Commissioner Charles Hines casts only ‘No’ vote, citing a much narrower buffer than he would prefer on the SR 72 border of the property
For Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines, it was a matter of 450 feet.
For three of other board members, the concept was almost exactly what they had envisioned under the county’s 2050 Plan for new development on the LT Ranch property east of Interstate 75.
Only a 50-foot buffer with landscaping and trees — plus a 6-foot sidewalk and a 20-foot utilities easement — will separate the 300,000-square-foot commercial center of the proposed 1,725-acre community from State Road 72, Hines pointed out. He would prefer the 500-foot buffer provided for under 2050 Plan guidelines, even though it would be pasture.
The matter before the board on Nov. 9 was a request for the rezoning of the property south of Clark Road to enable the Taylor Morrison firm to construct nine neighborhoods.
Officially, the applicants were James Turner of LT Ranch and David Truxton of Taylor Morrison, according to the material submitted to the county.
The application originally sought a 10-foot buffer on State Road 72. After discussion on Nov. 9 between Hines and Charles Bailey III of the Sarasota law firm Williams Parker — who was acting as the agent for the development team — the 50-foot distance was proffered. Landscaping will create opacity at the 50% level, Bailey added.
Hines pointed out that he supported all the facets of the project except that buffer. “I’m struggling procedurally how to do this.”
Commissioner Christine Robinson, who made the motion to approve the rezoning, noted that the property was too constrained to allow for a wider landscaped buffer without imperiling plans for trails and other open space within the neighborhoods. “There are some really creative things in this rezone,” she said. “I was really fascinated by the trails [that will connect the phases of the development].”
She and Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo also lauded the inclusion of a 500-foot buffer that will border Cow Pen Slough on the western side of the property. That protection for the Dona Bay Watershed — whose improvement has been identified by the board as one of its major priorities — “brings a very distinctive environmental value to the table,” Robinson noted.
As for the 50-foot buffer, she continued, “I hope that that will be maximized to the greatest extent possible in order to enhance the area.” She added that she believes the developer “will have to make sure that looks good,” as it will be one of the property’s gateways.
With a prior county Comprehensive Plan amendment having given the applicant the right to move the mixed-use commercial center to the property’s boundary on SR 72, Robinson said, residents of other nearby communities will not have to drive into the neighborhoods, which should lessen traffic on the site.
That same amendment allowed the developer to reduce the amount of green space within the project from 50% to 35% of the total. However, Bailey noted that, with the buffer along Cow Pen Slough, the overall amount of green space actually will be 56%.
“I’m very, very familiar with the property,” Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo said. The planning “shows a tremendous amount of local connection and knowledge [about the area],” he added, “and it really is fantastic what [the development team has] done. … I really mean it. … I think you are going to have a remarkably successful, attractive place for young families to live.”
Chair Alan Maio concurred: “This is going to be a beautiful project.”
Nonetheless, if it had not incorporated a plan for 15% of the 3,450 dwelling units to be affordable, Maio continued, “I would have been as tormented by this decision as Commissioner Hines is …”
Hines reiterated a point he had made earlier in the discussion: The Oaks Club on U.S. 41 in Osprey is well hidden behind a berm. “That’s the one stretch of [U.S.] 41 that you don’t feel like you’re driving through [a] commercial [area],” he said. “That’s what I hoped to see out there [on SR 72].”
When Maio called for the vote on the rezoning petition, Hines was the only one to oppose it.
Details about the project
As Bailey explained during his presentation, the plan calls for development on 971.9 acres, with another 527.5 acres of open space within the community; the buffer along Cow Pen Slough will comprise 225.4 acres.
The nine neighborhoods will range from 40 to 150 acres each, with a minimum of three housing types in all of them, he said.
Each neighborhood will have a center, such as a house of worship or a retail amenity, he continued. In cooperation with the Sarasota County School Board, he noted, 20 acres has been set aside for a new elementary school, and another 2 acres will be left for a future county fire station.
The development will include 120.3 acres of parks, including one comprising 30 acres that will be open to the public. It will have sufficient space for ball fields, for example, Bailey said.
Although Bailey had noted the proximity of the project to the county’s Twin Lakes Park, Hines pointed out that that facility “is tapped out now without one more house being built.” Hines suggested Bailey and the other team members look at the incorporation of ball fields into the Heritage Harbour development in east Manatee County as an example of what the LT Ranch project should include. “It’s got to have something for the youth in that area,” Hines said of the proposed new development.
In regard to the housing: Ten percent of the dwelling units will be available at 80% of the average median income (AMI) for the region and another 5% at 100% AMI, for a total of 517 affordable homes, Bailey told the board.
The 100% AMI figure is about $62,000 per year, county Planner Vivian Roe said during a presentation to the commission last month; 80% of AMI is $49,500 per year for a family of four.
The goal is to begin construction in the 2017-18 timeframe, county Planner Todd Dary said on Nov. 9. The project build-out will take up to 20 years, Bailey told the board. The property is about one-quarter the size of Palmer Ranch, Bailey noted; construction on that community began in 1986 and has continued over the succeeding decades.
Seventy-three percent of the new project will drain into Cow Pen Slough, Bailey continued, as will properties from the north. The 500-foot buffer between the development and the slough will serve as a 3-mile filter that will “scrub [the stormwater], treat it and send it further south to Dona Bay.”
The county staff report provided to the board also pointed out that, in conjunction with the site’s development, the county is planning to widen Clark Road from Proctor Road to Bee Ridge Road Extension from two to four lanes; widen Proctor between Cattlemen Road and Clark Road from two to four lanes; construct a dedicated westbound right-turn lane at the intersection of Cattlemen and Proctor; create an additional southbound left-turn lane at the intersection of I-75 and Clark Road, for a total of two such lanes; and construct a southbound slip/bypass right-turn lane and a second northbound approach lane at the intersection of Bee Ride Road Extension and Clark Road.
Bailey said the project’s proportional share of the expense of those improvements will be about $12 million.