Long-stalled Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project moves forward

 
 

LAKEWOOD RANCH — More than three years after it was first approved, the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project moved closer to getting off the ground with a ruling by the Sarasota County Commission today.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to its contract with project developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch that allows it to begin residential construction on the 5,500-acre project before some roadway improvements have been completed.

Still, construction on the Villages project, the first village-style development ever approved under Sarasota County’s 2050 growth management plan, won’t begin until SMR submits an application to amend the Development of Regional Impact.

That amendment will address outstanding issues that have prevented SMR from beginning work on the project.

“I won’t pop any champagne corks yet,” said Rex Jensen, president and CEO of SMR. “This doesn’t do much of anything. The transportation agreements are part of the process. Now, we have to resolve other impediments that have prevented this thing from getting going.”

SMR and other developers especially have problems with a fiscal neutrality rule — as part of the 2050 plan — that requires projects to periodically prove they fully pay for the public services they receive and do not burden existing taxpayers.

Jensen has said SMR won’t begin the project, which plans for 5,144 residential units and 390,000 square feet of commercial space, if he’s not sure he can finish it.

“Hopefully, this agreement gets this moving faster now,” said Sarasota Commissioner Joe Barbetta. “I’m very troubled that we won’t see a stick in the ground for a long, long time.”

The amendment agreed to at today’s commission meeting updates the construction schedule of already approved road projects related to the Villages and adds a proportionate share road project — where costs will be borne by SMR and the county.

In 2010, SMR committed to funding the following three improvements to mitigate project traffic:

·      The continuation of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard as a four-lane roadway from its current ending at Communications Parkway to Fruitville Road

·      The continuation of Lorraine Road as a four-lane road from University Parkway to Fruitville Road

·      The construction of an east-west connector from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Lorraine Road

The updated timeline approved by the board allows for construction of homes to occur at the same time as work on the roads — with certain regulations.

Improvements to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard will have to be complete prior to approval of the 300th home unit.

Similarly, the extension of Lorraine Road, which will now amount to two lanes rather than four, has to be finished before development of the 2,033rd home.

As part of the existing Adequate Transportation Facilities Agreements with the county, SMR had to wait for road improvements to be fully constructed before any development could occur.

SMR has also pledged up to $7.5 million for a proportionate share road project that gives the county one of two options: It can put the money toward a east-west connector overpass from the Villages over Interstate 75 and Cattleman Road; or it can use it to build a two-lane Iona Road between Fruitville Road and Palmer Boulevard.

The county has to make that decision within the next three years.

Terms of the transportation agreements won’t go into effect until the amended DRI is approved.

Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for SMR, says the developer plans to submit the amendment within a few months.

Contact Josh Siegel at jsiegel@yourobserver.com

 

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