A historic community that has become more and more attractive for Manatee County’s rapidly expanding housing market is ready to embrace that growth with a master plan that maintains the area’s “southern charm.”
The Parrish Village Neighborhood Action Plan that the county commissioned in August 2018 is nearing completion. On Tuesday, Althea Jefferson with Mellgren Planning Group, a Fort Lauderdale-based urban planning firm, shared the draft proposal with the Board of County Commissioners.
In conjunction with residents and businesses, Mellgren conducted neighborhood meetings to collect feedback from local stakeholders. What they came up with was a plan to bring a town center, a central park for events and recreation and an “academic cluster,” to the 2,100-acre area between Moccasin Wallow Road and the intersection of 121st Avenue East and U.S. 301.
“The Parrish Village has a very rich history. There is definitely a love of the community and a sharing of core values,” Jefferson explained.
“This is a community that recognizes growth is going to happen, and very smartly and intuitively, they have a front that wants to know what ‘s going on as it happens,” she added.
Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, who represents the Parrish area, pointed out that those requests are in line with what she has heard from residents.
“The reality of things is that a lot of people want to be our neighbors,” Trace said.
The key going forward will be balancing the need for more commercial uses to go along with the housing subdivisions in the area, board members said.
“Right now, it’s a lot of neighborhoods without any kind of town center,” said Commissioner Betsy Benac. “Any planner worth their salt knows what people want when it comes to a town center, but how do we get that?”
A new town center would be the heart of the redevelopment effort in the Parrish Village, Jefferson said, but the success of the project depends on the balance of new development, as well. She advocated for a greater mix of uses, along with “more rooftops” to attract new businesses.
A centralized Main Street would go a long way toward pacifying residents who say there aren’t enough restaurants and businesses near their homes.
“The people of Parrish don’t want to have to drive to Bradenton or Ruskin if they want to eat,” Trace pointed out.
But the success of the new master plan is contingent on more than just dining and recreational activities. Jefferson highlighted the need for an improved network of roadways, sidewalks and greenways for pedestrian safety and local connectivity.
Another key aspect is a “central park” envisioned for the land just east of the newly opened Parrish Community High School. According to the master plan, it would help establish a sense of place, while protecting the natural environment and providing recreational opportunities.
According to Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s director of parks and natural resources, Manatee already owns about 11 acres of land that could be converted to a recreational park, adjacent to the high school. Staff are also working on a “property trade” to give up some county-owned land in Duette in exchange for about eight acres of land near the potential park.
“You can imagine that Central Park has room to grow,” he said.
The last major suggestion was to build out an academic cluster to complement the existing high school and Barbara Harvey Elementary School. The State College of Florida has plans to construct a Parrish campus in the near future. Those three facilities could be the jumping off point for a new committee aimed at bringing even more education resources to Parrish.
Improvements to county sewer and utility lines will also be needed, Jefferson said.
“All of these elements are critical factors to realize this conceptual plan, and the responsibility doesn’t just fall on the Board of County Commissioners. We have to work with the stakeholders,” said Jefferson.
“If the county wants to see this happen, the conversations need to start,” she added.
Board members were impressed with the new vision for Parrish, and only had minor suggestions for the master plan.
“I am quite frankly thrilled with this planning effort,” Benac said.
“I see a real opportunity having some sort of trolley or public transit to bring people from the Riverwalk, or other destinations, as Parrish gets going,” said Commissioner Misty Servia, who also suggested incorporating public art.
When it comes to moving the plan along, local leaders say they’re ready to partner with the county and build upon the Parrish lifestyle.
“This is an awesome way for us to finally bring this together. We like the concept and the idea of partnering with the county,” said Gretchen Fowler, president of the Parrish Civic Association.
“We’ve got a really cool opportunity to do something cool here, and we need the help of Manatee County to facilitate what we want to be,” said Alan Jones, owner of Alan Jones Potato Farm.
The Parrish Village Neighborhood Action Plan will be finalized after meeting again with residents.
“Let’s do what we need to move this forward,” said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.