Lake Flores development team begins working on details of plan

WEST BRADENTON -- Some folks think Lake Flores will be the shot in the arm West Bradenton needs, attracting well-heeled residents and a younger crowd.

Even though there is still more planning and work to be done before construction begins on the former agricultural land, supporters have been lining up.

"I think it will be a breath of fresh air out in that direction, a kick-starter," said Ben Bakker, a real estate agent and chairman of Manatee Young Professionals.

When Lakewood Ranch sprung up a decade ago, many West Bradenton residents headed east to the new development because "it was the shiny new penny," Bakker said.

"West Bradenton, unfortunately, just got the short end of the stick," Bakker said. "Instead of West Bradenton being replenished, it was left empty. Everything kind of got left behind and neglected. This will definitely be a good shot in the arm."

Lake Flores, a 1,300-acre mixed-use walkable community, may spur revitalization in West Bradenton. Lake Flores received unanimous approval Aug. 6 from the Manatee County Commission where speakers, including West Bradenton residents, declared the development will benefit the neglected west side of town. The development team will begin working on more detailed aspects of Lake Flores in preparing the final site plan.

Since development took off in East Manatee County, West Bradenton has "been experiencing an exodus of businesses eastward," said Dolly Young, a real estate agent and former Manatee County Planning Commission member.

"We are not attracting upscale nor large regional and national retail businesses to our end of the county," said Young, who was a co-author of the county's Comprehensive Plan and land development code.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents East Manatee County, notes it is important for the eastern and western portions of the county to work together because they "need each other for our quality of life to improve."

"For me, it's important that, not just out east grows, but also West Bradenton, because if we are together in our success, what a county we have," Baugh said at the Aug. 6 commission meeting. "It is good for all of us. It's going to improve the quality of life for all of us."

Development plans filed with the county May 29, 2014, call for 6,500 residential units, 1 million square feet of retail space, 2 million square feet of commercial space and 500 hotel rooms.

The project, which has an estimated 20-year buildout, will transform a swath of farmland south of Cortez Road, east of 86th Street West, north of El Conquistador Parkway and west of IMG Academy.

Lake Flores will be a game-changer for West Bradenton and help surrounding properties redevelop, said Whiting Preston, president of Manatee Fruit Co., at the Aug. 6 meeting.

Neighboring Lake Flores is Long Bar Pointe, a proposed mixed-use residential project on 463 acres near Sarasota Bay off El Conquistador Parkway. Long Bar Pointe is another large development planned in the county's urban service area. When reached Friday about how Lake Flores could benefit his project, developer Carlos Beruff said he had no comment.

"Clearly there is a highlighted need for investment on this side of town," Preston said. "From an economic standpoint, this is very positive for Manatee County and the area."

What's next for Lake Flores

With the green light from the commission, the development team can now move forward with lifelong resident Preston's vision to transform his family's West Bradenton farmland into an urban village.

In a statement released after the Aug. 6 approval of Lake Flores, Preston said "he intends to move forward quickly and will meet with in-house staff and consultants to plan a timeline for future action."

Linda Gross, spokeswoman for the Lake Flores development, said it is too soon after the commission approval to go into more detail.

"We will sit down with our land planners and design team and begin to create our architectural standards, review the research on the type of housing that might be popular, locations of green space, formulate the infrastructure including creating gathering places near and along the lake," Preston said in the press release. "The ideas will quickly become a sought out community for both locals and those moving into the area."

Preston said the development team will work closely with the county staff to ensure "all requirements are met and that we proceed in an efficient and effective manner."

"The plans for the community will continue to be communicated and shared with the public through the BradentonsFuture website so everyone can view the process," according to Preston.

When asked at the land use meeting whether the Preston family was going to stay involved in the project, Preston said: "We will need to make that decision as we go further down the path."

Commissioner John Chappie, who represents West Bradenton, said during the Aug. 6 meeting West Bradenton has gotten old and tired. Since the Lake Flores was approved in a quasi-judicial hearing, commissioners are unable to talk for 30 days following the hearing about the development.

"We've been asking for infill," Chappie said at the time. "I didn't want to see the typical area we see out east. I'm not say it's wrong."

Attractive for millennials

With a variety of proposed housing options, Lake Flores will "absolutely" be attractive for millennials, who may be working in Manatee County but struggling to find a place to live within the county, said Bakker.

"He's trying to offer a little bit of everything," Bakker said.

In Lake Flores, there will be more affordable options for individuals in the 20 to 30 age range -- especially for the "20-something that has just gotten out of college who is not ready to buy a home and has student loan debt."

Manatee County doesn't have a lot of affordable housing options for millennials, Bakker said.

"When I say affordable housing, I don't mean Section Eight or HUD, but something that people can afford when in an entry level position or entry level salary," he said. "A lot of them are going elsewhere to live. They have to live in St. Pete. If they want to buy a home, they have to go out to Parrish. Lake Flores is designed to be all kind of inclusive, walkable and bikeable and everything right there. It is affordable and amenities are all right there. It's a smart idea."

With 3 million square feet of commercial and retail space, Lake Flores will bring in entry level jobs to the county, Bakker said.

"The commercial side of the development that is proposed will bring a great deal of jobs for entry level and for folks in college or right out," he said.

Fueling development

National retailers such as Whole Food, Total Wine and Home Goods come to Manatee County and often open in East Manatee County or along University Parkway.

Young said she believes West Manatee County can also support businesses like these.

"A mixed development like (Lake Flores) will bring these types of retailers to us as well as housing near the beaches," she said.

"Retail strip centers in the area are inundated with hair and nail salons and other duplicated businesses from one strip center to another. I can foresee a spree of rehab to some of these strip centers with the presence of Lake Flores," Young said. "Lake Flores will revitalize West County and increase income to present businesses as well as Manatee County."

Stafford Starcher, president of Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, said if homes are going in, businesses will follow.

"Since there is more to offer out there, it becomes a little more desirable out there," he said. "The exciting thing to me about that particular property is that schools are already out there. The roads are already out there except for the infrastructure of the actual community."

Over time, Lake Flores can help attract other development.

"One thing that does happen when you are starting to get better infrastructure and a nice big Publix and maybe a Lowe's or Home Depot, once that starts it continues," Starcher said. "Once the commercial starts to come in, that's when the effect on the surrounding area starts to take effect. ... It will happen over a period of time. As Realtors, we are excited to have that start out there."

The communities surrounding Lake Flores in West Bradenton will go into "a transitioning period of time," Starcher said.

"The values will go up," he said. "When they do start going up, it gives people permission to do more things with their homes."

Chappie called Lake Flores a "tremendous opportunity."

"I think this is the best we are going to get," Chappie said. "This is the best that has come across since I've been in Manatee County and been in office. ... This is a beginning of opening up all kinds of doors of opportunities to take care a lot of the concerns and issues we have today that we wouldn't have if it was the typical urban sprawl development."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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