Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Two visions of East Sarasota County

Last week, the Sarasota County Commission approved LT Ranch -- a 3,450-home project to occupy 1,700 acres a little bit east of I-75 on Clark Road. The vote was 4-1.

Many questions about the exceptions, bent rules, and questionable environmental judgments surround that approval -- more may be forthcoming (Video BCC, Nov. 9th). What deserves mention just now is not the plan, but rather the plea put forward by Commissioner Charles Hines. Hines voted against the project, though he said many of its elements were "great."

Charles Hines
 Photo from SarasotaNewsLeader.com
The reason for his vote was simple: The developer wanted to come in east of I-75 on Clark Rd, which currently has the look and feel of an old country road, and remove a 500-foot buffer requirement in order to locate a 300,000-square-foot shopping center at roadside with a 10-foot buffer.

Such a radical change would destroy the entire look of the road, said Hines. It would also set a precedent for future developers who will seek the same exemptions, exceptions, and bent-out-of-shape-rules for their projects east of the Interstate. There is no need for giant Walgreen signs looming over Clark Road -- the eastern sector of Sarasota county was supposed to be different, Hines said.

Charles Bailey, attorney for the Turner family that is selling the parcel to Taylor Morrison, one of the largest homebuilders in the nation, huddled for a few minutes with his clients, then returned with a counter-offer -- instead of a 10-foot buffer, he said, how about 20 feet?

Hines looked stunned. Red-faced. "I'm offended," he said.

Hines went on to describe a vision of an old country road -- you drive along, heading to Myakka and Arcadia, and as you look from your car, you see open fields, or homes in the distance. It sounded idyllic - but with a shopping center 20 feet from the curb, not very likely. The Turners and Taylor Morrison - and the four other Commissioners - Maio, Caragiulo, Mason and Robinson - didn't seem to get it. Sure, maybe the 2050 Plan had called for a 500-foot buffer, but when has that ever stopped a wonderful project?

In brief, there is an ontological gap between the vision of old Florida, as it still remains, both in memory and in a few places in real life, like Clark Road -- between this Florida and the ambitions of folks like the Turners, Taylor Morrison, and the four Commissioners, who see real estate, widened roads, and commercial buildings in place of vacant pasture.

Between these two opposing imaginings of Sarasota East, you might think there could be some bridge, some mediating point. But attorney Bailey wasn't going to let his clients down. They came back with the offer of a 50'-foot buffer and a tall hedge. Hines opposed, got no second -- the Commission was not going to postpone approval -- those pasture lands were itching to be developed. The plan with its 50-foot buffer was approved, Hines dissenting.

Hines in fact admired much about the LT Ranch proposal. He just didn't want the entire look of the County to resemble Fort Lauderdale.

"This was such an overreach to jam this commercial right up in front, right on that road," said Hines. "I don’t see the benefit."

This approval was but the crack in the seawall. More developers will soon appear before the County, seeking to bend the 2050 Plan to their profit-driven "density needs." Led by a monolithic Republican business cadre, developers and government will make each other happy as cows leaping for joy. They'll just do their leaping in a Publix parking lot.

We appreciate Commissioner Hines' solo effort to get a developer to honor the 2050 plan and a vision of East Sarasota County. Commissioners Robinson and Mason are gone due to term limits. Commissioners Caragiulo and Maio will stand for election in 2018, when Sarasotans can decide their "future development."

LT Ranch on Clark Rd.


  1. Our apologies, Robert. We are attributing. And would wish more readers would comment about our content...

  2. Construction has started at Bee Ridge Ext and Clark Rd/SR72. Are there any plans where we can see the future of the intersection and local traffic patterns?