Manatee County Commissioners look at "How Will We Grow?"

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 15, 2013 

MANATEE -- County commissioners today will meet during workshop with the Planning Commission to review what could be a more economical, more holistic approach to future growth.

The commission is slated to discuss "How Will We Grow?" -- a report designed to update county planning efforts. Based on a study that has been under way for more than a year, it presents a vision for Manatee County's future through the year 2035.

John Osborne, county planning/zoning official, will offer three growth alternatives for the board to discuss. A final decision is scheduled for June, according to Nick Azzara, county government spokesman.

In the meantime, Osborne will also appear before other community groups in coming months to hear their views.

As part of the study, the county held a number of public meetings to pinpoint what residents might like to see included in the future as part of its comprehensive plan.

Osborne's mission was to create a more defined and fiscally-sound blueprint for growth, and to define how growth will affect the county's delivery of services to residents.

Also part of the discussion is "How Will We Pay?" -- a look at the costs of various options.

The report takes into account roads, transit, utilities, parks, social services, public safety, natural resources, libraries, and schools.

"One thing we have in the county right now is areas of the county that have existing capacity, roadways, waterways and sewer lines and schools, yet we continue to build further and further out," Osborne said Monday.

"We need to do a better job at utilizing areas where we have infrastructure. We already paid for it, but the more customers we have in those areas, the more efficient the thing is."

Some areas in Parrish don't allow much variety in development, so people have to drive farther for daily services, like doctors' offices, Osborne said.

"By freeing up the market, you could make some big changes, and help out quality-of-life, without having to drive across town for basic needs," he said.

County planners are also in the process of rethinking the Comprehensive Plan itself, and re-writing the Land Development Code, which implements the plan.

Commissioners will be asked to select one of three options in growth planning:

n Stay the course: Limited changes consistent with current suburban-oriented growth planning.

n Urban in-fill and redevelopment: Concentrating more future population growth south of the Manatee River and west of Interstate 75.

n Four activity centers: Development focused in four special unincorporated areas, which would provide more certainty in delivering services to residents.

In conjunction with "How Will We Grow?" a work group also recently unveiled "Complete Streets," a comprehensive plan for safer streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users, as well as motorists. It was paid for with a $40,000 grant.

Planners worked with the Manatee County Health Department to improve streets with bike lanes, sidewalks and traffic-calming measures meant to encourage physical activity, said Megan Jourdan, public information officer for the health department.

"There's been a national push for public health specialists to work with cities or communities to develop 'Complete Streets' policies," Jourdan said.

"From a public health perspective, 'Complete Streets' are not only about reducing pedestrian injury; this is the first generation of youth with life expectancy shorter than their parents'; nearly 25 percent of youth and 60 percent of adults or overweight or obese."

The workshop starts at 9 a.m., at 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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