Proposal for 87-home community north of Sarasota Baptist Church in Lake Sarasota area to be heard by County Commission on Nov. 28

Neighbors cite traffic concerns, especially regarding two schools, in opposing plans

This is the concept plan for the David Weekley Homes development as presented to the Planning Commission on Sept. 21. The two access points from Hand Road are shown in the dark shade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Having already generated controversy among neighboring property owners, a proposed David Weekley Homes project that would encompass no more than 87 homes, on about 26 acres along Hand Road in Sarasota, will be the focus of a Sarasota County Commission hearing on Nov. 28.

The board will meet that day in the County Administration Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.

During the Sept. 21 county Planning Commission hearing on the project, 12 people — many of them residents of the Lake Sarasota community — took most of their time at the podium to explain their concerns about additional traffic on Hand Road and Lago Street. They said they fear that if the new development is approved, it will exacerbate the transportation situation — which already is bad, they stressed, because of the number of parents who drive their children to and from Lakeview Elementary School and Oak Park School. Both schools stand directly to the east of the development site.

“Hand Road is a complex connector,” Tom Matrullo of Lake Sarasota pointed out to the Planning Commission members. “Hand Road is the sole southbound connector to Proctor and Clark [roads] and the entire Lake Sarasota community. “Hand Road is also an evacuation route.”

Neither county staff nor the Sarasota County School District has adequately analyzed the traffic situation in the area, Matrullo added.

Noting the two proposed accesses to the new neighborhood from Hand Road, Matrullo further pointed to the blind curve at the intersection of Lago Street and Hand Road. One of the accesses is very close to that spot, he added.

He had talked with the school crossing guard who has assisted students for three years at that intersection, Matrullo continued. When he told her about the proposal for the new community, her response, Matrullo said, was, ‘That’s crazy! The road can’t handle any more traffic.’ ”

Another speaker, Heidi Heitzler Thompson, who said she had lived in Lake Sarasota for 35 years, told the planning commissioners, “That road is a nightmare.”

A third person, Rick Kinsman, said he has lived in Lake Sarasota for 37 years. “If you’ve ever been to Hand Road around 8 o’clock in the morning,” he told the planning commissioners, “that will be the last time you will go to Hand Road. There are hundreds of cars trying to drop the kids off.”

While a fourth speaker, former county environmental specialist Robert Wright, said, “I want to applaud the concept of doing infill,” he, too, expressed concerns about the extra traffic the new community would generate, estimating that each household would have at least two vehicles.

Wright cited the significant number of drivers who use Hand Road to reach Proctor Road, adding, “You are already in a very high-density area.”

Yet, Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning and Development in Bradenton, who was representing David Weekley Homes during the Sept. 21 hearing, pointed out that county regulations would require the developer to construct a sidewalk along the eastern border of the site; that would connect to other sidewalks and provide people — especially students — easier access to the schools, eliminating worries about the blind curve that Matrullo had described.

During his rebuttal after the public comments, Medred also proffered a maximum of 87 homes on the site, telling the commissioners that that was what David Weekley Homes had written in its contract with Sarasota Baptist Church, which stands at 7091 Proctor Road. The company will purchase the land from the church if the development wins County Commission approval, Medred said.

Commissioners’ debate

This aerial map shows the two schools with entrances from Hand Road. Image from Google Maps

Planning Commissioner Emmalee Legler was the first member of the board to voice concerns about the additional traffic that the new community would bring.

“What I’m struggling with here,” she said, “is I am pro-infill.” She was referring to the fact that the development would be constructed within the county’s Urban Service Boundary, meaning services such as water and sewer would be readily available, and a traffic network does exist.

(Medred told the commissioners early on during his presentation, “I would suggest to you that this is a classic case of residential infill within the Urban Service Boundary.”)

Her primary concern, though, Legler continued, “is the density with this [development].”

While Medred noted that David Weekley Homes was considering construction of just 80 single-family homes on the site, the requested rezoning of the property to Residential Multi-Family 4 actually would entitle the company to 141 homes, as that zoning district provides for up to 5.5 homes per acre.

Infill projects are wonderful when they have the support of neighbors, Legler continued, alluding to the opposition cited by the speakers that evening.

Finally, she stated that she was not in favor of the proposal.

“I understand your concerns,” long-time Planning Commissioner Colin Pember responded. (He first won appointment in June 2016.) Yet, he continued, “The county 100% supports infill,” given the access to water and sewer service and schools.

“I think the concern here is the school,” Pember added, referring to Lakeview Elementary. “However,” he said, “I think a school is a benefit to the community,” and David Weekley Homes will construct the sidewalk Medred had described.

“I don’t think traffic’s an issue,” Pember said, eliciting laugher from the audience members, which necessitated Chair Justin Taylor’s admonishment of those seated in the Commission Chambers to refrain from such outbursts.

“It’s not that many homes,” Pember then added of the developer’s plans. Moreover, he stressed, “We have to use these [infill] pieces.”

Pember did propose that the Planning Commission include a stipulation that the new community could not have more than 87 homes; that became part of the motion he made to recommend that the County Commission approve the project.

