Proposed Fox Creek development on Richardson Road wins County Commission approval

Project includes 200 single-family homes and 285 multi-family units in the Fruitville Initiative area

An aerial view shows the planned location of Fox Creek. ‘SPA-3’ and ‘CAP’ refer to facets of the Fruitville Initiative sections of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

One of the “co-mayors” of the East Richardson Road neighborhoods has offered full-fledged support for a new development called Fox Creek that will include single- and multi-family homes on about 137 acres in eastern Sarasota County.

“We are so happy to see the Fruitville Initiative start to be developed,” Judy Earl told the County Commission during an April 25 public hearing. “This property was always intended to be a residential area, and we think that the plan they presented is very good.”

The site is bordered by Richardson Road on the south and Wendell Kent Road on the east.

Earl had sought one clarification from Charles D. Bailey III, the attorney with the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota who was representing the developer, D.R. Horton Inc. of Tampa, she noted. The members of the Save Richardson Road East Neighborhood — which represents six communities along East Richardson Road — were keen to be certain, Earl said, that the 285 dwelling units proposed for the southern part of the property would be condominiums, not rental units. Bailey told her that they would be, she added. “That gave me the reassurance we needed for that,” Earl pointed out, as the association “wanted to be careful of precedent.”

County Planner Steve Kirk also noted that no more residential units were being proposed than what would be allowed by the existing zoning of the property.

The commissioners voted unanimously on April 25 to approve the petitions sought in conjunction with the development, which will include 200 single-family homes, as well as 86 acres of open space.

Peter Young. News Leader photo

Peter Young of the Church of Hope — which is adjacent to the site — also offered the church’s full support for the project. “We are very much in favor of having the development that is in compliance [with the Fruitville Initiative] and of having neighbors. … We know that it … will really enhance the area.”

Commissioner Alan Maio joked with Young about that desire for neighbors, as the board members often hear complaints from the public about proposed projects adjacent to existing communities.

Members of the church — which was established about 10 years ago — had hoped to see development happen sooner on the site, Young replied. “When you serve people, you want to have them close to you, so that you can serve them more quickly and in a fuller way.”

A staff memo provided to the board in advance of the meeting explains that the property is within Special Planning Area 3, which is known as the Fruitville Initiative. Policies adopted in 2010 for that area “create a framework for an optional Urban Design Overlay intended to promote smart growth and mixed-use principles,” including interconnectivity, walkability, mixed uses and environmental protection, the memo points out.

Yet, a new project’s participation in that urban design overlay always “was intended to be optional,” the memo notes. The Fox Creek site is separated from the rest of the Fruitville Initiative area by the future Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, the memo continues. Therefore, county staff did not object to the developer’s request to opt out of the overlay district.

Nonetheless, during the first public hearing on the proposed project — held Jan. 25 — James Paulmann of the consulting firm Stantec explained that Fox Creek would comply with multiple features of that special planning area for the eastern part of the county: It will have a highly connected street grid, promoting walkability; it will have public spaces of superior quality, he said — including plazas and pocket parks; it will incorporate innovative stormwater management practices; and it will encompass a variety of building types.

Along with bicycle and pedestrian pathways between the single-family homes in the northern part of the development and the multi-family dwelling units south of them, Paulmann continued, the neighborhood will connect to the Church of Hope property. Additionally, a multi-purpose trail has been incorporated into the design, he said.

A graphic shows elements of the development. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his April 25 presentation, Bailey talked about how the proposals in the application had evolved since the development team appeared before the county’s Planning Commission in December 2016. “They beat the tar out of us,” Bailey pointed out with a laugh, referring to the advisory board members. In the aftermath of that public hearing, he continued, the development team worked with leaders of the Fruitville Initiative and members of the Fruitville 210 Community Alliance, as well as some of the neighbors of the property. “We kind of righted the ship.”

Subsequently, Bailey noted, Rex Jensen, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, and Gary Heffner, the chair of Fruitville 210, had announced their support of the Fox Creek proposal. They were joined by Judy Earl and Scott Featherman, he added, noting that Featherman is the other “co-mayor” of East Richardson Road.

A further change, regarding land use

A graphic shows areas of buffers between Fox Creek and adjacent properties. Image courtesy Sarasota County

One other facet of the project that the County Commission approved on April 25 was an amendment to the county’s Future Land Use Map to change the designation of about 32.7 acres of the development from Major Employment Center (MEC) to Moderate Density Residential.

The staff memo explains that a study completed in 2007 regarding MEC use never was formally adopted. The 32.7 acres in question, the memo adds, comprise the northeast quadrant of the intersection of Interstate 75 and Fruitville Road. That 2007 study recommended the area remain an MEC to allow office and industrial development, the memo notes. “However, the adoption of [the Fruitville Initiative] provided policy and direction for the development of the area as a mixed use center,” it says, including multi-family structures.

The memo indicates that staff’s preference would be for the proposed 285 multi-family units to be part of a traditional town center design, with commercial uses. Nonetheless, staff would recommend approval, the memo adds, if the property were removed from the Fruitville Initiative urban design overlay.

A final concern

Judy Earl. News Leader photo

Before the board cast its April 25 votes, Earl did point to one new stipulation proffered by the development team that she believed was unnecessary.

It read: “The property is not subject to the Optional Urban Design Overlay made available under [the Fruitville Initiative section] of the Comprehensive Plan. However, all development shall be consistent with the Interconnectivity Plan” of the Fruitville Initiative Critical Area Plan (CAP), as may be amended.

The interconnectivity principle applies regardless of whether the property stays in the overlay district, Earl said. If the board planned to agree to the stipulation, she continued, she wanted to ask that the language be modified to make it clear that the project would comply with all the applicable CAP provisions, if the CAP were amended in the future.

Bailey earlier had conceded that staff felt the new stipulation was “superfluous or redundant,” but he added that he thought it made sense.

Commissioner Nancy Detert asked him, “Could you, in plain English — take off your lawyer hat for me” and respond to Earl’s concern.

The Fruitville Initiative portion of the Comprehensive Plan has about half-a-dozen different policies, Bailey explained, and the CAP for the area has about 30 pages of regulations. It seemed simpler, he continued, to include the stipulation because Fox Creek is opting out of the Fruitville Initiative overlay district. Therefore, the only thing that would apply to Fox Creek, he noted, would be the interconnectivity plan.

However, Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy told the commissioners he also was concerned. The stipulation ultimately could limit how the Fruitville Initiative Critical Area Plan provisions could be applied to Fox Creek, he said, if the CAP were amended at one or more points in the future. “You create a question.”

“So what’s the best way that we can put some protective language here, so we’re not setting a bad precedent?” Detert asked.

Planner Kirk suggested including the stipulation with the following language: “The property is not subject to the Optional Urban Design Overlay made available under the [Fruitville Initiative section] of the Comprehensive Plan. However, all development shall be consistent with the Interconnectivity Plan within applicable provisions of the [Fruitville Initiative] Critical Area Plan … as may be amended.”

Bailey pointed out that someone in the future might be burdened by having to delve into all those applicable provisions in making a determination about some aspect of Fox Creek’s development. Nonetheless, he told the board, “We’re not going to fall on our sword for this issue.”

The stipulation as read by Kirk was approved by the board as part of its approval of the project.