County road plan, sign rules, port efforts may be altered

MANATEE — The county’s long-range road plan, sign ordinance and efforts to encourage more port-related development could undergo changes — some of them major — officials told an advisory board Thursday.

Manatee County needs to scale back its road plan because it’s “excessive” and too expensive to implement, officials told the Manatee County Planning Commission during a workshop. The sign ordinance also needs to be streamlined and the Port Manatee Encouragement Zone’s boundaries likely will be expanded, county planners said.

The road plan outlines what improvements are needed to accommodate anticipated growth in the next 25 years. It now calls for nearly $2 billion in new and wider streets, expanded mass transit and other improvements, a figure that officials called financially unrealistic.

“We don’t have the money to develop a road network out to the hinterlands anymore,” said Tony Rodriguez, the county’s public works deputy director.

That likely means a reduction in the plan’s scope as it is updated, said John Osborne, the county’s planning director. As part of that process, planners have developed a pair of alternate development scenarios for Manatee to consider using as a basis for future planning.

The first envisions more transit-oriented growth, particularly along the U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 corridors. The second is based on steering growth toward five “development centers” — Lakewood Ranch, Parrish, downtown Bradenton, downtown Palmetto and southern Manatee.

Either scenario would dramatically lower projected transportation costs: $822 million for the development centers and $779 million under the transit option, said Rodriguez, who called the current plan “excessive and not needed” to support current growth projections.

Likewise, the county’s current sign regulations are excessive, planners said. That often makes it difficult for anyone, even the county’s building department, to quickly tell whether a proposed sign is allowed.

“We need to trim it down and simplify,” said Robert “Bob” Schmitt, county planning division manager, of the sign ordinance.

The result of planners’ tinkering: a proposed, 12-page replacement ordinance that includes a matrix to help determine what signs are allowed where.

Other proposed changes include limiting electronic message signs to 400 square feet in size; requiring master sign plans in planned developments; allowing more wayfaring and directional signs; and requiring a permit and placing restrictions on when banner signs can be displayed.

The county’s billboard regulations would not be changed under the proposed ordinance, which is expected to be presented to commissioners for approval later this year, Schmitt said.

Also later this year, planners intend to ask commissioners to expand the port zone to add property whose owners want to be included, Osborne said. The county offers incentives to landowners within the zone to spur development of warehouses, light-industrial space and other port-related uses.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.