Neal Communities’ 3H Ranch plans for 6,576 dwelling units south of Clark Road, east of I-75, wins Planning Commission endorsement

County Commission hearing scheduled for June 5

This aerial map shows the location of the planned 3H Ranch development, outlined in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After hearing explanations from project team members about the efforts already underway to improve the road network in the area, the six Sarasota County Planning Commission members present voted unanimously on April 18 to recommend that the County Commission approve the petitions necessary for the development of a 6,576-unit residential community south of Clark Road, east of Interstate 75 and west of Skye Ranch.

The site encompasses approximately 2,721 acres; it is known as part of the Clark Properties.

The Neal Communities initiative also would encompass up to 120,000 square feet of office uses and 250,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, as the county staff report noted. The property is identified in the application and staff report as 3H Ranch. The neighborhoods would be created in accord with provisions of the county’s Village Planned Development concept, which is part of the 2050 Plan for residential areas east of I-75.

The County Commission hearing on the proposal originally was scheduled for May 22, county Planning and Development Services staff told The Sarasota News Leader via email on April 24. However, just hours after the staff reported that date, Planning and Development sent an update: “Just yesterday, at the request of the applicant, we have rescheduled the 3H Ranch project to the June 5, 2024, [County Commission meeting].”

Most of the 10 members of the public who spoke during the April 18 hearing stressed their concerns with Ibis Street, which is on the western border of the 3H Ranch property.

Jim Hamilton, a resident of Serenoa, a development west of the site, pointed out that four communities already use Ibis Street, and Neal’s project would allow four more to do so. Ibis is two lanes, Hamilton said; it has no shoulder, and it essentially is a dead-end road.

Paul Peterson, who also lives in Serenoa, told the planning commissioners, “Traffic is a major problem [on Ibis Street],” including the area around Neal’s Grand Park development, which is south of Serenoa.

“My house faces Ibis,” Peterson continued. Trucks on Ibis operate “at a high rate of speed,” he said.

This map shows the location of the Serenoa community, west of the 3H Ranch site. Image from Google Maps

Former state Sen. Pat Neal, the principal of Neal Communities, used a graphic with lines that he had marked on it to show the planning commissioners where road network improvements will take place to serve the affected area. The “dog leg” at Hawkins Road — which runs east-west between Ibis and Dove Avenue — will be corrected, he said, along with the dog leg at Dove Avenue. Further, he stressed, the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) includes $57 million to widen Lorraine Road from two to four lanes to connect with Knights Trail Road in Venice.

Ibis will connect to Lorraine Road, he pointed out. “Ibis will end up being a canopy road,” Neal added. “We think this [3H Ranch development] will be well ‘transportationed,’ ” he said, “if I can use that as a verb.”

The construction of Lorraine Road south is expected to begin in 2025, Neal continued, according to comments that Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, made to him.

This portion of the 2040 Thoroughfare Map, part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, shows the existing road network in the area of the proposed 3H Ranch development and plans for widened roads in that area, including Lorraine. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During an exchange with Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz, Paula Wiggins, the county’s transportation planning manager, pointed out that half of the additional penny sales tax — or “surtax” — revenue that the county receives is dedicated to road infrastructure and resurfacing.

Then she explained, “Ibis is built to its ultimate configuration as far as two lanes.” In fact, Wiggins added, she did not believe most of the residents who live along Ibis would want to see it widened to four lanes, because they would have to give up property for the right of way to make such a project feasible.

Moreover, she told Stultz, “Keep in mind that Dove [Avenue] will essentially go through the center of [the 3H development].”

Later, Frank Domingo, a transportation planner with the Sarasota consulting firm Stantec, addressed the Planning Commission on the road issues.

“I think what everybody’s been complaining about,” Domingo said, is gridlock. “There is a grid coming in in short order,” he pointed out.

Stantec is working on the Lorraine Road design as part of a public/private partnership between developers of the affected communities and the county, he said. Further, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) already is working on details of the planned State Road 681 interchange with I-75, Domingo continued.

The completion of the 3H Ranch communities is anticipated in 2042, Domingo added. In regard to transportation planning for a new community, he said, “This is about as far ahead as I’ve ever seen it.” He has worked in transportation planning for 27 years, he noted, including a stint as Sarasota County engineer before he joined Stantec.

“This is the most aggressive road building in support of an overall network that’s ever happened in Sarasota County,” Domingo emphasized, noting that it is unprecedented for FDOT to accelerate the timeline for the 681 interchange.

In making the motion that the findings of fact support the plans for the new development, Planning Commissioner John LaCivita said, “I love the Village planning concept. It’s like Lakewood Ranch south, in my opinion, the way it looks.”

This is the master plan for the development, as shown in the application. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Referencing concerns of the Serenoa residents, LaCivita added, “I had family that lived in Serenoa, and I hate Ibis [Street]. It’s horrible.” He said he hoped that the road network would be improved quickly.

Planning Commissioner Stultz pointed out, “Ibis is just causing a lot of pain for a lot of people.”

During the hearing, speakers also requested that no construction traffic be allowed on Ibis Street. Stultz asked Katie LaBarr, a principal of Stantec who was representing Neal, whether the project team would be willing to proffer such a stipulation. She indicated that the team members would discuss that with Serenoa residents. “I certainly heard the concerns,” she told Stultz, adding that she was confident the team could arrive at “a compromise on that topic.”

