The School District of Manatee is on board with the nearly 6,000 new residential units that could be coming to the Parrish area but argue that the developer should be required to set aside room for a new school.
Parrish has become a hotbed for new development and the first two parts of the Neal Land & Neighborhoods’ North River Ranch master plan community would put a significant strain on school resources in the area. By the school district’s estimate, that project alone is expected generate more than 1,000 new students.
Barbara A. Harvey Elementary School and the newly renamed Parrish Community High School are slated to open in August, but there still won’t be enough room to accommodate these incoming families, according to school district officials.
“Those 5,841 dwelling units combined are projected to need school capacity for 122 percent of an elementary school, 41 percent of a middle school and 29 percent of a high school,” the school’s district’s executive planner Mike Pendley explained. “The school district is moving toward a K-8 school model with 1,200 student stations resulting in a capacity of 1,080 students. The projected capacity from (this project) is 1,061. That seems like a pretty close fit.”
“I’ll leave it up to the planning commission and the Board of County Commissioners to decide whether you want to approve a development knowing that there will be issues with school siting,” he added.
The development of those 2,327 acres on the northwest corner of Moccasin Wallow Road and U.S. 301 is sure to have a tremendous impact on the county, Pendley said. He asked the commission to consider a stipulation that would set aside about 40 acres for an “acceptable school site” that would “be transferred to the school district at an agreed upon time.”
Also included in the planned North River Ranch development are more than 120,000 square feet of commercial and 20,000 square feet of office space. The planning commission recommended approval of the first portion of the North River Ranch master plan project, the 380-home Morgan’s Glen subdivision, in February.
According to a school report filed by Pendley, Neal Land & Neighborhoods would need to provide necessary improvements for the school, such as roads and utilities connecting to the site and would be compensated with educational facility impact fees.
But the county attorney’s office says there are laws preventing Manatee County from including a stipulation for a land agreement as part of a general development plan approval. In short, Assistant County Attorney Sarah Schenk said the county can’t make that requirement without a data analysis that shows an existing deficit of school service in the area due to an existing interlocal school concurrency agreement.
Ed Vogler, an attorney representing Neal Land & Neighborhoods, agreed with the county attorney’s assessment, arguing that the developer is willing to work with the school district on these plans, but the legal issue has them “caught in a little bit of a vortex.”
Pendley said it was urgent that the agreement come before the general development plan for the North River Ranch development was approved, or else the school district wouldn’t have “any regulatory teeth” to enforce reservation of land for a school.
“The general development plan is the only shot we’ve got to ask for a school site,” Pendley said. “Part of the concern of this area is that there’s not much available land between these developments.”
Developer Pat Neal leaned on his company’s reputation and its relationship with the School District of Manatee to assure them that an agreement would be put in place.
“We want to have a school there and we’ll work out a program that meets the standards,” Neal said. “We want a school and plan to build it.”
Bill Conerly, chairman of the Manatee County planning commission, urged Neal and the school district to come together for a more binding agreement before the North River Ranch proposal goes before the Board of County Commissioners next month.
“I’m going to be supportive of this with the hope and expectation that this will get resolved without our pressuring, cajoling or requiring anything further,” said Planning Commissioner Paul Rutledge.
The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project. County commissioners are expected to have their say at the scheduled land use meeting on April 4.