On unanimous vote, County Commission approves 87-home development on Hand Road near Lake Sarasota community

Opponents provide details about transportation safety, with site next to two schools

The site of the David Weekley Homes project is outlined in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Even though residents of the neighboring area stressed their concerns about the additional traffic — especially in light of the proximity of two schools — and routine flooding on the road, the Sarasota County commissioners this week unanimously approved a rezoning application so a new development can be constructed on approximately 28.38 acres bordering Hand Road.

The site is just north of Sarasota Baptist Church and immediately south of the Lake Sarasota community.

The vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Joe Neunder absent from the Nov. 28 regular meeting.

During the public hearing on the proposed David Weekley Homes project — which, by stipulation will have no more than 87 residences — Keith Russo, chair of the Lake Sarasota Community Group, emphasized to the commissioners that Hand Road “is 18 feet wide. It is in incredible disrepair [and it] is underwater for half of the year,” including the months when the neighboring Oak Park and Lakeview Elementary schools are in session.

While the agents acting on behalf of the developer have proffered a sidewalk that they say will ensure safer passage of students from the Lake Sarasota area to Lakeview Elementary, Russo continued, the company’s project concept plan is non-binding. “We need a binding plan,” Russo pointed out, to ensure that Hand Road “won’t flood” and that the sidewalk will be constructed as Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning and Development in Bradenton stated on behalf of David Weekley Homes.

Traffic along Hand Road “at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. backs up for miles,” Russo further emphasized. Both Lakeview and Oak Park are too crowded, he said, as evidenced by the Sarasota County School District’s use of multiple portable classrooms on both campuses.

“This is a nightmare,” Russo added, referring to plans for the new development.

Altogether, six residents spoke during the public hearing to oppose the rezoning.

County Planner Brooke Fleming, who handled that application and a companion Special Exception petition for Sarasota Baptist Church, also provided the commissioners extra public correspondence that was submitted after the Nov. 28 agenda packet was published on Nov. 21.

The emails came from four individuals, while another six people who did not attend the hearing collaborated on joint correspondence.

The emails cited many of the issues that speakers addressed during the hearing, including the fact that Hand Road is the only southern evacuation route for residents of Lake Sarasota.

‘A lot of misinformation’

During his rebuttal after the public remarks, Medred of Genesis Planning and Development referred the commissioners to a page in the county staff report on the development plans. That shows that Hand Road is 24 feet wide, he said. Moreover, Medred continued, the right of way ranges from 72 feet to 100 feet in width, with the latter figure closer to the Lakeview Elementary property.

If the Sarasota County School Board determines that a new turn lane for that school is warranted after residents begin moving into the Weekley Homes community, he said, then sufficient space exists for such construction.

Further, Medred explained, “The most stringent review that’s done” by county staff regards stormwater control. County regulations forbid a developer from affecting any of a new community’s neighbors, either upstream or downstream, Medred said. The project team has to demonstrate not only to county staff but also to staff of the Southwest Florida Water Management District that the stormwater handling will be sufficient, he pointed out.

As for the potential that David Weekley Homes could build more than 87 new homes on the site, Medred stressed that the developer had agreed to that stipulation during the Sept. 21 county Planning Commission hearing on the rezoning of the site.

This is the non-binding concept plan for the new development north of Sarasota Baptist Church, on Hand Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Finally, Medred pointed out to the board members that county regulations require sidewalks “along all of our frontage along Hand Road.” The only section where a sidewalk is not necessary, according to the Unified Development Code, which contains all of the county’s zoning and land-use regulations, would be along the perimeter of a “carve-out” section of the project site that is home to a privately owned parcel, Medred noted. Nonetheless, Medred continued, David Weekley Homes also plans to construct a sidewalk, plus a landscape buffer and fencing, along that perimeter.

“There’s a lot of misinformation that’s gone out in this entire process,” he told the board members.

Formally on Nov. 28, Medred was requesting the rezoning of the site from Open Use Estate, which allows one unit per 5 acres, to Residential Single-Family 4, which permits up to 5.5 units per acre.

