happen with this plan; I’d like to see it work.”
Commissioners authorized staff to prepare a scoping document to identify anticipated issues, public engagement opportunities, an anticipated timeline and workload and to initiate the appropriate implementation steps.
County staff said requests are generally centered on three themes: marketability, predictability and flexibility.
Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for SMR, agreed.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that the recommendations provided by the private sector do not seek to change what 2050 was intended to do — clustering development and preserving open space,” he said. “For our part, SMR has evaluated what we need to do to accomplish the goals of 2050. The broad goals are not being questioned, but the provisions preventing them from being accomplished are what we have focused on. The recommendations provide what we believe is the recipe to make 2050 attainable as the incentive-based plan that it was intended to be.”
For example, the 2050 Plan requires development be fiscally neutral. Fiscal impacts are monitored every two years, and if fiscal neutrality cannot be proven, development is forced to halt. Pokrywa said the concept does not comply with recent changes in state law and also does not take into account the natural “ebb and flow” of revenues and expenses for a project, which would have higher upfront costs, because of infrastructure improvements.
“There are a number of provisions that require starting and stopping or going back to the county for approvals,” Pokrywa said. “Those are extremely problematic. We don’t know if we build the first house, if we can build the last (house). Given that circumstance, we won’t build the first house.”
Additionally, 2050’s housing-type requirements do not allow developers to adjust to changes in the real-estate market; additional flexibility is needed to make projects viable, he said. For example, in Manatee County, SMR’s Cypress Banks Development of Regional Impact, which now includes the Summerfield, Greenbrook and Country Club communities, originally was pitched as a destination resort. Its plan was modified 14 times.
In total, property owners and developers are requesting 37 zoning amendments and Comprehensive Plan policy changes to Sarasota’s 2050 Plan.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.