- April 14, 2021
EAST COUNTY — When Sarasota County envisions the future of 420 acres of mostly vacant land near a major interchange — an area forming the Fruitville Initiative — it sees the opposite of the University Parkway/Interstate 75 corridor.
For a decade, planners have sought to use public-private partnerships with property owners to create a mixed-use, interconnected community on land north and south of Fruitville Road, east of I-75.
More than three years after the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners passed a comprehensive plan amendment that labels the region as a special planning area, the county will file applications this week to get the project started. The amendments specify the unique qualities that must define the plan.
“We call this the anti-University Parkway,” Steve Suau, an engineer consulting for the project, told a 37-person audience at a March 27 neighborhood workshop at the Fruitville Library. “We will have streets out the wazoo here (to support development). We’re trying to do a road network before development occurs. We’ve stayed true to the public process — and it’s unusual to incorporate that into a comprehensive plan amendment. We haven’t really planned like this in 100 years. Usually, we react to things.”
With public and property owners support, the county will submit a rezoning and critical area plan this week.
After the planning commission reviews the plan this summer, county staff expects the board of county commissioners — after holding two public hearings — to vote on the plan in September.
The plan, described by project consultants and county staff, encourages compact, mixed-use communities, with walkable features and open space, as opposed to sprawling suburbs or big-box stores.
Always targeted for development, the land falls in the urban service area and is deemed a future employment center in the county’s future land-use map. The county reached a planning agreement with five major property owners in 2010, allowing the county to take the lead on the project.
Those property owners control most of the land in the Fruitville Initiative. The county only owns a 42-acre parcel located north of its Celery Fields, which Benderson Development is negotiating to buy.
“A lot of these folks have owned their land for generations,” Suau said. “They see this as a legacy.”
Commissioners adopted the vision for the plan by approving a comprehensive plan amendment in 2010, which designated the land as encompassing “Special Planning Area 3.”
The land is tantalizing for its proximity to major roadways — I-75 is located directly west — and for its view of iconic natural land — the county’s Celery Fields, a passive recreation site with diverse wildlife, plants and trees — to its south.
Although not part of the county’s 2050 plan, development of the land is guided by a form-based code that will facilitate the types of future growth.
Planners say, at build out, the Fruitville Initiative will include 1.8 million square feet, including roughly 2,000 residential units, 1.2 million square feet of industrial and office space and 640,000 square feet of retail (standalone retail can’t be larger than 50,000 square feet).
Other potential plans, which the individual property owners are receptive to include: a community or civic center; a youth center; a welcome center by a hotel; and opening the soccer and baseball fields at Church of Hope, which is located in the Fruitville Initiative, for public use.
The comprehensive plan amendment requires a linear park to be built along the Celery Fields.
Planners envision the park to be similar to the city of Bradenton’s Riverwalk, possibly with features such as playgrounds or a skatepark.
“While we (Sarasota County) are overseeing the Fruitville Initiative, it belongs to the community,” said Mark Cunningham, assistant Sarasota County administrator.
“It will be an icon coming into the community when you come off I-75.”
Although on the far edges of East County, the Fruitville Initiative will be powered by a transportation grid that will connect the entire region.
For the Fruitville Initiative to function, it will depend heavily on road improvements associated with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s planned Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, located to its north.
Those north-south connector improvements include extending Lorraine Road and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south to Fruitville Road.
In addition to offset existing development impacts, SMR has committed $7.5 million toward other improvements, likely a flyover across Interstate 75 west to Cattlemen Road, or the extension of Iona Road south to Bee Ridge Road.
Transportation planners say those roads will absorb traffic from more rural roads, such as East Richardson Road, in the plan’s path.
Planners estimate that the various roads within the plan will have more than 2,000 public parking spaces.
“A real grid system of streets encourages people to park once, get their needs done, and go to work or home,” said Jonathan Paul, Sarasota County’s interim transportation planning director. “The internal capture of the road network means you will see a reduction in the number of overall trips.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].