SARASOTA — Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch must wait another week before learning whether it will be allowed to expand its residential community farther into Sarasota County.
The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners on April 29 postponed its decision to approve the development of regional impact, a rezone and comprehensive plan amendments for the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, a 5,100-home community planned for south and east of the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park.
The move will give the county attorney and SMR time to develop an outside agreement to ensure SMR will go through the formal DRI amendment process if it seeks to utilize proportionate share mitigation for funding infrastructure improvements in the future. SMR is proposing to pay for off-site road improvements by the concept of concurrency, however, it is legally entitled to use proportionate share mitigation if it so chooses.
In a memo written one week before the hearing, Sarasota’s attorney warned commissioners that SMR could essentially use the proportional share statute to avoid funding road improvements required in its DRI.
At the public hearing, SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen, who called the memorandum “ill advised, ill-timed and misplaced,” suggested the outside agreement as a way to alleviate the county’s concerns.
“It’s got to be a team approach,” Jensen said.
Sarasota commissioners seconded the idea by postponing a vote until 1:30 p.m., May 12.
“I’m happy to see Mr. Jensen has expressed an interest and willingness to work with our staff to resolve fiscal issues regarding needed road improvements identified by our county attorney rather late in the process,” Commissioner Nora Patterson said.
Commissioner Shannon Staub agreed.
“I want 2050 to work,” she said. “I want the jobs badly. I want to see this happen. We worked hard on this plan.”
Plans for the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South look nearly the same as they did more than 10 years ago, when Jensen, then vice president of planning, drew them into existence. The presence of two large conservation easements on the nearly 5,500-acre parcel — Long Swamp and Gum Slough — shrank the amount of developable land considerably. SMR’s shell mining operations would eventually leave seven large lakes connected by narrow slivers of land, leaving the property with unique geographical constraints for home sites.
The project is designed to comply with Sarasota County 2050, a plan commissioners adopted in 2002 as a way to control development. The plan’s “village” category envisions walk-able, compact, clustered development with neighborhood centers and a village center, and SMR’s proposal is the first project proposed in this category under 2050.
Although SMR is not able to implement 2050 in the centralized style first envisioned, it is working to meet 2050’s requirements and provide more than 160 acres for parks, a large percentage of workforce and affordable housing and more.
“If there were no 2050, I’d be doing something similar anyway,” Jensen said of the project.
With the Villages serving as a test site for the implementation of the 2050 plan, SMR has worked closely with Sarasota County for the last decade, hosting workshops with commissioners and even taking them on tours of the property to give them greater understanding of the requests being made.
“I think we have, at least philosophically, been heading down the same path,” Jensen said.
SMR’s Vice President of Planning Todd Pokrywa has remained optimistic commissioners will look favorably on the project given their history with SMR. Jensen, however, said he’s not sitting on any expectations.
“I’ve given up thinking about it,” Jensen said.
If approved, SMR plans to begin construction in 2012 with build-out occurring in three, five-year phases.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].