The Planning Commission is known as the county’s most prominent advisory board because it makes recommendations on land-use applications and petitions to the County Commission, based on findings of fact related to testimony and evidence presented during Planning Commission public hearings.

Planning Commissioner Martha Pike expressed concern about the two accesses to the David Weekley Homes development site, especially the northern one, near the Lago Street/Hand Road intersection.

Traffic problems are not limited to school hours, she pointed out, noting her familiarity with the road network in that area. In fact, she explained, “One guy just almost clipped me [in that curve] and went off the side of the road.”

Tom Matrullo of Lake Sarasota showed the Planning Commission this photo he had taken of a school bus near the Hand Road/Lago Street intersection. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“It’s a good infill project,” Pike said, but not with up to 87 homes.

Chair Taylor asked Marquis Bing of the county’s Transportation Division whether two driveways would be necessary if the number of homes were capped at 87.

Bing replied that only one driveway would be required. If the count exceeded 100 homes, he added, then two driveways would be necessary.

When Taylor then asked Medred why the two driveways were part of the plans, Medred explained that the owner of property to the west has an easement that makes access to that property possible. Therefore, the development has to provide the northern ingress/egress to ensure that the owners with that easement can continue to reach their land.

However, given the proposed layout of the homes, Medred continued, he believed that more traffic would use the southern egress/ingress.

After Pember finally made his motion to recommend approval of the development, and Planning Commissioner Adam Maio seconded it, the motion passed on a 5-2 vote, with Legler and Pike in the minority.

Although Chair Taylor initially said he was in complete agreement with Legler’s comments, he also noted that David Weekley Homes could have sought higher density for the project. Further, Taylor continued, “I think that, from a planning perspective, the neighborhood does have good tenets to it.”

Another part of the hearing that evening won approval on a 6-1 vote: Sarasota Baptist Church’s request for a Special Exception to remove from its Binding Development Concept Plan about 4.85 acres for the new development, as well as plans for future parking additions and stormwater areas to serve the church.

“I’m in full support of that,” Legler said, adding that she knows members of the church.

Pike cast the “No” vote.

The public notice issue

One other factor that arose during the Sept. 21 hearing was the lack of notification to a number of residents within Lake Sarasota who should have received cards about two Neighborhood Workshops that Medred and his team conducted on the applications for the church property and the David Weekley Homes project.

County regulations require a developer to notify every property owner within 750 feet of the site of a proposed land-use change.

Although Medred showed the Planning Commission a sample of the mailing labels that he and his staff used to send out the notices, Matrullo of Lake Sarasota was one of those who pointed out that he did not learn of the plans until after the workshops were conducted.

This graphic shows the proposed site of the David Weekley Homes development, outlined in green, west of Hand Road. The Sarasota Baptist Church property is outlined with a dotted blue line. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In fact, Matrullo said, given the 750-foot radius specification for notification of such hearings, “Only the squirrels, the owls and the dogs of Lakeview Park actually learned about this development.” (Lakeview Park has a dog park among its amenities.)

“If you want to keep the 750-foot rule,” Matrullo added, why not make the perimeter of the park — which stands at 7255 Hand Road — the starting point for measurements?

Another Lake Sarasota resident, Ryan Schrock, also reported that he did not receive notice of the workshops.

Last week, The Sarasota News Leader learned, Matrullo sent the county commissioners an email with his concerns about the proposed David Weekley Homes development. First, though, he wrote about the notification issue:

“The community of Lake Sarasota has roughly 1,600 homes,” Matrullo began. “Yet when a poorly conceived proposal to wedge 80+ homes onto a narrow road, at a tight blind curve, where two schools tie up traffic each day both in the morning and afternoon, very few residents were notified about the Neighborhood Workshop. I live on the street that leads to this proposed disaster — if built, I would see it from my home — yet I was not informed of two workshops held by Bo Medred months ago. A handful of residents actually attended.

“So,” Matrullo continued, “the first point is, the County planning code should drop the 750-foot rule and replace it with a competent planner’s sense of what homes, roads, and areas will be directly impacted by a proposed project.”

2 thoughts on “Proposal for 87-home community north of Sarasota Baptist Church in Lake Sarasota area to be heard by County Commission on Nov. 28”

  1. I’ve lived in Lake Sarasota for 21 years. I’m concerned about the new development because of the floodwaters that it’s going to create. We’re not in a flood zone now, but Hand Road does flood. What is this development going do to the adjacent streets? I’m also very concerned about the safety of our children walking or riding their bikes to school. I just think that something needs to be done to stop all the building and leave some land for the native animals in our area. I’m tired of seeing them dead on the road.

  2. There are only two ways to get west of Lake Sarasota, Bee Ridge, which is already overcrowded mornings and night and will be much worse when I75 interchange upgrades are started, and the “back” way, Hand Rd. to Proctor, which has become more crowded in recent years due to the already over building to the east, coupled with drivers wanting to avoid the nightmare at Clark & I75. But as usual, this county ignores the needs and wants of its residents in favor of big builders and their money. As to “infill”, how about leaving more green space instead? And as a former crossing guard at Luawana & Mauna Loa, I too can testify as to the increased safety hazard this proposal could bring on the kids. Think a little more about this, Please!

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