LAKEWOOD RANCH — Officials of Lakewood Ranch’s developer, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, have waited for more than a decade to start construction on their Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project.
And, after submitting amended documents to state and county agencies last week, they are confident the wait soon will be over.
SMR prepared a revised development of regional impact and county zoning ordinance to codify an amended transportation agreement and to conform with changes to Sarasota’s 2050 development plan.
The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, Sarasota County Planning Services Department, the Department of Transportation and the state will review the documents, which, if the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners approves them, will permit SMR to begin residential construction on the 5,500-acre project located south of University Parkway and west of Interstate 75.
“We’ve been working on this project for more than a dozen years — and invested several million dollars through the process — without a shovel of dirt,” said Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for SMR. “This eliminates what has been preventing the build-out of the community and provides predictability to the process to meet 2050.”
The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, approved by the Sarasota County Commission in 2010, calls for 5,144 residential units and 390,000 square feet of commercial space on a parcel surrounding the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park.
The amended DRI confirms the terms of an amended transportation agreement with Sarasota County — approved in October — that allows SMR to begin construction before related road improvements have been completed.
As part of an existing Adequate Transportation Facilities Agreements with the county, SMR previously had to wait for road improvements to be fully constructed before any development could occur.
In 2010, SMR committed to funding the following three improvements to mitigate project traffic:
• The continuation of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard as a four-lane roadway from its current ending at Communications Parkway to Fruitville Road;
• The continuation of Lorraine Road as a four-lane road from University Parkway to Fruitville Road; and
• The construction of an east-west connector from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Lorraine Road.
SMR has also pledged up to $7.5 million for a proportionate share road project that gives the county one of two options: It can put the money toward an east-west connector overpass from the Villages over Interstate 75 to Cattleman Road; or it can use it to build a two-lane Iona Road between Fruitville Road and Palmer Boulevard.
The revised zoning ordinance addresses outstanding issues that have prevented SMR from beginning work on the project. For example, Pokrywa said SMR provided an updated fiscal neutrality report that demonstrates the fiscal benefit of each project phase.
Previously, SMR had completed the fiscal neutrality report — safeguards designed to prevent the costs of development from being passed on to taxpayers — as a total, project-wide figure.
The applications do not propose changes to already approved development totals or uses; but they do reflect 2050 amendments Sarasota commissioners approved in November — revisions meant to appease developers who felt hamstrung by strict rules designed to prevent urban sprawl in Sarasota County east of I-75, protect the environment and be pedestrian friendly.
The 2050 amendments loosened rules relating to environmental protections, design and density requirements and other restrictions. SMR had lobbied the county for such changes several years ago, saying the changes were in line with the intent of 2050 regulations.
“We’ve identified what’s necessary for us to move forward,” Pokrywa said. “The county has reduced the number of housing types required in 2050, and it is now allowing multiple neighborhood centers. Those changes allow us the flexibility to make adjustments related to shifts in the economy that will happen over a couple of decades of build-out.”
Pokrywa said he expects Sarasota County to review SMR’s amended Villages of Lakewood Ranch South applications within a few months.
“We believe these are simple and straightforward updates,” Pokrywa said. “The changes help to remove the impediments to reach the goals of 2050.”
Sarasota County officials are expected to review additional changes to the 2050 plan in March. Most of the proposed changes target environmental regulations on the development of villages.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].