Lakewood Ranch Herald

Sarasota County commissioners to hold final approval hearing about 2050 plan

SARASOTA -- Sarasota County commissioners could approve the most recent amendments to the Sarasota 2050 plan for future growth in eastern Sarasota County on Wednesday.

Modification to the fiscal-neutrality requirements and elimination of the 15-year waiting period between subsequent village developments are among the proposed changes to the 2050 blueprint, which allows developers to build high-density neighborhoods with types and densities regulated in the county's rural eastern portion.

The 2050 final-approval hearing will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Sarasota County Commission chambers, 1660 Ringling Blvd. There are 13 final recommendations for the 2050 plan Phase 3 issues, including addressing affordable housing and the reduction or elimination of the minimum of one village center.

"Fiscal neutrality" means the proposed new infrastructure will not place an additional burden on current Sarasota County taxpayers.

At the public hearing, citizens and business owners are expected to speak in favor of and against the amended plan as they have at previous hearings, said Allen Parsons, the county's long-range planning manager. There have been several required public hearings about the plan before it returned to the commission for final approval.

The fiscal-neutrality component of the plan, which has been at the center of the criticism, has been amended to remove the monitoring requirements, and instead of placing the emphasis on the whole development plan being fiscally neutral, it places it on a per-phase or annual basis.

After an entire project is deemed fiscally neutral by the county, the developers must remain within the parameters set and the county will monitor whether the developer remains within the standards that deemed it "fiscally neutral."

If approved Wednesday, the county will then develop transparent methodology for showing the fiscal neutrality at the beginning of the project and "involve public hearings to define the ingredients for the fiscal-neutrality plan," Parsons said. This,

he added, will "guide the submission and review of Fiscal Neutrality Plans, which are required for all 2050 developments."

The plan's revisions were sent to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity before Wednesday's meeting to seek the state's approval of the amendments. Letters sent to the county by FDEO, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Southwest Florida Water Management District and Florida Department of Transportation all stated that it didn't appear that the proposed amendments will result in any adverse impacts to these various departments and they did not provide comments on the amendments for consideration.

In May, the county commission unanimously approved plans for The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, a housing development being developed by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. in eastern Sarasota County. The amendments to the 2050 plan in terms of fiscal neutrality will not affect the development, said Richard Bedford, SMR vice president of planning.

"We are going to work in accordance with the plan," Bedford said Tuesday. "I don't think that's going to change our point of view at all. All 12 items that they have listed don't really affect what we are doing."

While Bedford plans to be at Wednesday's hearing, he said SMR is "not taking a position one way or another on these items."

"We are looking forward to 2050 getting kicked off and going," he said.

However, the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations is one of the organizations voicing its opposition to the plan.

"We feel that, even though it's the final approval of the plan, that the county commissioners shouldn't believe that we are still OK with it," said Lourdes Ramirez, CONA president and a member of the 2050 Action Network, a CONA initiative advocacy group.

While CONA is encouraging people to attend and speak at Wednesday's meeting, the afternoon meeting time makes it difficult for some, Ramirez said, adding she's heard many people emailed comments to FDEO. The amended fiscal-neutrality requirement and harm to the environment are among the issues CONA has with the 2050 plan.

If the developers aren't providing reports throughout the development process, how are they proving that the project is fiscally neutral, Ramirez asked.

"Our own roads aren't being repaired because they are building and paving those roads, and that's the only proof we are going to have," she said.

Regardless of the meeting's outcome, Ramirez said there's always an opportunity to continue the fight.

"They can never say that we never protested," she said. "It's important for us to keep speaking up all along. We don't plan to let it end (Wednesday). 2050 advocacy group is planning to go forward in whatever options we have to do to fight this."

Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.