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Sarasota to rehear Villages proposal

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  • | 4:00 a.m. June 17, 2009
  • East County
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SARASOTA COUNTY — After absorbing a potentially fatal blow, the future of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s first major residential project in Sarasota County may be getting brighter.

Plans for The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South essentially were put on hold June 9 after Sarasota commissioners followed the lead of the Sarasota planning commission and rejected two of five proposed amendments to Sarasota’s 2050 plan. SMR officials have said all five changes are critical for development of the property.

However, just one day after the meeting, Sarasota Commissioner Carolyn Mason, whose one vote could change the project’s future, asked to rehear the item.

“We are appreciative there is going to be a reconsideration because again, the project doesn’t become a reality without a favorable decision about these requests,” SMR’s Vice President of Planning Todd Pokrywa said. “These are the amendments that are necessary, in our opinion, needed to make 2050 work. It helps implement it.”

The 2050 plan is Sarasota County’s 50-year land use plan to manage and shape future growth in Sarasota County with the goal of preserving the area’s resources. For the eastern portion of the county, the plan promotes a “village” concept, which creates more compact, walkable communities with areas of open space.

SMR has been working closely with Sarasota County officials on the village concept since 2003, when The Villages was selected to be a test site to see how Sarasota’s 2050 Plan could be implemented. Sarasota officials toured the 5,500-acre Villages site in August 2007 so they could visualize the requests being made.

Because of their working relationship with Sarasota commissioners, SMR officials remained optimistic even after the Sarasota planning commission’s decision to recommend only three of the five proposed changes. However, commissioners Jon Thaxton, Nora Patterson and Mason followed the planning commission’s recommendations, opposing requests to reduce the project’s eastern buffer from 550 feet to 200 feet and to eliminate the greenbelt requirement along the project’s southern boundary.

However, board members did not have problems with 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.

SMR officials maintain that all five changes are necessary for the project to move forward.

“For SMR, nothing has changed,” Pokrywa said. “All five requests are imperative for the company to pursue the project. Anything less would take a giant leap of faith to move forward. We really need the certainty and the assurance up front on these issues or we wouldn’t be asking for them. They are all equally important for the feasibility of the project.”

Pokrywa said the item must be re-advertised and currently is scheduled to appear before commissioners July 8.

After the revote, the commission’s recommendations will go to the state Department of Community Affairs for review.

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].