Finally, referring to the fact that the 3H Ranch was used for years for grazing cattle, LaCivita continued, “Mr. Neal’s going to make that a better place. … It’s kind of dead property, from an ecological standpoint, in my opinion.”
LaCivita noted the plans for greenways and lakes in the design of the new neighborhoods.

‘The highest consumer satisfaction rate’

Developer Neal opened the project team’s presentation, pointing out, “My team and I have 54 years building in Sarasota and Manatee County.” He added that his company has started and completed about 124 communities in the two counties, constructing approximately 21,000 homes.

“We have the highest consumer satisfaction rate of any business in our region, about 93%,” Neal told the Planning Commission members.

Having spent about $40,000 on a market study for 3H Ranch, he continued, “We think this will be a hot property.” It will be a country club development, Neal said, with homes selling for “more than $1 million higher” than those in his nearby development, Grand Park, which won County Commission approval in 2018 as Grand Lakes.

LaBarr of Stantec called the 3H Ranch site “almost a hole in the doughnut right now” of the other 2050 Plan communities in the same area.

Formally, Neal needs County Commission approval of a Master Development Order and a Master Development Plan for a Development of Critical Concern (DOCC), which pertains to residential properties with more than 1,000 units.

The company also is seeking the rezoning of the land from Open Use Estate, which allows one dwelling unit per 5 acres, and Open Use Rural, which permits one unit per 10 acres, to Village Planned Development, with five units allowed per developable acre.

This slide shows more details about the site planned for the development. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Each of up to 14 neighborhoods would have six housing types, LaBarr said, to serve a “broad range of family sizes.” Every residential area would have a Neighborhood Center, as noted in the county staff report on Neal’s application. Those centers would “be developed to include either parks and recreation areas or small-scale commercial uses that can serve the needs of the residents of each neighborhood,” the report continued. “Sidewalks, bike lanes and multi-use trails will be located throughout the development,” the report said, “to provide interconnectivity between all neighborhoods and residents.”

Further, the staff report noted that at least one Village Center would be constructed; it is planned along the northern boundary of the site. It “will include both residential and non-residential uses along with an area for public/civic uses that will follow a block type development form.”

LaBarr added that about 170 acres of parkland would be part of the development, as well, along with greenways — which are a facet of 2050 Plan communities — and wildlife corridors.

Neal has asked for a reduction in open space from the 50% requirement of 2050 developments to 33%.

County Planner Ana Messina, who is handling the application, told the Planning Commission that staff also is concerned about the lack of a buffer along the northern perimeter, abutting Clark Road. The standard 10-foot landscaping buffer that the project team proposes, she said, is not sufficient to meet the 2050 Plan’s intent for a greenway in that area.

Further, she pointed out, staff does not believe Neal Communities has provided adequate justification for installing just a 50-foot-wide buffer along Ibis Street to the west of the site.

The county staff report explained that the project team’s justification for the latter is as follows: “The western boundary of the property is adjacent to Ibis Street which separates the site from nearby residential developments that are also zoned [Village Planned Development] and contain a similar development pattern and another lower density residential development zoned [Open Use Estate-2] which also contains compatible development with existing landscape buffers that provide additional separation. The Applicant intends to provide similar single-family larger lot development along the western side …”

This slide illustrates county Planning Division staff concerns about the greenbelt plans. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Neal told the planning commissioners, “We had eight meetings, mostly last year, with the Serenoa residents.” The team proposed a Multi-Use Recreational Trail [MURT} and a landscape buffer on the western perimeter, he noted, “and we thought we had broad acceptance.”

Additionally, Neal plans for the new communities to be gated. That prompted a remark from one speaker during the hearing, who complained that he would be unable to drive from his Serenoa home into the 3H Ranch property to shop at a Publix, for example, or other stores.

County staff did not object to the proposal for the gates, the report said: “Gated access or other security measures will not inhibit interconnection between the neighborhoods within 3H Ranch or restrict access to open spaces or multi-modal trails. No vehicular or pedestrian restricted access would apply to the proposed main roadways … that will connect to Dove Avenue, Ibis Street or Lorraine Road.”

Building height protest also aired

Yet another concern that speakers raised was the fact that Neal needs County Commission approval to exceed the 45-foot height restriction for the development; he is seeking an 85-foot maximum.

Rick Seyer, a Serenoa resident, pointed out that 85 feet “just seems very inconsistent with his adjacent community,” which has single-family homes.

On that point, the county report said, “Staff has no objection to [this] modification since the [Unified Development Code] UDC can allow up to a 65-feet height if buildings include vehicular parking areas …” Yet, the report acknowledged, “[N]one of the neighboring Villages are exceeding standard heights so it could potentially lead to a lack of compatibility with neighboring structures.”

The UDC contains all of the county’s zoning and land-use regulations, including the 2050 Plan guidelines.

LaBarr noted that the 85-foot-tall buildings most likely would be constructed in the Village Center. She added that a second such center may be included in the southern section of the development.

In response to a question from Planning Commissioner LaCivita, LaBarr said the goal is to erect the highest structures only in the areas designated for multi-family dwelling units. That would allow for compact construction, she added, so more open space could be preserved — “building up instead of building out,” as she put it.

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