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East County Wednesday, Mar. 24, 2010 7 years ago

Planning commission stalls Villages project

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Looking to move forward with its first large-scale development in Sarasota County, Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch faced a setback last week when the Sarasota County Planning Commission postponed discussion on the item.

The delay, however, should not impact a vote by Sarasota County commissioners, which has been set for April 29.

Planning commissioners said they were uncomfortable voting on the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South development at their March 18 meeting after receiving more than 60 pages of updates, maps and other documents to their agenda packets.

“This is a huge deal,” Planning Commission Vice-chair Marianne Reilley said of the project. “In fairness to the community and the other commission members, I think it’s appropriate (to delay this vote). I think it’s really important we get this right.”

Commissioner Jody Hudgins agreed.

“This is overwhelming,” he said. “We’re getting technical stuff at the last minute. It needs to be to us so we can orderly review it.”

The planning commission is now set to hear the project at 6:30 p.m., April 8, at the Sarasota County Administration Center, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.

“We feel we have a plan that meets the requirements and we’re proud of,” SMR’s Vice President of Planning Todd Pokrywa said. “We’ve been talking about this project for 10 years. I don’t think anything should be a surprise to anybody.”

SMR is asking for approval of the project’s development of regional impact, a rezone of the land and a zoning text amendment.

The Villages 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 project is the first project to come forward in this category.

The Villages project spans nearly 5,500 acres south and east of Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park and includes more than 5,100 homes, thousands of acres of open space and conservation area and more than 160 acres for parks.

Twelve communities will be built around seven large lakes, of which six will have public access. SMR plans to build primarily workforce and community housing in the three communities closest to the Lakewood Ranch corporate park, although there will be a wide variety of housing styles throughout the project.

Construction on the first phase of the Villages is not slated to begin until early 2012, although infrastructure improvements will begin sooner. It will be constructed in three five-year phases, Pokrywa said.

The upcoming vote on the Villages project is a big step forward for SMR. Original plans were thwarted by a vote June 9, 2009, when Sarasota commissioners approved only three of five requested amendments SMR viewed as critical for moving the project forward. Commissioner Carolyn Mason, who had been a new board member at the time, asked to re-hear the item, a move that led to the approval of all five requests and allowed SMR to move forward in confidence and send its application to the Department of Community Affairs for review.

The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council unanimously recommended approval of the DRI Feb. 18.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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