Team of Urban Land Institute experts visit Manatee County

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 19, 2013 

MANATEE -- Officials this week are hosting a panel of national experts from the Urban Land Institute, which is charged with compiling a report focusing on how Manatee County can grow and still improve its quality of life.

The panel of eight volunteer members from across the country is slated to be here through Friday for site visits and interviews, beginning Monday with a tour of spots around the county, followed by a reception at the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau office.

Next week, the panel is slated to make a PowerPoint presentation of its findings to the Manatee County Commission, said Susan Jezek, executive director for the Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay.

The session is slated for 1:30 p.m. March 26 at the County Administrative Center, she said.

A written version of its report is due in about 60 days, she said.

The county is paying a $125,000 fee for the team's work, said John Osborne, a

county planning and zoning official.

He termed the experts' opinions to be "very important."

"They will add key information for the BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) to consider they can use in not only general growth decision-making, but in addressing infill development, and the efficiency of services and infrastructure," wrote Osborne in an email message Monday.

"Not only do we get senior level representatives from various disciplines, but a variety of senior and experienced professionals with no agenda or vested interest," Osborne said. "These professionals have development and most importantly, 'place-making' experience."

Information provided by their general research programs is also used in the county's planning and economic development efforts, Osborne said.

"Their research is very broad, and is well-respected in the development industry," he added.

The ULI is a nonprofit research and educational organization with a worldwide membership, according to its Internet website.

It espouses the need for walkable, livable communities that result from smart, long-term planning, according to ULI press release.

"These ULI panels -- which include professionals with deep experience in everything from planning and development to marketing -- have been successful in helping cities around the country address needs and growth challenges," it said.

In Pasco County, a panel report formed a framework for a new growth management plan. Another addressed Hillsborough County internal procedures, and St. Petersburg is hoping to raise money for an update on its downtown waterfront master plan, Jezek said.

The panel's mission here is to review the county's report called "How Will We Grow?," which presented three alternatives the county commission may choose from for guiding future growth.

The panel will analyze the community in a similar fashion, adding its own perspective and recommendations, Jezek said.

"We're looking for development patterns that are good ways to develop efficiency and growth," as Manatee plans for the future, she added.

The panel's report is tied to how Manatee can maximize economic development opportunities, while growing in a way that improves quality of life, Jezek said.

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

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