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East County Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2010 11 years ago

Sarasota 2050 plan: economic death


Let’s bring a little rational perspective to the discussion this Thursday when the Sarasota County Commission considers the fate of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project.

Most of us around here have been to Longboat Key. It’s nice, hardly overcrowded — in spite of the whining about the mini-traffic slowdowns that rarely occur out there during the height of the season. Out there, they call it paradise.

Now consider this:

Longboat Key has 8,800 housing units, and those housing units sit on 3,148 acres of land mass.
In comparison, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is proposing 5,194 housing units on 5,500 acres of land mass.

Read that again, and let it sink in.

The Villages of Lakewood Ranch would have fewer housing units on greater acreage — to be precise, 59% of the housing units that Longboat Key has on acreage that is 74% greater than the acreage of Longboat Key.

And not only that, SMR is proposing that its development would be completed in three phases over 20 to 25 years. That’s just as long as it took for Longboat Key to reach its current state of near buildout. Which is to say, it’s not as if SMR is proposing an overnight rush of construction that would swamp Sarasota County’s infrastructure.

And yet, here’s the amazing thing: As usual, Sarasota County officialdom, including its anti-growth, anti-business planning commission (which is stacked with statists and a few faux business people) has been throwing up every obstacle it can to keep SMR from exercising its rights to improve and develop what it owns.

More amazing still: SMR has spent more than $2 million and 10 YEARS trying to create a development plan that would generate an economic return for its owners and at the same time conform to what we’ve always known to be unworkable, irrational and confiscatory — the county’s 2050 plan.

SMR President and Chief Executive Officer Rex Jensen summarized this tortuous (and tortious?) process in his letter to the County Commission Monday after the county attorney surprised SMR with a new, last-minute obstacle at the end of last week:

“To receive a memorandum like that of 4/22/10 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.
“This law has been on the books for three years, and you have approved other development orders with similar language under similar circumstances.

“We will have no choice but to conclude that a different process for this application presages a desire not to have this project occur.”

Jensen was being polite. You can imagine what he really wanted to say.

All of this is so typical of Sarasota. Its myopic residents don’t want growth. Mind you, it’s OK for them to have moved here and caused more roads to be built and more public services, but heaven forbid, the county cannot allow “sprawl” east of Interstate 75 to let anyone else in. So it puts up boundaries and bureaucratic obstacles to stop growth.

Then it decides that ranchettes are inefficient and not a good use of land. So its statist politicians adopt — after more than five years of building a horse by committee — the infamous 2050 plan, which allegedly was designed to force developers to create compact villages.

The plan is so confiscatory, however, large landowners have almost no economic incentive to build the villages. The Turner family, for instance, figured out it would lose development rights on half of its 10,000 acres to build a village, a concept that developers don’t know whether consumers will even buy.
So it worked! There’s not one village.

And then, even when SMR wanted to build a village, the county’s demands brought SMR’s executives within inches on numerous occasions of abandoning their plans.

All of this is even more bizarre when you consider the irony at play. Sarasota County and the city of Sarasota, like nearly every government jurisdiction in America, are starving for money. Their tax bases are shrinking. They need more sources of tax revenue to feed their insatiable bureaucratic beasts. But they’re suffering through a devastating recession that has left 13% of Sarasota’s population unemployed.

What can they do? Raise taxes? That would be political suicide at this moment. Worse, higher taxes would only make the economy worse.

The only answer: population growth.

More people create more demand for goods and services, more businesses, more jobs and more tax revenues.

If Sarasota County commissioners would look back over the past 20 years and think about what has had the most positive economic impact on Greater Sarasota, the answer is obvious: Lakewood Ranch. It begat jobs and more consumer choices. It begat the Benderson retail centers at University and I-75, which begat the new rowing center. It made our community better, not worse.

Get a grip, Sarasota County. Look in the mirror and face the fact that, if you continue your ways, you are choking yourself to economic death.

The following is a snapshot of what Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is proposing to develop on its 5,500-acre Villages of Lakewood Ranch:

PHASE I: 2,032 dwelling units; 252,000 square feet of retail/commercial/office uses; 20,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial uses; 40,000 square feet of public/civic uses; an elementary school.
PHASE II: 1,581 dwelling units.
PHASE III: 1,531 dwelling units; 8,000 square feet of commercial/retail/office; 50,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial uses; 40,000 square feet of public/civic uses.

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