SARASOTA — A last-minute interoffice memorandum submitted by Sarasota County’s attorney could derail a proposed residential development that’s been in the making for more than a decade.
Less than one week before the April 29 public hearing date set for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project, the county’s attorney has warned Sarasota commissioners they should enter into an agreement with SMR to ensure facilities are funded enough to maintain adopted levels of service or they may face a funding shortfall for future road and other improvements.
Citing a Florida statute about “proportional share” transportation funding, which requires qualifying developers to pay a percentage of off-site infrastructure improvements proportional to the impact of the development, attorney Stephen DeMarsh wrote, “The Legislature effectively took away local governments’ discretion to refuse a proportional share proposal that conforms to state statute,” and could result in the applicant’s ability to avoid its obligation to fund the improvements needed to maintain adopted levels of service for roadways affected by the project.
SMR President Rex Jensen isn’t biting.
Although the statute was adopted in July 2007, concerns about it were not raised at the Sarasota Planning Commission meeting April 8 or at any other point previously.
In a response sent to the county Monday afternoon, Jensen called the memorandum in question “inaccurate and misleading.”
“This last-minute blind side over an issue that existed, if at all, before our application was filed is highly questionable,” he said.
Jensen is asking Sarasota County officials to treat the Villages development of regional impact proposal as it has other projects, including SMR’s Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park and SIPOC development of regional impacts, and said the issue is already addressed in SMR’s application.
In his response to the county, Jensen indicated there were several other points of confusions and misinformation in DeMarsh’s memorandum and asked the county to let SMR’s application be governed by the concept of concurrency until it agrees with the county on a “better course of action.”
“We dislike intently any suggestion that project approval should wait until we conclude a written agreement on an option that we may never elect to use,” Jensen wrote. “We have been in this labyrinthine process for 10 years. At every stage, we have worked with you. To receive a memorandum like that of (April 22) the very week of our hearing (when you consider that the DRI application was filed after the effective date of the proportionate share law) is highly suspicious.
“We will have no choice but to conclude that a different process for this application presages a desire not to have this project occur,” he said.
The Villages application is the first to go forward under Sarasota County’s 2050 growth management plan and is a considered a test site for the “villages” concept, which promotes high density, walk-able communities with plenty of green space.
Officials from SMR worked with the county as it developed 2050 and have since continued working to ensure Sarasota commissioners understand the 5,500-acre property’s geographical constraints and how 2050 affects the project.
“All of Lakewood Ranch once was undeveloped area,” Jensen said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done. I’d like to do a good job in Sarasota County, but I can’t make it happen if they won’t let it.”
The Sarasota County Planning Commission recommended denial of the project 5-3 at its April 8 meeting.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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