About 4,500 new homes envisioned in Lakewood Ranch Southeast in Sarasota County
Acting under the provisions of a May 2007 Sarasota County resolution, the County Commission has given Rex Jensen, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, the go-ahead to work with county staff on a new residential density category within the county’s 2050 Plan, which has guidelines for communities created east of Interstate 75.
The goal, as Jensen and other speakers told the board members, is to streamline the 2050 development process for the newest section planned for Lakewood Ranch, which would be in Sarasota County.
In response to a question from Commissioner Ron Cutsinger on Feb. 8, attorney Caleb J. Grimes of the Bradenton firm Grimes Galvano said the build-out of that community would result in approximately 4,500 new homes.
“What we are giving you is a vision of what we would like to see in … Lakewood Ranch Southeast,” Grimes told the commissioners.
On Jan. 21, Rex Jensen, the principal of Shroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., and Pat Neal of Neal Communities, sent a memo to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, pointing out that Lakewood Ranch “is on the verge of building out on existing entitled property.”
In developing the southeastern portion of Lakewood Ranch, the memo pointed out, Jensen wanted to be able to create communities with less density than a 2050 Plan Village allows, but more density than that plan provides for in Hamlets.
He would prefer not to use the Hamlet option, Jensen told the commissioners on Feb. 8, because his goal is to have enough density to make it financially feasible to run water and sewer lines to, and through, the new communities.
Attorney Grimes explained during his Feb. 8 presentation to the board members that the 2007 resolution “allows the developer to get some input from [them] before going into something very large and complicated like this.”
As Jensen himself put it to the board: “The long and the short of why I am here is to ask for your help.”
Lakewood Ranch, he noted, has 31 residential villages with “23,000-ish households of nearly 56,000 people with assorted pets …” The average age of the Lakewood Ranch resident is 47, he added, and the average household income is $130,000.
Along with the homes, Jensen continued, “There are numerous business centers. … We are known for not just vertical buildings but rather a lifestyle,” with an abundance of parks and trails.
Thus far, he pointed out, “We haven’t developed much in Sarasota, though that will change.”
Lakewood Ranch has about 2,000 home sales a year, he said. “We’re the second-fastest selling community in the United bloody States,” he added, noting that The Villages in Florida has the No. 1 ranking.
“We’re going to be out of land shortly,” Jenson continued, “and we have about 4,000 acres” that Shroeder-Manatee Ranch would like to develop.
The question, Jensen said, is what form should the expansion take?
Jensen added that he is proposing an amendment to the 2050 Plan that would create a Village Transition Zone specifically for the new areas of Lakewood Ranch. That zone would have a base residential density of two dwelling units per gross developable acre, and it would maintain the Village standard of 50% open space, he noted.
In regard to that open space, Jensen pointed out that the inclusion of such a feature has been the practice Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has adhered to for nearly 30 years in developing Lakewood Ranch.
Further, he continued, he has no objections to the 2050 Plan’s provision for community, or workforce housing, with a mix of dwelling types. A slide he showed the commissioners noted that community housing can take multiple forms under the 2050 Plan, including villas, townhomes and cottages.
The proposed 2050 amendment, the slide noted, would allow Schroeder-Manatee Ranch (SMR) to build additional units priced at the market rate if a certain number of other units qualified as affordable housing stock.
Further, Jensen said, SMR would comply with the “500-foot view shed along Fruitville Road,” even though the design of Lakewood Ranch communities means that drivers on University Parkway and Lorraine Road do not even know that more than 50,000 residents are located behind fencing and landscaping elements. “I don’t have a 500-foot buffer,” he said.
Moreover, Jensen explained, SMR would not need the Village Centers specified for new communities under the 2050 Plan. “I’ve got Waterside Place,” he pointed out, referring to the newest commercial development that is part of Lakewood Ranch. “There’s no sense for me to try to create something way east … that would be destined to fail …”
Waterside Place is about 61% fully leased, he noted, with another 20% of its space at the focus of ongoing negotiations.
