Once we move past the age-old debate of whether to grow and on to the question of how we should grow, we can move to a more realistic and rewarding discussion. As stated in the editorial published April 25: “We do, however, have some clear choices of where we grow, in what sequence we grow and in how we grow. So, let’s stop talking about ‘whether’ and discuss where, when and how. Let’s further relate those factors to the financial markets, total cost of infrastructure, the wide variety of consumer preferences, economic development, contribution to the tax base, legal requirements (yes, they do matter) and consequences to the taxpayers.”
The county’s current land use plan was adopted in 1989 and has a low-rise, low-density approach. The plan has limited opportunities for mixed uses. It separates uses (workplace, office, residential, retail, etc.) by miles instead of by blocks or feet. This creates a spread out land-use pattern in the developing areas of the community, which creates difficult scenarios for water, sewer and transportation planning. Consumer choice is limited, green space is paved over and wetlands are lost. Travel times are longer, instead of allowing the free market to provide necessary uses nearby. The growth rules also work against the redevelopment of many of the older areas of the community, such as the U.S. 41 corridor.
The county is looking at development undertaken since the land use rules were adopted and the relationship of the rules to the cost of development. Staff is also examining the cost to the county associated with the maintenance of the infrastructure. This begs the question, “Does the low-density, low-rise, bedroom-community-style residential planning provide the necessary tax base to provide services, long-term maintenance, updates, infrastructure development and eventual infrastructure reconstruction 50 years later?”
Another approach, high-rise, high density in targeted areas, offers other choices. Infrastructure is more compact and less expensive to maintain. “Live, work, play” mixed-use communities such as Lakewood Ranch become a preferred development approach, raising the bar on quality of life for businesses and residents. Green space is set aside and wetlands are preserved. Schools and parks more seamlessly fit into the community fabric. We begin to listen to consumers who say, “Keep me out of my car.” Higher densities are critical for transit-oriented development to be a meaningful alternative to automobiles. With higher density, we can also introduce a housing product that is more affordable in today’s economy and more appealing to younger generations.
As far back as the 1950s, the county made infrastructure plans with a sense of vision. They created a master utility plan, with three sewer plants, and constructed a massive potable water reservoir — Lake Manatee. This planning benefits us today, in contrast to neighboring counties, which did not plan.
“How Will We Grow?” is a real, ongoing county study. Its goal is to create a more refined and efficient infrastructure plan through more sensible development patterns. The plan could potentially save the current and future taxpayers money, lower infrastructure development and maintenance costs, provide more job opportunities and potentially improve the quality of life for Manatee County residents through better land use decision making and more predictability for both citizens and developers. County staff is working to bring forward three alternatives for growth to the community with detailed recommendations. But, first, stay tuned for updates and dates when these presentation and citizen outreach workshops will occur so you can have a say in “How Will We Grow?”
Rex Jensen is the president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc; Ed Hunzeker is the Manatee County Administrator.
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