Last-minute plea fails to halt County Commission plan to add north-south Lorraine Road connector to the county’s Future Thoroughfare Map

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to review proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment before final vote set for May

This shows the proposed modification to the county’s’ 2040 Future Thoroughfare Map, adding Lorraine Road as a four-lane, north-sough arterial. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Over the past year, especially, Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio has noted the need for Lorraine Road as a major north-south connector. As an observer, he sat in on meetings of property owners as county staff and those private individuals worked on right of way issues.

Therefore, on Feb. 4, Maio was quick to make a motion to adopt a resolution that would lead to adding the realignment of Lorraine Road to the county’s future thoroughfare plan.

As a county staff report explained, a proposed county Comprehensive Plan amendment “would add a realigned routing for Lorraine Road south of Clark Road [State Road 72], add the extension to Dove Avenue south of Clark Road, and a reclassification of Clark Road as a 6-lane Major Collector from [Interstate] 75 to Ibis Street and a 4-lane Major Arterial from Ibis Street to Lorraine Road to the 2040 Future Thoroughfare Plan.”

“The proposed addition of Dove Avenue” — which would be two lanes — “provides an additional north/south roadway east of I-75 which increases connectivity for future development and surrounding roadway segments,” the staff report explained.

Further, the amendment would include a future I-75/State Road 681 interchange and connection to the future Lorraine Road corridor.

A county staff memo, which was prepared in advance of the County Commission’s regular meeting on Feb. 4, added, “These proposed roadway changes will serve as important components of the backbone to the future roadway network east of I-75 and will serve future developments in the County east of I-75.”

With passage of the resolution, the amendment would head to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for the formal review that state regulations require before local governments can adopt such amendments.

The Feb. 4 staff memo said the formal public hearing for adoption of the Comprehensive Plan amendment has been scheduled for May 5.

Commissioner Charles Hines seconded Maio’s motion on Feb. 4.

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This is the existing 2040 Future Thoroughfare Map. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then Maio talked of the effort to create the realignment, which involved five property owners working with county staff. He also stressed the importance of adding Lorraine Road to the county’s transportation network at this point.

Last year, he said, during Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meetings, Manatee County leaders discussed their difficulties in trying to widen Lorraine Road on their side of the Sarasota County line. “They are really struggling with monumental costs for right of way that they now need.”

After Maio made his remarks, though, instead of calling for the vote, Chair Michael Moran indicated he had a problem.

The item was listed on the Feb. 4 agenda as a “Presentation Upon Request.” Staff typically places such items on the agenda under that heading if no controversy has become apparent ahead of time. That classification meant that the board could proceed to act without taking any public comment, if no one had signed up to speak or if no one who had signed up chose to speak after all.

Although Moran had noted that he had three cards from people in the audience, none had indicated to him a desire to come to the podium.

What changed was the appearance of a fourth card, signed by an attorney named Kasey A. Feltner of the Shutts & Bowen firm in Tampa.

Assistant County Attorney Josh Moye advised Moran to allow Feltner to come to the podium, even though Moran had closed the public hearing.

Kasey Feltner. Image from the Shutts & Bowen website

Feltner then explained that he was representing a client named Bedstone Holdings Inc., whose address is 1990 Main St. in Sarasota. “As a landowner with interests in this [realignment of Lorraine Road],” Feltner continued, “we’re not necessarily opposing the Comprehensive Plan amendment.”

However, Feltner added, “My client has taken the position that we did not received notice” of a September 2019 county Neighborhood Workshop on the issue, and the firm and his client could not find all the necessary documents online to review the proposal.

As a result, Feltner added, “We made a public records request [on Jan. 22]; they were overnighted to us in Tampa yesterday.”

Feltner asked the commission for a one-month delay in adopting the resolution, to ensure his client had adequate time for a thorough review of the pertinent documents.

“Not putting you in the spotlight,” Maio said to Feltner, “[but] where is your property? What size is it? … How did we miss you in all these discussions?”

The Bedstone Holdings property would border Lorraine Road, as the latter would be realigned, Feltner responded. He would provide the commissioners the exact address of it, he added, but not in public.

A Sarasota News Leader review of Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records found a Bedstone Holdings parcel comprising 39.85 acres located along Hawkins Road and encompassing part of Dove Avenue. The company bought the property in November 2003 for $2 million, according to those county records. The 2019 market value of the parcel was put at $2,131,800, the Property Appraiser’s Office records show.

