The Sarasota County Commission has forwarded an amendment to the state to consider light industrial and office uses for Lorraine Road in southern Lakewood Ranch, though one more no vote would have killed the amendment.
(Correction: The article has been updated to include that commissioners had voted to exclude the northern section of Lorraine Road that was being considered in the proposed amendment. The section of road excluded runs roughly from Blue Lake Road to the south to University Parkway to the north. That section of road is no longer being considered as part of the Business Park Corridor. The section of Lorraine Road from Blue Lake Road south to Fruitville Road remains in the amendment)
After praising Lorraine Road residents for their class and patience during an Aug. 30 meeting, Sarasota County commissioners then voted to forward an amended version of a proposal to allow light industrial and office uses along Lorraine Road in Sarasota County.
With Commissioner Michael Moran absent, the commissioners voted 3-1 to send the amendment CPA 2022-F to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review. If the state approves, the Sarasota County Commission will vote in a tentatively scheduled hearing Oct. 25 whether to give the amendment final approval.
The amended version of the proposal removed a portion of the corridor's northern section, reducing its length from Fruitville Road to roughly Blue Lake Road, when it had previously stretched from Fruitville Road to University Parkway. The proposal retained the southern section extending from Clarke Road to State Road 681.
A 2-2 vote would have killed the amendment.
Commissioner Nancy Detert was the only no vote.
"Nothing is more important than your homestead," Detert said after a stream of white-shirt clad Lorraine residents from the Polo Club, Waterside and Windward pleaded with the commissioners not to make their stretch of Lorraine Road a Business Park Corridor that would allow landowners with 10 acres or more and access to Lorraine to apply for a rezone to allow light industrial and office uses.
"I tend to agree with the folks on Lorraine Road," Detert said.
She said that if industrial was in the area first, she would feel differently. She also didn't see where allowing light industrial would provide that many jobs, a main goal of a Business Park Corridor.
"Those aren't even jobs for human beings," she said. "They are robotic."
The biggest heartbreak for those who opposed the amendment was Commissioner Christian Ziegler's decision to send the amendment to the state. Ziegler said he was against any zoning change on Lorraine roughly between Blue Lake Road and University Parkway even though he favored such development on the amendment's other targeted area, Lorraine Road from Clark Road to State Road 681.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger said every day Sarasota County has to turn down companies that want to buy land in Sarasota and that the focus should be diversifying the economy.
Commissioner Alan Maio was in favor of the rezone, saying he had to take into consideration the entire county.
"We have 450,000 people here. We have to plan for all of that."
After filling the streets along Lorraine Road on Saturday in protest, the southern Lakewood Ranch residents showed up to speak to commissioner at the meeting. One by one, they gave public comment at the meeting with about 20 residents showing they opposed the amendment.
“It’s frightening to think about how dramatically our lives will change,” said Karen O’Donnell, a resident of the Polo Club of 20 years who said she remembers a time before Lorraine Road was built, and the development of Lakewood Ranch was far from its present size.
“People enjoy that little drive,” she said of that stretch of Lorraine Road. “It’s a moment of solitude and solace.”
Other residents echoed her concerns about the future of the area, and many said the business corridor might remove the reason that they had come to that area in the first place.
“When we moved into the area, this wasn't even considered. It was just thrown upon us,” said Waterside resident Donna Bailey, who just moved into the area in April.
Cara Clarke, a resident of three years at Lakehouse Cove in Waterside, said she liked the surrounding areas of Waterside because they were rural in nature. “It’s family oriented. And big trucks and an elementary school — it just can’t be a good combination.”
Clarke said many residents had checked the county’s Comprehensive Plan prior to moving into the area, specifically to make sure that the kinds of uses being promoted were now allowed.
She said she has encountered many individuals who own homes or are ready to close on homes.
“They’re just devastated,” she said. “People are just so upset, and I really hope the county commission takes us off the table today, because I feel so sorry for all those people that have made a million dollar investment to live the beautiful lifestyle that has been offered here.”
Residents also pointed to traffic as a major concern.
O’Donnell said that in summer, cars are already backed up north of Lorraine Road in the mornings, attempting to get south to work. She said the county should redirect its efforts into long-term planning, other than putting “fuel on the fire” of transportation problems.
“There is no need for any development, with light industry, strip malls, 35-foot high buildings along Lorraine Road. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever,” said Polo Club resident Jeremy Whatmough, a resident of the Polo Club since 2003.
However, the environment was also a major concern of residents.
Colleen Blumenthal, who owns an organic farm in the area, said she decided to bring her concerns forward to the public as the environmental impacts of the industrial or high-intensity use in the area might damage her ability to provide produce.
“I think the residents here have really bought into a lifestyle,” she said. “This entire road is residential, with supportive uses, and all the commercial is concentrated in the major arteries.”
“Who really suffers is the wildlife,” said Whatmough. “They're gone. And often they're not even removed; they just are expected to vanish.”
O’Donnell said the county needs to preserve green areas so there will be “oxygen to breathe.”
“You can't just real concrete over every bit of grass just because a few developers are going to profit,” she said.
Obringer said the area had been transformed into to a “beautiful preserve with lakes and nature” from a previously industrial area of mining operations.
“I’d hate to see it revert back to that,” he said.
Residents also expressed a wish to protect the use of the road itself.
“I believe that Lorraine Road, which is a beautiful road, should be protected as a north south thoroughfare that is primarily residential in use,” said Bales, who said many residents need to use I-75 “almost” as a local road.
“If you add in all of the new homes, all of the schools, the Publix, and then you add on light industrial, it's just overwhelming that road, and it's gonna be an extremely hazard for all the residents,” said Porter.
Vic Obringer, who helped rally Lakehouse Cove residents, said it was important for residents to stop the amendment at the meeting. He said if the amendment were to go to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, it would almost certainly pass.
“I'm not sure they're familiar with the local circumstances here, and I can't believe an organization that's chartered to create new jobs is going to provide any negative comments, which is going to force the commission to have to deal with this same topic all over again, in October,” he said.
Bales said, “People that own one million dollar homes in Waterside, are not going to be working in a warehouse distribution center.” She said instead, the county should put effort into beautifying its current industrial parks to make them more attractive locations to work at.
Residents said they were uncertain about what the outcome of the meeting would be.
“I can only hope that they turn it down,” said O’Donnell. “I can only hope that they can look at all the people that live and work, enjoy that road, bike that road, run that route — that they will listen to how strongly we feel that the Lorraine Road corridor should not be industrialized at all, north or south.”
O’Donnell said she thought more residents would have turned out for the meeting had they been aware of the proposal. She said she was only informed because of other people, rather than due to advertisements in the newspaper.
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