SARASOTA COUNTY — One vote made the difference.
Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has been given the green light to move forward with its 5,500-home development called The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South. The project is slated for a swath of land east of Interstate 75 and south of University Parkway.
Commission newcomer Carolyn Mason changed her vote on two requests for amendments to Sarasota County’s comprehensive plan during the commission meeting July 8. The vote gave SMR the majority vote it needed to send all five of the Comprehensive Plan amendment requests to the state for review.
“As we’ve indicated all along, all five of those amendments were imperative for our ability to continue to invest in the project,” SMR’s Vice President of Planning Todd Pokrywa said. “We’re excited to be moving forward. It’s been a very long time in the making.”
SMR officials had stopped working on the project since commissioners voted down two of the five requests during their June 9 meeting, Pokrywa said.
Mason, a newcomer to the board, asked for a revote June 10.
Pokrywa said SMR is eager to move forward and pursue a common vision with the county, particularly with the future development of affordable housing next to the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, which will be one of the first parts of the project to be constructed.
Keeping homes in such close proximity to employment hubs also will help the existing road network, he said.
The Villages community will be built around seven large lakes — byproducts of SMR’s shell mining operations. The largest lake will be about one-mile across by one-half mile wide, and will provide future residents with opportunities for motorized boating. The site also includes a proposed nature center and trail and space for an elementary school, among other amenities.
The project is designed to comply with Sarasota County’s 2050 Plan, which commissioners adopted in 2002 as a way to control development. The plan’s “village” category envisions walkable, compact, clustered development with neighborhood centers and a village center, and SMR’s proposal is the first project proposed in this category under 2050.
Project construction is proposed to start in 2012 and would have a 20 to 25-year build-out, Pokrywa said.
“It’s going to be a project that evolves over time and grows with market demand,” he said.
Now that the amendments have been approved, SMR’s request will go to the Department of Community Affairs for review. The DCA should issue a response within 60 to 90 days.
The next major public hearing on The Villages project will be for the adoption of the site’s development of regional impact, rezone and the comprehensive plan amendments, all of which are working through separate governmental and approval processes, Pokrywa said.
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected]