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East County Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009 11 years ago

SMR readies for Villages hearing

by: Pam McTeer

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Schroeder-Manatee Ranch officials are waiting to find out whether they can move forward with their first major residential development in Sarasota County.

Sarasota County commissioners will vote June 9 on five Comprehensive Plan amendments that SMR officials say are critical for the future development of a 5,500-acre mixed-use project called The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South. After Sarasota commissioners vote on the amendments, the approved changes will head to the Department of Community Affairs for review and approval.

“We want to make these modifications as part of the Comprehensive Plan so we know what we have to work with,” SMR’s Vice President of Planning Todd Pokrywa said. “(If we didn’t), we wouldn’t know the answers until the end of the (development approval) process, and we’re not willing to invest more time and money into the process. We need the assurances upfront.”

The project, located just south of University Parkway and east of Interstate 75, is designed to comply with Sarasota County’s 2050 Plan, adopted in 2002 as a way to control development, particularly in eastern Sarasota County. The plan's “village” category envisions walkable, compact and clustered development with neighborhood centers and a village center, and The Villages project is the first to come forward under this category.

The changes SMR officials deem necessary to move forward with the concept did not gain full support from the Sarasota Planning Commission May 7 when the board voted only to recommend the transmittal of three of its five requests, including the elimination of a 500-foot greenbelt at the northern part of the property, the elimination of a 126-acre greenway from the Gum Slough area and a modification to make Lakewood Ranch Boulevard four lanes instead of two.

The board did not recommend transmittal for proposed changes to reduce a north-south greenway buffer from 500 to 200 feet or to eliminate a greenbelt along the southernmost portion of the property, which would allow for the future construction of an east-west road along the southernmost portion of the project.

Pokrywa said he is hopeful Sarasota commissioners will look on all five requests favorably.

“We’re optimistic that we can move forward with these requests because (none of them) should be a surprise to (commissioners),” he said.

SMR has been working with Sarasota County officials on the “village” concept since 2003, when its project was selected to be a test site to see how Sarasota’s 2050 Plan could be implemented. Commissioners toured the property in August 2007 so they could see the requests being made.

If the board approves all five requests and those are approved by the DCA, Pokrywa said dirt on the three-phase project may begin moving as early as 2011 with construction starting in 2012.

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].

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