EAST COUNTY — With a vote last week, Sarasota County commissioners agreed with developers who say Sarasota’s plan for future growth — called the Sarasota 2050 plan — limits economic growth with overly stringent regulations meant to preserve open space and avoid urban sprawl.
On May 8, Sarasota County commissioners voted 4-1 to re-open Sarasota 2050 and begin the process of revising its regulations.
“This is a step in the right direction to correct deficiencies in the plan, so it can actually work,” said Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
In the next 45 to 60 days, Sarasota County planning staff will bring to the commission specific changes to consider. Then, the county will schedule a series of public meetings and hearings on those proposed changes.
Based on meetings with property owners and representatives of SMR and Neal Communities, county staff will recommend modifications to 2050, including ones related to housing-type requirements, density limitations, fiscal-neutrality conditions and others.
When Sarasota County officials approved their 2050 Plan in 2002, they wanted to create urban-style, walkable communities in undeveloped areas of the county, particularly lands east of Interstate 75.
But, more than 10 years later, only one project has been developed — Neal Communities’ Grand Palm development, in Venice.
The 5,144-home Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, approved 19 months ago, has yet to break ground. SMR officials have said the company will not start building the project, until they know it can be completed in its entirety.
Developers have raised concerns with the plan, saying the restrictions are too specific and need updates and modifications.
“No one is suggesting changing the goals of 2050,” Pokrywa said. “This is about tweaking obstacles, like clustering density and preserving open space, to meet goals we all bought in to. Right now, the plan has barriers.”
Developers especially have problems with a fiscal neutrality rule that requires projects to periodically prove they fully pay for the public services they receive and do not burden existing taxpayers. The plan calls for a review of finances every two years, said Nora Patterson, the only Sarasota County commissioner to dissent in the May 8 vote.
Patterson said she opposed the vote, not because she’s against revisions to the plan, but because she feels the public should be provided a forum to give more input before county staff deliberates.
Patterson does not support eliminating fiscal neutrality completely, but she recommends reducing monitoring requirements to once every five years.
Pokrywa says fiscal neutrality is not meant to be a regulatory mechanism, at all.
A builder would have to cease construction if fiscal neutrality is not obtained. Such a prospect limits a developer’s ability to secure financing for a project in the first place, Pokrywa said.
“One can demonstrate fiscal neutrality just by analyzing a project at the beginning,” Pokrywa said. “Looking at it in smaller increments doesn’t serve its purpose. It would place Sarasota at a competitive disadvantage. We are not in position to construct the first house if we can’t build the last house.”
Patterson says she is willing to meet half way, but being monitored at the beginning of the process and, then, building all the homes with no more oversight, “is not good enough.”
“If we’re talking about overhauling the plan, I will vote against it,” Patterson said. “I don’t know if a compromise is possible, but I hope so.”
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