- January 4, 2023
District Authority had a desire to make its gated public roads private, an attorney for the governing body said significant obstacles remain.
The IDA had hoped once the bonds used to finance the roads had been fully paid, it might make privatization an easier process. IDA Attorney Andy Cohen said during a Jan. 17 meeting that this was not the case.
Although District 2’s bonds were fully paid off in 2017, Cohen said the means of financing infrastructure projects impacts their future ownership.
Cohen said Manatee County would not be able to transfer the roads to private ownership. He said while the district needed the county to be supportive, it was at the state level that the privatization could occur.
Currently, roads remain public in three gated areas of Lakewood Ranch — District 2, which includes the southern areas of Country Club and Edgewater Village; District 5, which includes the northern areas of Country Club; and District 6, which includes the western areas of Country Club.
Privatization of the roads was discussed repeatedly among the districts in 2022, with Cohen being tasked with examining the possibility.
Reporting back to the board, Cohen said significant obstacles will be hard to overcome.
“Even with the paying off of our bonds, we’re still a public entity, they’re still public roads and we still have public infrastructure behind those gates,” he said.
The bonds were tax-exempt, a funding mechanism used by governments to fund essential public projects.
He also noted that District 2 includes a park facility near its tennis courts that was built through the tax exempt financing, stating this was another obstacle.
Cohen said his team had also examined whether a neighborhood can dedicate a road to its homeowner’s association.
He noted that while another district, Heritage Community Development District in Tampa, was able to change the ownership of its roads, it originally was city-owned, and even after being turned over to the development district, required the public could still use the roads, although motorists would need to check in at the added gates.
While Cohen was not involved in the creation of the Stewardship District, he said it was his understanding that it used tax-exempt financing differently than the other districts.
If the issue is brought to Florida’s Legislature, it would not be the first time Lakewood Ranch’s districts have attempted to transfer ownership of the roads.
Richard Williams, former chairperson of District 6, led an effort to have the Florida Legislature approve a bill at its 2015 session that would have allowed the roads to be transferred to homeowner’s associations but was ultimately unsuccessful.