Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

APRIL FOOL: Land swap a big deal for Manatee and Sarasota counties

Sarasota gets all of Longboat; Manatee captures Lakewood Ranch Southeast, Polo Club.

  • April Fools
  • Share

During a 14-hour, intense, joint meeting of the Sarasota County and Manatee County commissions March 25, a historic land swap was agreed upon that will "bring like-minded communities" together.

In general, Sarasota County will extend its border north to include all of Longboat Key, a goal of Sarasota County executives for years. In trade, Manatee County will receive the 4,120 acres on which Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is building 5,000 homes, generally referred to as Lakewood Ranch Southeast.

Manatee County also receives all the land bordered by Lorraine Road to the east and west to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, from University Parkway to the north and Fruitville Road to the south. In turn, Sarasota receives the Palm Aire and University Park communities along University Parkway.

Sarasota County Executive Lands Manager Swen Dillaire said, in the end, the exchanged tax revenue and land mass weren't that much different and it mostly was getting the two counties to sit down and talk it out. He said it eventually brought "like-minded communities together."

"What do you think of when you say "beach?" Dillaire said. "You think Sarasota. What do you think of when you say, agriculture? You think Manatee. I think each county is getting land that is its best fit. Manatee knows bedroom communities and cows. We know the most exclusive homes in the U.S."

Sarasota commissioners voted 7-0 in favor of the swap while Manatee commissioners voted 6-1 with George Kruse opposed.

The deal was forwarded to the state for review to make it official. That should happen within the next 60 days.

Upon approval, signs will be erected at the Longboat Key Bridge that say "Entering Manatee County" headed north and "Entering Sarasota County" headed south. After a coin flip, Sarasota County earned the chore of maintaining the bridge for the first 10 years, with Manatee County takes over for the next 10 years, and the two counties will continue to swap at 10-year intervals thereafter.

There were other elements to the deal as Manatee County received $150 million in cash, while Sarasota will receive a 500-acre parcel to be named at a later date. Manatee County commissioners insisted on getting the Fruitville Commons shopping center because they wanted Twin Peaks and Coopers Hawk. 

"I know some of that east Sarasota County property we are getting is low-dollar acreage as compared to Longboat," said Manatee County Chief of Lands Staff Red Knecht. "But the developers will turn this into prime real estate. They can turn a sink hole into a wine cellar."

Knecht said while some citizens might criticize the deal, he thought it just made sense. "Think of it this way. Sarasota County knows how to take care of its Loggerhead turtles. Manatee County is skilled at dealing with gopher tortoises. It's just a different skill set."

After the first six hours of the joint meeting, the two counties seemed to have struck an agreement that just dealt with Longboat Key and Lakewood Ranch Southeast. But then the conversation came up about, specifically, the Polo Club, and the Palm Aire and University Park communities.

"Go to Palm Aire or University Park and ask someone where they live," said Sarasota County planner Kat Ographer. "They will say Sarasota immediately. And I am sure that people are tired of hearing 'The Sarasota Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch.' Now they just can call it the Lakewood Ranch Polo Club."

The final four hours of the meeting involved bickering over all the shopping centers to the north side of University Parkway and across from the Mall at University Town Center. Sarasota officials were standing firm that they wanted those shopping centers, which are in Manatee County, and the revenue they bring. Manatee commissioners weren't budging, insisting that Sarasota County needed to include all the land east of Interstate 75 from University Parkway to Bee Ridge Road for the deal to be completed.

"Then we could build our own shopping centers," said Manatee County strategist A.S. Tute. "We were born at night, but not last night."

That negotiating eventually was dropped.

Both counties acknowledged there are lots of smaller items to work out, and those conversations will begin immediately. The two counties' fire and emergency medical, and sheriff's office departments needed to examine the new map to sketch out coverage duties. Mark Despot, representing the state's law enforcement bureau, said, "You don't want to have a situation where no one responds to a bank robbery because they aren't sure if it's in their territory."

Other concerns are things such as school zones, library services, mosquito spraying and park services.

Manatee County did want the sand back that it had used in August to renourish beaches along northern Longboat Key, but eventually Sarasota County agreed to increase the cash settlement in the deal by $25 million. 

Sarasota County's Bill Kolector said homeowners affected by the change of county can go to to fill in a calculator that will estimate changes in utility bills and taxes. Manatee County said it will suspend garbage services in Palm Aire and University Park as soon as the state approves the deal and Sarasota County said it will be collection without three or four weeks later.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

Latest News