The Manatee County Planning Commission doesn’t make decisions, but it's the first board to review land use proposals, many of which are located in East County.
As of Feb. 8, two new East County residents — Monaca Onstad and Jeffrey Eslinger — are making recommendations to commissioners on which projects to approve or deny.
Onstad was the community relations director for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. Residents can credit her for coming up with developing ideas such as the Lakewood Ranch Farmer’s Market and Ranch Nite Wednesdays at Waterside Place.
After six years of creating lifestyle programs for Lakewood Ranch, in 2022 Onstad launched her own lifestyle and amenity consulting firm, OnPlace.
Up until January, Onstad was traveling all over the country consulting with developers. She’s since hired someone to take on much of the national travel for her.
A planning commission position requires the member to review material and attend monthly meetings, one more responsibility for Onstad. Besides being the CEO of OnPlace, she is on the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities board, and she has two children, 14-year-old Garrett and 2-year-old Alexander.
“The worst times for both of them — toddler and a teenager,” she said with a laugh.
But Onstad said she believes in giving back. On Jan. 11, she was named “Volunteer of the Year” by Lakewood Ranch Community Activities.
“If I’m going to give back, I want to give back to the community, so I might as well give back to something that I really know about and care about,” she said. “I think (joining the Planning Commission) is a natural evolution for me. I’ve worked with a lot of plans, and a lot of the developers around the country.”
Eslinger, on the other hand, was born in Sarasota County and his grandparents lived in Bradenton. He’s bounced between the two counties his whole life.
He’s a home builder and real estate broker. He’s a partner in E/M Custom Homes and owns Eslinger Realty. He also served on the Sarasota County Planning Commission about 20 years ago when he was in his 40s. Now at 63, Eslinger says he appreciates the opportunity more.
“It’s a time commitment, but my first thought was ‘I’ll work my schedule around it. I want to be part of that,” he said. “I want to participate in our community.”
Onstad and Eslinger are on the same page stepping into their new roles. Onstad said she wants to see “smart growth,” and Eslinger said he wants the county to stay “ahead of the game.”
While Onstad and Eslinger are the two latest members, Over the past six months, the Planning Commission has turned over the majority of its members.
In August, the seven-person board welcomed former SMR executive Richard Bedford and Parrish building contractor Lorraine Prosser after Ray Turner was appointed to the commission and Bill Conerly stepped down when his term expired.
East County residents still fill a majority of the seats on the board. Onstad and Eslinger took the place of David Roth and Bill Smock, both East County residents.
Cindy Kebba, Paul Rutlege and John DeLesline fill the remaining three seats. Kebba lives in Lakewood Ranch, and Rutledge lives in Braden Run.
It could be considered a voting block, but the board only makes recommendations. Prosser lives in Parrish, while DeLesline and Bedford don't live in East County, but they do live in Bradenton.
There are no representatives from the islands or Myakka on the board. The seats aren’t divided up by district and the only requirement is to be a registered voter living in Manatee County.
Occupation isn’t a requirement either, but it weighs heavier than residence. The requirement states that no particular expertise is required, but “persons with experience or training in the substantive areas of planning, engineering, environmental science and the development industry shall be considered in the appointment process.”
“We’re bound to make our decisions based on the code,” Onstad said. “Although I live in Lakewood Ranch, I’m here to make sure the code is represented.”
Members at a glance
Oct. 14, 2024
Oct. 14, 2024
Retire city planner and real estate analyst
Oct. 14, 2025
Realtor and builder
Oct. 14, 2025
Oct. 14, 2026
Oct. 14, 2026
Paint color designer and certified building contractor
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.