“I’d rather not do a continuance, especially if we find out that the ownership that you represent is not in any way impacted by what we’re doing here,” Maio told Feltner.

“I’m more than happy to meet offline,” Feltner replied.

Finally, Moran announced that the board would take a 5-minute break.

After a break of about 10 minutes …

After the commissioners returned to the dais, Assistant County Attorney Moye suggested, “It would just be cleaner if we kind of backed up a little bit.” He asked if Commissioner Maio would withdraw his motion and if Commissioner Hines would withdraw his second. They did so.

“There was nobody asking to speak,” Maio pointed out, when Chair Moran opened the public hearing.

“Point taken,” Moye responded.

Hines then indicated that, somehow, Feltner’s card was overlooked.

Hines added that the address of Bedstone Holdings had been determined. “I don’t see how they’re impacted,” Hines added.

With Moran reopening the hearing, other speakers indicated a desire to address the board. Among those was Jerry Jasper, who was representing the Venetian Golf and River Club Association, a community with 1,377 homes off Laurel Road between Knights Trail Road and Jacaranda Boulevard.

“We urge you to adopt the resolution” and send it to the state, Jasper told the commissioners. County plans to extend Knights Trail Road to Clark Road, as part of the Lorraine Road realignment, he continued, “will greatly benefit the present and future residents of our area.”

This is an aerial map showing Knights Trail Road next to Toscana Isles (to the right of the road) and part of the Venetian Golf and River Club. Image from Google Maps

Altogether, Jasper continued, 6,900 homes will be constructed in the vicinity of his community, along with a 184-acre commercial park and a 523-acre industrial park.

On two separate occasions, he added, residents living close to Knights Trail Road essentially have been blocked from leaving their homes because of accidents, as that road is their only means of ingress and egress. The changes designed with the extension of Lorraine Road will give those people another way in and out of their neighborhood, he told the commissioners.

Alexander Hays, who works for LALP Development LLC, which is the company behind the construction of Toscana Isles, concurred with Jasper’s latter points. Toscana Isles is near the very southern end of Knights Trail, Hays said. “We are strongly in support of this proposal.”

Finally, Pat Neal of Neal Communities, whose company plans the 1,097-home Grand Lakes community along Ibis Street, offered his support.

Addressing Commissioner Moran, Neal noted, “Very seldom, Mr. Chair, do I ever have a series of public hearings where everybody is in support [of my proposal].”

This graphic shows the proposed road modifications in the context of Sarasota 2050 Plan development areas east of Interstate 75. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The last speaker to appear before the board was county planner Brett Harrington. He confirmed for the commissioners that staff had checked its records for notification of the September 2019 Neighborhood Workshop about the Lorraine Road Comprehensive Plan amendment. Staff also had researched the notifications list for the Planning Commission meeting when the issue was addressed, and the list for the hearing before the County Commission.

Bedstone Holdings was on each list, Harrington said.

Additionally, as required by county regulations, staff had sent out email blasts and put hearing notices in the newspaper, Harrington pointed out. “I think we’ve met all the requirements.”

Moran then closed the public hearing.

Once again, Maio made his motion, including a call for staff to ensure that previous plans for the widening of Rustic Road would be eliminated by the creation of Lorraine Road.

Hines seconded the motion.

“I just want to dive into the importance of this,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said.

When he was campaigning in 2018 for a seat on the County Commission, he continued, “One of the biggest concerns [was] traffic. … There’s not much the commission can do today or tomorrow,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is build a grid.”

People use I-75 as a local road, Ziegler pointed out, which he said he believes should not be standard practice.

This is another map showing the proposed changes to the road network. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“By adding an additional option out east … I think this is going to alleviate a lot of issues for our residents in that [part] of the county.”

“Aside from I-75,” Commissioner Nancy Detert noted, “there aren’t that many north-south roads. … We’ve spent decades looking for more north-south roads.”

She added that a previous commissioner liked to say, “‘It’s pretty hard to have gridlock when you don’t even have a grid.’”

Yet, referring to attorney Feltner’s comments, Detert said, “A last-minute monkey wrench” had the potential of disrupting a decade-long effort to get the new north-south corridor constructed.

The motion then passed on a 5-0 vote.

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