LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Sarasota County commissioners have approved a proposal to extend Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south to Fruitville Road in Sarasota County.
The vote was 4-0 on Wednesday, with one commissioner recusing herself because of a conflict of interest.
When complete, the extension will provide a north-south connecting road east of Interstate 75 that will serve future residents of the housing and business development proposed by Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., and for the Villages at Lakewood Ranch South.
Lakewood Ranch Boulevard now ends near the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park and Communications Parkway just south of University Parkway.
The commission's approval gives SMR the go-ahead to move forward in the design work for the road improvements and to work out some of the details with existing property owners who might be affected.
"Just really glad it is moving forward. We need a connector road on that side of the interstate," commission Chairman Charles Hines wrote in an email Wednesday.
The Villages, a combination of residential and commercial development on 5,500 acres, will eventually contain 5,100 residential units, two village centers, 300,000
square feet of commercial space, public space and a new school. More than 2,000 affordable-housing units in the Villages, which will provide housing for employees at nearby companies, including those in the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, also are slated.
An estimated $5 million or more in ad valorem taxes will be generated by the Villages' completion.
SMR Chief Executive Officer Rex Jensen has expressed a desire to move the road project forward as soon as possible as he begins development of the new Villages.
"I was very happy to hear Mr. Jensen's commitment to expedite the construction of the road as soon as all right-of-way is obtained and coordination with county staff is completed. I am very comfortable with the commitment of Rex Jensen and SMR to proceed with building this road," Commissioner Joseph Barbetta emailed after the meeting. Besides the Lakewood Ranch Boulevard extension, SMR has committed to paying fully for the extension of Lorraine Road from University Parkway to Fruitville Road and building an east-west connecting road from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Lorraine Road. The developer has also pledged up to $7.5 million to build either an extension of Iona Road from Palmer Boulevard to Fruitville Road, or an overpass over the interstate from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Cattlemen Road.
Kevin Cooper, vice president of public policy at the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, last year told the commission that the roadway modifications were imperative to the county's "traffic ecosystem" and applauded SMR's efforts to tackle long-standing traffic issues.
"For a private entity to step up above and beyond what they are required to do can't be understated," he said.
Earlier this year, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, whose District 5 encompasses Lakewood Ranch, met with Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad to push for accelerated construction of the new interstate interchange that will widen about 3.5 miles of I-75 from north of Fruitville Road to north of University Parkway.
The project also includes widening about 1 mile of University Parkway from the Cattleman Road/Cooper Creek Boulevard intersection to the Market Street/Lake Osprey Drive intersection in Lakewood Ranch.
Prasad is scheduled to make an announcement on the interchange project Thursday.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.