LAKEWOOD RANCH -- In 2014, Lakewood Ranch lived up to its reputation as one of the fastest-growing and most-desirable master-planned communities in the state.
From housing that fit the needs of any age group, lifestyle and living situation, to plans for expanding the sizes of the community areas north and south, the community has much to look forward to in 2015.
The "Live, Work and Play" philosophy that Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. is crafting soon will become evident in the community's next growth spurt north of the State Road 70 corridor, Lakewood Centre will eventually feature hundreds of new single- and multi-family dwellings, offices, medical and retail centers and a planned 300-room hotel.
Late in the year, Manatee County commissioners approved the addition of 796 acres to Lakewood Centre North, doubling its size, from just south of State Road 64, east of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, and north of 44th Avenue East and White Eagle Boulevard. The addition doesn't increase actual development, but adds acreage to the area so the mixed-use space can be used more efficiently, hopefully easing traffic flow throughout the area.
Vice president of SMR strategic affairs, Todd Pokrywa, said then that the overall goal was to avoid the need to build more roads to accommodate the anticipated
traffic increases by having housing, employment and shopping in proximity.
"This change will encourage integration with the goal of reducing suburban sprawl and vehicle miles traveled by residents for a wide range of purposes. It's important that the entire Lakewood Ranch community grow and evolve with the best possible mix of uses," Pokrywa said.
Lakewood Centre will also become the site of additional apartment living in Lakewood Ranch, which has tripled in size and availability in just one year's time. Davis Development Inc., the Atlanta-based developer of the new Venue at Lakewood Ranch apartments opposite Main Street on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, is awaiting Manatee County's approval for construction of another 280-unit apartment community, currently known as Lakewood Davis Apartments, north of State Road 70, east of Lorraine Road.
Davis Development's spokesman Gene Babb said the community will be blend two- and three-story buildings and will feature individual garages, a community clubhouse and pool. A 2015 move-in is planned.
Creekside Apartments, which opened this past fall near the site of the future Davis community, welcomed the competition, according to its community manager Francis Rivera. Creekside has been a convenient apartment community for students from nearby Manatee Technical College and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. "We're all in the same business and there's plenty of space to go around. There's not a lot of new apartment construction in Bradenton and Sarasota, and this is a great alternative to the hustle and bustle of the University Parkway and Mall area nearby," Rivera said.
From students to senior living, developers are quickly realizing that Lakewood Ranch is a prime spot for the lucrative senior-living industry. Two new senior-lifestyle communities are in the works in Lakewood Centre and south near Town Center. A privately owned national developer from Chicago, Senior Lifestyle Corp., is working with SMR's Lakewood Ranch Commerce Park division to build a seven-acre community that will consist of an assisted living, memory care, and an independent-living complex all located on Rangeland Parkway. While awaiting for the zoning and permits to fall into place, a new independent living residence called Cypress Springs is on its way to completion off Natures Way near the Town Center, and its neighbor, Reflections Memory Care, part of the Windsor Assisted Living Residence, is building an extension to meet the growing demand for more memory and nursing care for seniors whose children with families live in Lakewood Ranch.
While Lakewood Centre and its northern counterpart await the flurry of new development, WaterCrest condominium owners and their neighbors to the south in Country Club East will have to accept seeing a high-rise condo complex overlooking Lake Uihlein and the Town Center on a piece of property owned by SMR called University Lakes.
Despite disenchanted residents who let their displeasure be known at a November county commission meeting, commissioners overrode a recommendation for denial from its planning commission and approved a multi-family housing development of up to seven stories, rather than the recommended five.
Many had argued that the views of the lake would be compromised while others pointed out that Lakewood Ranch is suburban and not meant for tall buildings. East County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, a Lakewood Ranch resident, said the compromise is a good one.
"I'd rather have a seven-story condo than a 10-story office building. I have faith this can be done, and be beautiful and still keep us like we are today," she said.
Residents of Summerfield, one of the first Community Development Districts to be built in Lakewood Ranch some 20 years ago, will seek input in the new year from the entire Lakewood Ranch community regarding the Summerfield Information Center -- the original Town Hall -- adjacent to Summerfield Park, which currently houses developers and the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Inc., an independent planning organization for community-wide events.
Summerfield district leaders have expressed interest in having the community purchase the center from SMR to possibly be used for more club space, a youth center, an art center or to turn it into a substation for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, which patrols all the county roads in Lakewood Ranch.
A Town Hall meeting will take place in January so a suitable plan can be introduced.
"Get community conversation going and get people from all districts interested. Encourage everyone to keep talking to their neighbors and friends to see what they think are appropriate uses," urged Summerfield's district chairwoman June Stroop.
Villages of LWR South
While the growth to the north continues and the established communities streamline their neighborhoods, design and development plans for the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, just off University Parkway east of I-75, are moving forward. The project will be a combination of residential and commercial development on 5,500 acres of land, containing residences, including 2,000 affordable-housing units for area employees, two village centers, a new elementary school, commercial activity, and land set aside for parks and recreational use.
Developer SMR has pledged an additional $7.5 million to assist the increased traffic flow in the area by helping Sarasota County build an overpass across I-75 that links the future Lakewood Ranch Boulevard-Sarasota County extension project from the east, to Cattlemen Road to the west.
Kevin Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce applauded SMR's efforts in tackling the region's long-standing traffic issues.
"For a private entity to step up above and beyond what they are required to do cannot be understated," he said at a Sarasota County Commission meeting.
SMR officials predict a build-out date could be achieved by 2034.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.