More townhomes planned instead
Having already won Sarasota County Commission approval to eliminate the affordable housing element of his Windward development in the eastern part of the county, developer Pat Neal more recently has received approval to rid the project of the commercial center that originally was a required facet of all communities planned under the county’s Sarasota 2050 guidelines.
The Jan. 30 application, submitted to county staff by Kelly Klepper, a certified planner who is vice president of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, explained that if the commercial center were removed, Windward would “provide a greater diversity of housing types by increasing the number of townhomes available for sale within the development.”
An analysis included among the application materials explained that those townhomes would fulfill a need for such construction in the Fruitville Road corridor and in the southern part of the Lakewood Ranch area. Further, that analysis said that the townhomes would “appeal to wide range of homebuyers (families, young professionals, active adults)” because of the location of the residences, their price, the fact that they would be townhomes and because each would have three bedrooms.
In regard to eliminating the commercial center, another report included with the application said that an analysis determined that “an adequate supply of neighborhood-scale commercial [centers exists or will be built] within 1 mile of Windward.” It also noted, “There is an adequate supply of commercial centers built or under construction within 5 miles of Windward.”
Further, that report pointed out that more than 5 million square feet “of vacant commercially zoned land [is] within 5 miles of Windward.” Moreover, the report said, “Changes in technology & consumer behavior are resulting in long-term reduced demand for retail and office space. Brick and mortar retailers are projected to continue to lose market share over the next 20 years.”
As explained in a county staff memo in the packet, “Windward (formally known as Lindvest) is a previously approved residential development consisting of 900 residential units and 100,000 square feet of non-residential uses through approval of Rezone Petition No. 14-18 (Ordinance No. 2015-036).”
A map included in the county staff report for the Sept. 12 item shows the community is located north of Fruitville Road, south of Blue Lake Road and west of Lorraine Road.
“The Applicant seeks to rezone the Windward property from VPD (Village Planned Development) with stipulations to VPD with amended stipulations,” the memo continued, “to remove the 100,000 square feet of nonresidential uses from the Village Center, and instead construct 42 townhomes. This would bring the total residential unit count for Windward from 900 to 942 units. The Housing Tracking Chart, submitted with this Application … shows a total of 529 units sold or under construction.”
That report also explained that of the original 900 units, 225 were to have been “incentive-based affordable housing units.” However, the report pointed out, in 2019 and 2020, the Florida Legislature amended state law to require a county “to provide incentives to fully offset all costs to the developer of its affordable housing contribution or linkage fee. As a response to the amended legislation, the [Sarasota County Commission] adopted Ordinances No. 2020-042 and 2020-043,” which “amended Section 124-271(c)(3)d.5 of the Unified Development Code (UDC), such that the inclusion of affordable housing is no longer mandatory for 2050 Villages.”
The UDC contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
The total site area for Windward, the county staff report said, is approximately 450 acres; the development area will comprise about 230.5 acres, leaving approximately 219.5 acres of open space.
One new stipulation for the project, which the Planning Commission had recommended that the County Commission approve, calls for the construction of a gated, 20-foot-wide, paved emergency-only access from the site to and from Blue Lake Road. Previously, the county staff report explained, the approved plans for Windward/Lindvest showed “a required emergency access located at the north boundary” of the community. As part of the new application, the report noted, county Transportation staff recommended the stipulation in regard to that access. “The Applicant has no issues or concerns with the one added stipulation,” the staff report said.
‘This developer has done nothing but lie’
The item was listed on the Sept. 12 agenda as a Presentation Upon Request, which — as implied — means that the board members do not need to ask staff or the applicant to make a presentation on the application. Presentation Upon Request designation usually is accorded to items that staff has found to be non-controversial.
No commissioner asked for any remarks about the Windward application, and no member of the public had signed up to address the board.
Without offering any comments during their regular meeting on Sept. 12, the county commissioners agreed unanimously to the latest Windward modification.
Nonetheless, as shown in the packet for the agenda item, several individuals had written to county staff to oppose the application.
Among the letters, Kimberly Paige Leighton indicated that she bought a single-family home in Windward, but its construction has been held up for a variety of reasons, from lack of workers and supplies to Neal Communities’ focus on building speculation houses and townhomes instead.
“This developer has done nothing but lie time after time to its home buyers and continues to ignore resident requests while continuing to find time to change things behind our backs,” she wrote. “This is not the first request to change the neighborhood and it is a completely different atmosphere than what was sold to us before moving in to our dream home.”
A couple, Terri and Giovanni Delli Carpini, wrote the commissioners and county Planning Division staff that they were “disappointed by this course of action.”
They continued, “While we love living in this beautiful village and enjoyed working with Neal Communities to build our house, we feel their proposed project will impact this area causing additional traffic congestion, destruction of natural open space, and displacement of wildlife. Moreover, we are confused by its action to add more townhouses when its initial project named Martinique has not taken off. Initially, it was presented to residents as privately owned townhouses when ultimately it has evolved into rentals that appears Neal has trouble filling. So, will this be the fate of this second project?”
Yet another county resident, Glenna Blomquist, wrote the following to a county planner: “What’s the point of a Village if it can be undone on a whim? Not getting this: There must have been some thought in designating this land as a Village in the first place.”
The relevant 2018 board action
Neal, a former state senator, convinced the county commissioners seated in March 2018 to amend the county’s Comprehensive Plan to allow the elimination of the commercial center requirement for Villages created under the guidelines of the 2050 Plan, as long as another village in the same area — but not necessarily contiguous to the proposed one — has such a complex.
At that time, he was working on plans for what has become the Grand Park community, which is south of Clark Road and east of Interstate 75.
During the March 14, 2018 public hearing, Commissioners Michael Moran, Paul Caragiulo and Alan Maio all pointed to the dramatic changes in the retail industry over the past five to 10 years.
As a businessman himself, Moran told Kelly Klepper, vice president and senior planner of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota — who was representing Neal at that time — “I wouldn’t even consider doing a mailer there,” if the community had only 1,000 homes, “let alone putting an office there.” It is a question of how many residents can “feed” commercial properties, Moran added.
“Thank you for that comment,” Klepper replied.
“Just the definition of retail has changed significantly since [the 2050 Plan] was drafted,” Caragiulo pointed out. Furthermore, he said, supermarkets need 8,000 to 10,000 rooftops “to really show any viability.”