By Jon Rehill
Sarasota Phoenix Correspondent
Lakewood Ranch residents showed up at Thursday’s Manatee County Commission land use meeting with all of the expectations of finding relief from what they consider egregious development. They came expecting their county representatives to convey to the rest of the commission that seven-story buildings and bumper to bumper traffic is not what they moved here for. What they got was a familiar sentiment: get used to it, because there’s plenty more where that came from.
The community’s residents have come here from all over the country, with reason to believe they moved into a leisure community with all of the amenities of a well-structured development, but now find that their Main Street will be decorated with a seven-story hotel, a seven-story retail and office complex and condominiums as high.
One by one, they aired their dissatisfaction to the commission, and one by one they found that their interest and relevance was of little matter.
“All I heard here today was comments about aesthetics,” said Commissioner Carol Whitmore. Residents made a mistake citing the compatibility clauses in the Land Development Code and how seven stories would far exceed the height of any other building for miles around.
Residents also cited LDC section 719: on destruction of surrounding wetlands and Section 721: on habitat and endangered spices; and how the hundreds of water fowl that nest right off shore of the project would be affected.
Whitmore called on county environmental specialist, Joel Christian “The water is not jurisdictional wetlands, and the wading birds, well, there are no regulations prohibiting the applicant’s request,” Christian said.
Commissioners consistently reminded Lakewood Ranch residents that they were living in ground zero of an urban zone. Residents said, they didn’t move to one.
“A seven story building would be more than twice as high as any of the Main Street buildings and more than three times as high as most of them,” said Lakewood Ranch resident Mike Mahon.
Lakewood Ranch resident Jack Kents said the Town Center is not an urban area. Traffic was on everyone’s list of concerns, so was setting precedence of allowing seven-story buildings in the area.
But commissioners said that the builder could construct a ten story building on a nearby parcel; as if it were a threat.
Commissioners also claimed that Lakewood Ranch was a planned development of 50,000 people, dating back to the 1990s —and that they aren’t even half way there yet.
Residents tried to make a clear statement as to why they moved to LWR and how important it was that they feel what they bought into was a leisure suburban community — the one in the glossy, full-color brochure.
Commissioners tried their bestto appear sympathetic, but approved the request, 5-0, Commissioner DiSabatino absent, Commissioner Smith not yet sworn in.