Commercial centers could be eliminated from villages even if a contiguous community had no such center, as long as one village in the area did
Sarasota County Commission Chair Nancy Detert initially voiced considerable skepticism this week when faced with the prospect of another privately initiated Comprehensive Plan amendment.
In this case, the proposal calls for allowing the elimination of the commercial center requirement for a village created under the aegis of the county’s 2050 Plan, as long as another village in the same area — but not necessarily contiguous to the proposed one — has or will have such a complex.
The 2050 plan governs development of communities east of Interstate 75.
Ultimately, though, Detert joined her colleagues on March 14 in voting to transmit the proposed amendment to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which is required to review such county planning changes before they can be approved. That assessment is expected to be completed before the issue comes back to the commission on May 23 for a final vote.
Detert’s decision came after Pat Neal, chair of the Executive Committee of Neal Communities, as well as a member of the team working on his proposed Grand Lakes development, discussed the situation involving their project. They made it clear that sufficient retail and other commercial centers would be able to serve the approximately 1,000 homes planned for Grand Lakes.
Moreover, Kelley Klepper, senior planner/project manager at Kimley-Horn and Associates in Sarasota, pointed out that not only had residents of the surrounding neighborhoods expressed their opposition to a commercial center in Grand Lakes, but national and regional retailers also had shown no interest in locating businesses there.
“I always look askance at things that come to us from the private sector that benefit them and are supposed to be our policy,” Detert said. Nonetheless, she added, she saw no reason that it should be mandatory to set aside space for commercial development in a village project “when no commercial groups are going to come there.”
The closest retail center to Grand Lakes would be 3.6 miles away, Klepper noted, even with the current road network.
The 2050 Plan says, “Villages are a collection of Neighborhoods that have been designed so that a majority of the housing units are within a walking distance or [one-quarter] mile radius of a Neighborhood Center. Villages shall be supported by internally designed, mixed-use Village Centers (designed specifically to serve the daily and weekly retail, office, civic, and government use and services needs of Village residents), and the Village shall be surrounded by large expanses of Open Space that are designed to protect the character of the rural landscape and provide separation between Villages and existing low density rural development.”
Grand Lakes has been proposed for an approximately 533-acre site south of Clark Road, east of I-75 and west of Ibis Street. It would comprise two neighborhoods — one encompassing 185 acres; the other, 348 acres. The proposal also calls for it to have five housing types. Neal said the home prices would start at $160,000 and, he hopes, go up to $800,000 or $900,000.
He told the commissioners he expected it would take 11 to 13 years to complete the project, if the board votes to allow it to go forward.
A rezoning petition and a proposal for adoption of an ordinance designating Grand Lakes as a Development of Critical Concern (DOCC), as required under county guidelines because of its size, will be considered by the board on May 23.
During the March 14 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 Klepper of Kimley-Horn, “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.”
“Retail follows rooftops,” Klepper concurred.
“This Amazon phenomenon that’s sweeping the country has changed things,” Maio agreed.
Maio ran through a list of communities in the Venice area — including Grand Palm, Neal’s and the county’s first 2050 village — which have no commercial centers. Yet, they will encompass thousands of homes, Maio said.
The 3,000-home Grand Palm community had been designed with a commercial center of 30,000 to 35,000 square feet, Klepper pointed out. However, “There’s no interest at that specific location” for retail and office space, he added.
Before he was elected to the commission, Maio said, he attended several conferences of the International Council of Shopping Centers. “I foolishly brought them many, many sites [for retail], and they just looked at me as if I needed my head examined,” he added, because they were not going to build something before sufficient demand existed.
Furthermore, Caragiulo told his colleagues, “Just the definition of retail has changed significantly since [the 2050 Plan] was drafted.”
A work in progress
As the commissioners discussed how to proceed on the proposed amendment, Caragiulo said at one point, “I don’t have any problem calling out 2050 for the dinosaur which it is.”
Although some speakers during the public hearing had likened the 2050 Plan to the Constitution, he added, the plan is “a work in progress, like any other planning. … We have to be willing to identify and acknowledge things that aren’t working.”
Six speakers — mostly from the Serenoa Lakes community, which would be adjacent to Grand Lakes, urged the board to oppose the Comprehensive Plan amendment. Some of them — including David Anderson, president of the Serenoa Lakes Community Association — told the commissioners that the 2050 Plan change would violate the New Urbanism intent of the regulations, which are designed to promote walkable communities.
“But what if [businesses] wants to be there?” Detert asked Anderson. “Then what happens?”
“The current regulations are the current regulations,” Anderson replied. Before agreeing to the amendment Neal sought, Anderson argued, the board should ensure county staff holds extensive public workshops, just as staff did prior to creating the 2050 Plan and before revising it several years ago.
Neal noted that the needed County Commission approval of 44 different changes for his Grand Palm development in Venice because of issues in dealing with 2050 Plan requirements. He started that village in 2004 and completed it in 2011, he added. Nonetheless, he said, “We subscribe to the goals, the benefits, the spirit of 2050.”