Yet another aspect of the 2050 amendment, he continued, would be for the inclusion of gated communities. “I think your sheriff would agree with me [that] those are preferable” in terms of preventing crime, Jensen told the commissioners, referring to Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman.
A focus on time-consuming 2050 Plan requirements
“What really grates on us,” Jensen said during his presentation, “is the numerous prescriptive requirements [of 2050] — “the ‘Thou shalt’s’ and the ‘Thou shalt not’s.’”
No one has more familiarity with those, he pointed out, than former state Sen. Pat Neal, who founded Neal Communities.
Jensen then asked Neal to address the board members.
Noting that he had had 18 years of experience with the county’s 2050 Plan, Neal did acknowledge, “We have gotten through it in … four attempts.” However, he said, “The first one took seven years.”
Lakewood Ranch, Neal continued, “is the most successful, diverse community in the United States.” It has 16,000 employees, he added, and it also keeps about one-third of the area construction industry busy.
Lakewood Ranch also is self-sufficient, Neal noted. It does not use the county jails or the Fire Department, for examples, and SMR builds its own roads.
(Later, Katie LaBarr, a project planner with the Sarasota consulting firm Stantec, pointed out that, in conjunction with Lakewood Ranch Southeast, 4 miles of State Road 64 would be constructed from Manatee County to Fruitville Road.)
Every time he seeks to build a 2050 development, Neal emphasized, it costs $100,000 to prove the fiscal neutrality provision of the county plan — that providing the necessary services to new residents will not entail county expenses. His company pays about $30,000 of that, he added, with the county having to pick up the rest of the cost, which is related to county staff’s review of a development application.
Yet, Neal also stressed to the commissioners, “The biggest problem with 2050 is time and the negotiation with your staff.” For his Grand Palm development in South County, Neal pointed out, it also cost Neal Communities about $1 million and approximately seven years to work through 41 modifications to the 2050 Plan to make the community workable. He said that that translated into an extra $700 per house.
SMR would end up spending about $10,000 per house “just in time” to work through all of the current 2050 Plan stipulations, Neal pointed out.
Neal also criticized the standard 2050 prohibition on gates for communities. Only after an altercation started by a member of the public who had come onto the grounds of Grand Palm did county staff agree that gates could be built to control access, Neal said.
“What’s wrong with what you see at Lakewood Ranch?” Neal asked. Jensen is just seeking “to dispense with the prescriptive requirements that you have in the 2050 [Plan].”
Neal added, “The new community will be gorgeous,” and it will be built in a manner that will preserve environmental features.
In regard to the environmental concerns, Scott Buttari, a landscape architect with the Stantec consulting firm, explained that by preserving 50% of the property as open space, SMR can expand the connections between surrounding green space, and it can control wetland areas while providing parks and recreational trails.
Following the presentation, Commissioner Michael Moran said, “I just love the preview process” allowed by the 2007 resolution. He added that he found it “incredibly appropriate for these large-scale, iconic … projects that are just significant communities.”
Moran also noted of Waterside Place, “That project is fabulous.”
Commissioner Christian Ziegler concurred on the latter point.
The commission and county staff do need to provide oversight for the type of new development that Neal and Jensen were discussing, Ziegler acknowledged, but a balance is necessary, to avoid “getting in the way of a free-market, entrepreneurial creative vision [such as the one] that’s before us …
Moran then told Jensen, “You’re such a visionary.” Commissioner Cutsinger said he felt the streamlined process the speakers had described made sense, especially given the history of Lakewood Ranch and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s reputation.
Commissioner Nancy Detert offered her support, as well, but she said the proposed 2050 Plan amendment should be specific to Lakewood Ranch. “We want to prevent other people from coming in under the same [guidelines] if they do not have a “track record” comparable to that of SMR.
Ziegler also zeroed in on the mix of housing stock that Jensen had noted. Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County has a variety of dwelling styles, Ziegler added. “We need more of that [in Sarasota County].”
“I think this is a great process,” Chair Alan Maio said, referring to the preview allowed by the 2007 resolution. “Most people wouldn’t think of using it,” he pointed out. Addressing the presenters, Maio said, “I’m glad you all did.”