SARASOTA -- After more than three years of inactivity since it was first approved, the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project is beginning to move forward.
The massive housing and business development south of University Parkway and east of Interstate 75 overcame a significant barrier with the Sarasota County Commission's unanimous approval Wednesday of an amendment to its contract with project developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc.
"We can see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Todd Pokrywa, vice president of planning for SMR.
The amendment to the 2010 agreement allows the developer to move forward to some of the residential construction on the 5,500-acre project before some roadway improvements are completed.
SMR has committed to extend Lakewood Ranch Boulevard as a four-lane roadway from its current terminus at Communications Parkway to Fruitville Road; extend Lorraine Road as a two-lane road from University Parkway to Fruitville Road; and build an east-west connecting road from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Lorraine Road.
SMR has also pledged up to $7.5 million for another proportionate share road project with the county. The amendment approved by Sarasota commissioners Wednesday gives them the option of putting that money toward a possible east-west connector overpass from the Villages project over Interstate 75 and Cattlemen Road. Officials said that project could be an alternative to improvements to the interchange of University Parkway and Interstate 75 proposed by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The other option is for SMR's $7.5 million to go toward construction of a future four-lane Iona Road between Fruitville Road and Palmer Boulevard.
The Villages project has at least one more hurdle to clear in the form of an amendment to the Development of Regional Impact plan that SMR plans to file within a few months, Pokrywa said.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta said the past three and a half years since the project was initially approved have been a "protracted process" and that he's eager to see work begin.
"I'm very troubled that we're not going to see a stick in the road for a long, long time," Barbetta said. "We need to move things forward."
Pokrywa said if the forthcoming amendment is approved, SMR could be ready to begin the design and construction of required infrastructure for the Villages in late 2014 or 2015.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter@JasonBartolone.