Commissioner Mark Smith did ask county staff members about the stormwater and road issues that speakers had cited. (One resident of Lake Sarasota, Ryan Schrock, who lives on Mauna Loa Boulevard, had said of Hand Road, “It feels like you’re driving on a gravel road.” The regular flooding, Schrock added, “literally pops the asphalt up off the surface constantly.”)

In response to Smith’s question about whether the county’s Stormwater Division had received complaints about the road flooding similar to those aired during the hearing, Bob Laura of that division replied that maintenance crews have taken a look at the situation on Hand Road, which runs through a 100-year floodplain. “The flood depths are within the level of service [for that type of road],” Laura said. The depths are less than 12 inches for a 100-year storm event, he noted.

Still, Laura acknowledged that the flooding events that residents had described are a nuisance.

Then, referring to statements both from Medred and Paula Wiggins, the county’s Transportation Planning manager, that Hand Road is scheduled for resurfacing in 2025, Smith asked Wiggins whether staff would take into consideration, as well, the potential need for the widening of the road, given the traffic issues.

The project would entail resurfacing only, Wiggins responded, though she did confirm the 24-foot width that Medred had cited. The Stormwater Division would have to address the flooding issues, she added.

This information in the county staff report prepared for the hearing regards school capacity for students who would be living in the new community. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In regard to the potential for the Sarasota County School Board to authorize the creation of another access to Lakeview Elementary from Hand Road, she reminded the commissioners that that body “is its own entity.” She also pointed out that traffic issues related to parents dropping off and picking up children are consistent countywide at elementary and middle schools.

(Earlier, Commissioner Michael Moran, who said his children attended Lakeview Elementary, had sought clarification about whether the three access points he recalled were still present. Wiggins had assured him that they are; one of them is for school buses only.)

County staff collaborates routinely with the School District staff on situations that become problematic, Wiggins also told Smith.

Further, she said, a new school is under construction off Lorraine Road that will have students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Perhaps that will ease some of the overcrowding at Lakeview, she added.

One other point Smith raised during the hearing was the fact that the county’s Transportation staff had provided a chart in the report on the application showing that the daily number of trips on Hand Road linked to the existing zoning, Open Use Estate, was 66. That figure was attributed to data found in the 11th edition of the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) manual, which the Transportation staff uses as its primary reference source for such determinations.

With 80 new homes on the property, staff predicted the daily trip count would climb to 847.

This chart in the county staff report for the hearing shows the traffic projections. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Medred did not respond to Smith’s remark. Nonetheless, that was the first time Smith indicated that Hand Road probably will need to be widened.

‘An incredibly unique area’

Commissioner Moran ended up making the motion to approve the rezoning petition for the David Weekley Homes project, as well as a Special Exception for Sarasota Baptist Church, so it can create additional parking spaces and make stormwater adjustments on its property. (The church was the applicant for the rezoning, as well, as it will be selling about 4.85 acres to David Weekley Homes, Medred noted.)

“At the end of the day,” Moran said, “when this [development] is finished, I think it’s going to be an incredibly unique area,” with the church, the schools and even a nearby dog park — “all within walking distance of each other.”

Commissioner Neil Rainford, who seconded the motion, pointed out of the David Weekley Homes site, “It’s an infill property within the urban service corridor.” He pointed out that the commissioners are tasked with focusing on infill developments, because such projects make use of existing county services, including water and sewer infrastructure and road networks. The planning for the project “makes sense to me,” he added.

These are details about Hand Road, provided in the county staff report. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Chair Ron Cutsinger stressed the stipulation for a maximum of 87 new homes as part of the approval process. Even though the site plan is non-binding, he continued, “One thing I do like” is that the project team worked with the neighborhood “to the best of their ability …”

“In terms of traffic,” Cutsinger said, “It’s always an issue, but that’s not on the developer.” Ensuring Hand Road is adequate for the residents it will serve is up to the county and the School Board, he added.

(State law was changed in 2011 to relieve developers of having to spend money to ensure adequate road capacity for their projects.)

Just before the vote, Commissioner Smith said he had no problems with the proposed development, but  he was concerned about Hand Road. He asked that staff review the drainage and condition issues that residents had cited, along with the potential for widening the road.

“I think staff has heard that,” Cutsinger told him.