Employment opportunities are bypassing Sarasota County, in part because there are no zoning districts that accommodate multiple commercial uses in a business park setting, leaders say.
To remedy that, county government is working through the process of creating a Business Park zoning district while simultaneously identifying corridors east of Interstate 75 best suited for that type of use.
The BP district provides for office, research and development, light industrial and manufacturing, processing, storage and warehousing, wholesaling, distribution uses, and flex spaces. Those uses may be combined with limited office and/or retail functions.
The district is intended to provide employment opportunities in campus‐type developments, accommodating potential employment options that Erin Silk, the vice president business development services of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, says don't exist here.
“Today, people want to be able to live, work and play within 15 minutes of our homes,” Silk said. “The intention of Business Park is to create smaller, more flexible, industry-responsive centers where there is a variety of jobs and even career training opportunities.”
On March 24, the County Commission held a hearing to create a Business Park Corridor as a new Resource Management Area designation within the Sarasota 2050 chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. The purpose was to implement the BP zoning district outside of the Major Employment Center designation.
On April 26, the commission established the BP district within the MEC and identified corridors of Fruitville Road east of I-75, Bee Ridge Road east of I-75, the interchange of State Road 681 and I-75, and South River Road. An adoption public hearing for those designations is scheduled for July 12.
Most recently, the commission identified two corridors along Lorraine Road — north of Fruitville Road and south of Clark Road.
The proposed Fruitville Road BP zoning designation is between Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to 1 mile east of Lorraine Road, Bee Ridge Road between Mauna Loa Boulevard and Lorraine Road, and South River Road from the North Port city limit to North Oxford Drive.
The designation provides the opportunity for rezoning requests fronting the corridors while recognizing that not all properties will be appropriate for BP zoning.
“In the past two years we’ve all seen the increase in residents moving here, and the EDC has experienced the same level of demand from companies wanting to relocate here,” Silk said. "We also have local companies that are growing. With the increase in demand, we’ve run out of properly zoned sites in many parts of our county. The new business park will enable us to capture more of the job growth opportunity.”
According to the county’s description, the BP district is not commercial in nature or character, but certain limited commercial and service uses relating to the character of the district and supporting its activities and employees are permitted. Heavy industry and residential uses are not allowed, but BP does permit offices, flex space, light industrial, research and development labs, colleges and schools, distribution centers, retail services, freight movement, and supporting retail uses for employees, such as delis, coffee shops and personal services.
Silk said the BP district will attract companies that otherwise would not consider Sarasota County.
“We have unfortunately had to turn away new companies because we just don’t have the type of site they need at this time,” she said. “What we’ve heard, particularly from our manufacturers, is that they are growing quickly and need to expand. … We know there is an immediate opportunity for these new jobs, but until we have the sites for it, there’s just nowhere for that to happen in unincorporated Sarasota County.”
A planning commission public hearing for the Lorraine Road corridors is scheduled for July 21. Tentatively scheduled are a County Commission hearing on Aug. 20 and an adoption public hearing on Oct. 25.