Peaceful Parrish ponders its future

dgraham@bradenton.comMay 28, 2013 

PARRISH -- A wave of new home construction in North Manatee County surrounds the quiet village of Parrish, which sits peacefully like the eye of a hurricane.

New housing developments are springing up on all sides with lush backyards, sparkling swimming pools and the latest technology for home offices or school children.

Bright bustling shopping centers and restaurants have opened in droves just a few miles down U.S. 301.

Interstate 75 is close by and plans are under way for a Manatee River bridge to zip residents to Lakewood Ranch.

Those looking for low density and quality living might think they have found paradise in Parrish.

But the village of Parrish is in danger of being rendered obsolete.

There's no public transportation. Downtown Parrish also remains unserved by a public sewer system although it does have county water service, said county planner John Osborne.

"The old county commission boards had this low-rise, low-density mindset," Osborne said. "What happens is, now a restaurant wants to come in and they do an analysis of the area. How many future customers are there and how much money do they have for

extra spending? They look at places where they have money for extra customers. They don't even have enough density to have commercial development with it," Osborne said.

And commercial developers have no incentive to invest in those expensive urban amenities in the village that began as a settlement in the 1850s.

"Parrish always has been a quiet, tree-filled, quaint and close-knit community," said Tami Vaughn, president of the Parrish Civic Association.

Comparing it with the "beautiful, yet functional downtown" of Lakewood Ranch, Vaughn acknowledges significant challenges ahead.

During the economic boom before the Great Recession hit in 2007, Manatee County focused on low-density neighborhoods. Builders developing land parcels outside the reach of existing utilities funded the extension of lines and roads, but there was no mechanism to include municipalities such as Parrish.

Planned communities with new housing now surround the village, served by county water and sewer, with shopping centers, wide roads and traffic controls.

The smaller, historic village is now seeking to create incentives for commercial or residential developers to spend development dollars on infrastructure.

"Unlike Lakewood Ranch, Parrish has no obvious sources of revenue," Vaughn said. "A big concern of ours is local control over how our tax dollars are spent."

For example, the state Department of Transportation agreed to install minimal landscaping and signage as part of the U.S. 301 widening project if Parrish could come up with a way to pay for maintenance estimated at $4,000 a year.

"However, the county wouldn't agree to pay for the maintenance and FDOT would only accept agreement from an agency that had taxing authority," Vaughn said.

One option, then, could be to create a Community Development Corp. for Parrish, which would have taxing authority.

"We're looking into forming a CDC," Vaughn said.

Alison Hewitt, executive director of Manatee County's Central Economic Development Center, pitched a CDC plan to the Parrish Civic Association.

"It was received very favorably by the board," Vaughn said.

In the meantime, Parrish residents hope the area's growth won't destroy the character of the village.

"It is my sincere belief that we don't have to give that up as we grow, but it will take a concerted effort between our civic association, county government and the Florida Department of Transportation," Vaughn said.

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