Manatee Fruit president files plans for 1,300-acre West Bradenton development

Manatee County staff, commissioners to review vision for 6,500 homes

cschelle@bradenton.comJune 12, 2014 

WEST BRADENTON -- A proposed 1,322-acre mixed-use community is expected to have its first go-around before the public this winter.

Whiting Preston, president of Manatee Fruit Co., filed plans May 29 with Manatee County government for a community he's calling Lake Flores, featuring 6,500 residences -- half of them single family houses -- about 1 million square feet of retail space, 2 million square feet of office space and 375- and 125-room hotels.

"I think at this point it's time to get the word out that we submitted and start the process," Preston said.

The filing moves the project past conceptual discussions and makes it ready for inspection by staff, county politicians and Manatee County residents.

A public hearing has not yet been scheduled, said Shelley Hamilton, principal planner for Manatee County. The first Planning Commission hearing is likely to be scheduled for the end of the year or in January. Another hearing in front of the Manatee County Commission would still be required.

The development is expected to transform West Bradenton from empty fields to a bustling community over the next 20 years, borrowing from New Urbanism-inspired ideas with walking and biking trails and a 19-acre manmade lake.

The land, formerly known as Crossroads, has been in development since 2010, Preston said, stretching from IMG Academy west to 75th Street between Cortez Road and El Conquistador Parkway.

Preston brought in consultants along with Orlando-based Canin Associates to help shape the community, providing a detailed 50-page design code development plan covering everything from building height and shape to how the neighborhoods will blend.

Canin designed Avalon Par east of Orlando, which serves as partial inspiration for the plan.

Baldwin Park, also in Orlando, shares similar elements, including a lake serving as a community focal point. Retail and housing guide the energy of the village to the water.

Both communities were profiled by the Herald in March to give insight to the planned West Bradenton community.

"We wanted to create a people place around the lake and create a park-like setting," Preston said. "That was a central feature of the project itself. It was the importance of creating a place to hang out, and we feel like we can create that around the lake."

Districts by design

Lake Flores -- named for Preston's mother Flavia Florez while honoring the gladiolus flowers once grown there -- features three distinct neighborhood designs: District, Borough and Neighborhoods.

The filed plans are nearly identical to the ones the Herald first reported from a pre-application Preston filed for basic review before the county. Now, more detail is available, including traffic reports and other civil plans.

The designs intermingle with retail and commercial space in different ways. Some might have retail on the first floor along a walkable alley with apartments above while some neighborhoods might have single family homes with churches, schools and convenience stores.

The land was allowed 8,500 houses and 4 million square feet of commercial space, but there will be fewer homes and commercial space to incorporate more green space, trails, a network of roads and the lake.

Timeline uncertain

Preston said he is not sure when he will start development if Lake Flores gains approval, partially because of permitting needed for the lake and other features. Also, he's not sure of his phasing plan.

"We'll know more when we finish with the approval process what our phasing plan will be," Preston said.

A housing developer and retail real estate firm has not been named.

During pre-application meetings with the county, Edward Hill of Hill Real Estate Strategies in Longwood was among the attendees. Hill specializes in master planning and land development and previously worked from 1997 to 2006 for the St. Joe Co., which developed Arvida on Perico Island. He was project manager for the Little Harbor Resort community in Ruskin that features 2,000 mixed-use homes.

"We did an additional workshop with additional consultants in the room and had different talent with retail, housing and environmental expertise," Preston said. "We've gone through and taken a number of people's opinions. That was the process and it has taken a couple years."

Preston announced intentions in February to develop the community, launching BradentonsFuture.com to listen to the community.

"A lot of people voiced concern about change," Preston said. "We recognize that, and the fact is that we are producing a mixed-use community that will minimize the impacts on the traffic, environment and other things that are important for the people we live around."

Additional traffic lights, roundabouts -- including five on El Conquistador Parkway -- and a grid network of road connections are all planned to serve the community. A traffic study shows an estimated 142,059 gross daily trips will pass through each of the four community areas.

During evening rush hour, 13,468 cars are expected to pass through the community when built out while 7,142 cars are expected to pass through during morning rush hour. Those numbers might not be realized until the community is completely built out.

The Manatee County Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use amendment based its traffic counts for the area on a previously submitted plan for Crossroads. The new plan would create 17.6 percent less traffic, or about 30,000 fewer trips, than what was allowed.

Preston said he plans to update his BradentonsFuture.com site next week with details about his proposed plan but wouldn't say if he will display all public documents, which can be reviewed at the Manatee County government administration building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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