Manatee County residents have a unique opportunity to shape future growth patterns by participating in public forums over the next few weeks. With growth inevitable, county government eagerly seeks your ideas, your concerns and your priorities as the years-long exercise called How Will We Grow reaches a conclusion in June.
This vital community visioning project will establish policies that encourage developers and businesses to invest in particular parts of the county. These new standards are intended to guide growth over the next 30 years and set priorities on the expenditure of taxpayer monies.
Your input is a critical part of this planning process, and your opportunities to influence those new standards are plentiful. John Osborne, the county's top planning and zoning official, has been visiting various neighborhood associations and community groups with a half-hour presentation on this project.
One will be held today from 1-2:30 p.m. at State College of Florida, and another will be delivered on Thursday from 7-9 p.m. in the first-floor county commission chambers at 1112 Manatee Ave. W. The complete lineup of the How Will We Grow discussions and background and research material can be found at www.mymanatee.org/howwillwegrow.
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Plus, groups and associations can still request a presentation; contact Kandi Carver at (941) 748-4501, ext. 6873 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Osborne's presentation also can be viewed on the county's website. Your ideas can be sent directly to county officials, too.
"We've received input from a number of clubs and associations around Manatee, and now we're hoping Manatee homeowners and neighborhoods will really weigh in," Osborne has stated. "This project could go a long way in improving many of our neighborhoods and common areas, so it's especially important for homeowners to give us their opinions."
The county has found low-density residential neighborhoods no longer a highly desirable way to live. Large suburban homes on big lots have become passe for the younger generations. More and more people seek an urban lifestyle where they can live, work and play without driving miles and miles and then dealing with parking.
The cost of building roads and schools, extending sewer and water lines, providing public transportation and parks, adding law enforcement and fire services, even establishing another library branch, is expensive. As is maintenance of those services and infrastructure -- your property tax dollars at work here.
We need to be smarter in how the county grows -- to keep costs under control while providing new and current residents with a high quality of life.
To date, the How Will We Grow project proposes three growth scenarios:
n Alternative 1: The "stay the course" option makes minor tweaks to the county's current Comprehensive Plan and would continue suburban growth along with low densities and low-rise development in most places.
n Alternative 2: The Southwest County focus promotes development and population growth in this county quadrant. It takes advantage of existing infrastructure and services, thereby reducing taxpayer costs, and allows higher densities and taller buildings (above 35 feet in spots) along the U.S. 41 corridor and other areas west of Interstate 75.
n Alternative 3: The "activity center" focus encourages denser and more concentrated growth within four designated areas: the Port Manatee area, Parrish, Lakewood Ranch, and the U.S. 41 corridor area of Southwest County. This also allows increased densities and taller buildings within the boundaries of these activity centers.
Where do you think the county should invest time, energy and tax money? The decision will impact future generations.