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East County Friday, Apr. 9, 2010 7 years ago

Planning board recommends denial of Villages project

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

SARASOTA COUNTY — For more than 10 years, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch officials have had their eyes on a 5,500-acre parcel south of University Parkway.

The Lakewood Ranch developer hopes the parcel will someday become home to a housing development that includes a variety of housing types clustered around seven large lakes, ample community parks and recreational facilities, a school site and commercial and retail nodes.

But despite SMR’s efforts working with Sarasota County to develop its Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project, the Sarasota County Planning Commission April 8 said the project did not comply fully with the intent of Sarasota’s 2050 growth development plan and they feared the project would create undue financial strain on the county.

After more than four hours of public testimony and discussion, the board voted 5-3 to recommend denial of a development of regional impact and rezone petition for the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South as well as a zoning text amendment affecting greenbelt requirements.

“There was a vision in what 2050 would look like,” said Commissioner Joe Fellin, who motioned for denial and was one of three current planning commissioners to be part of the original 2050 Plan discussions. “I feel almost like I’m being scammed. All the questions have been responded to by smoke in mirrors rather than honest answers.”

Commissioners Joe Gruters and Ted Allen, two of the dissenting votes, disagreed, saying SMR has a proven track record and the plan could easily fit into the village concept proposed in 2050.

Despite the planning commission vote, SMR officials remain confident moving forward, with the project set to appear before the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners April 29.

“I think both Commissioners Ted Allen and Joe Gruters had a real good understanding of the constraints of the site and what was necessary in order to bring a village project under 2050 into reality,” said Todd Pokrywa, SMR’s vice president of planning. “We’re looking forward to the commission meeting. We feel comfortable that the board of county commissioners have a deep understanding of the requests that we’re making in the application.

“There aren’t any surprises,” he said. “They are the same issues we’ve raised with them since the inception. We’ve worked hard with (county) staff and all the agencies. We feel more than comfortable that all of the issues have been addressed.”

Four members of the five-member board of county commissioners have been involved in 2050 Plan discussions since its inception and have worked with SMR to ensure it is in compliance with the intent of 2050. The board’s newest member, Carolyn Mason, has taken a tour of the property since last summer.
Pokrywa said he believed the planning commission’s decision could be attributed to a lack of history with the project and to misinformation spread by one member of the public.

SMR’s Villages project was designed to comply with Sarasota County’s 2050 Plan, which commissioners adopted in 2002 as a way to control development, particularly in eastern Sarasota County.

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. Construction is proposed to start in 2012 and would have a 20- to 25-year build-out, Pokrywa said.

One of the major concerns posed by planning commissioners was whether the Villages project met the concept of fiscal neutrality, meant to ensure the costs for additional county services and infrastructure for a village development are funded by the properties within that development only.

Commissioners, among others, questioned whether the analysis prepared by Fishkind & Associates on behalf of SMR was sound enough to use and noted there were several flaws in the report.

However, Pokrywa said the study was acceptable to the county’s independent consultant, who reviewed the document, and that SMR’s agreement with the county requires the project’s fiscal neutrality be monitored throughout the duration of the project.

“If we don’t continue to demonstrate that the project is fiscally neutral, we are stopped (until we can fix it,)” Pokrywa said.

Additionally, another fiscal neutrality report will be conducted before the first neighborhood goes before the county commission for approval.

Download a PDF of the project here.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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