by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer — East County Observer

With less land available for residential development east of Interstate 75 in Manatee County, commissioners might soon be asked to push east the Future Development Area Boundary line, sometimes known as the urban boundary line.

The topic could come up after Lakewood Ranch Communities submitted an application at the March 11 Planning Commission meeting to amend the county’s Comprehensive Plan to allow development beyond the boundary line under limited circumstances.

Specifically, it would allow future applications for development on land adjacent and contiguous to the boundary line, which in East County is located at Bourneside Boulevard from State Road 64 south to University Parkway. It veers slightly westward north of S.R. 64 until it reaches the county’s northern border.

The line was established in 1989 and moved a handful of times over the years before it reached its current location in 2006. It is designed to limit urban sprawl and preserve agriculture as the primary land use east of the line through 2040, according to the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

The portion of Manatee County’s Future Development Area Boundary that is south of State Road 64 is located on Bourneside Boulevard. The land east of the line is protected from urban sprawl.

All new development of more than 0.2 dwelling units per gross acre east of the line is prohibited, with the exception of small commercial development supporting the agricultural community, limited development associated with mining operations, farm worker housing, residences in Myakka City, cluster development to protect open space or agricultural operations and plan amendments resulting from a change in the county’s Future Land Use Concept Map.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of LWR Communities’ proposed amendment 4-1. The amendment is scheduled for evaluation by the Manatee County Commission at an April 15 land use meeting. Paul Rutledge and Bill Smock were absent, while Jedd Heap cast the lone dissenting vote.

“The county has not built out to the west of that line,” Heap said. “Until then, it should be held.”

The portion of Manatee County’s Future Development Area Boundary that is south of State Road 64 is located on Bourneside Boulevard. The land east of the line (right of the pictured stake) is protected from urban sprawl.

However, attorney Caleb Grimes, who represented LWR Communities at the Planning Commission meeting, said Lakewood Ranch is “virtually built out,” with the exceptions of Premier Sports Campus, land which is already tied to approved applications and a few pockets of space for commercial buildings.

Grimes said the application requires developers to cover the cost of infrastructure additions and improvements and meet specific criteria to ensure they don’t place stress on existing and planned infrastructure within the boundary line.

Manatee County Planning Manager Lisa Barrett said the amendment would allow the county to continue development without leapfrogging over areas of undeveloped property. However, she also said development east of the line could be considered urban sprawl and that it could impact agricultural lands. Barrett said county commissioners might need to consider costs the county could incur and added the amendment amounts to a policy decision for them.

The portion of Manatee County’s Future Development Area Boundary that is south of State Road 64 is located on Bourneside Boulevard. The land east of the line (pictured across the street) is protected from urban sprawl.

The boundary line runs through District 1, Commissioner James Satcher’s district, north of S.R. 64. Satcher is open to the idea of moving the line.

“It’s been 30 years,” Satcher said. “It might be time to take a look at that line and see if it still makes sense given where Manatee County is.”

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said it’s critical development beyond the line does not negatively impact Manatee County’s infrastructure, financial or otherwise.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh shared Whitmore’s concerns about infrastructure and suggested developers to the east of the line would need to use their own utilities or add septic tanks.

“As a county, do we really want to add more developments in on septic tanks?” Baugh said.

Additionally, she said she appreciates the line ensures Manatee County has a large rural area to balance out the higher-density parts of the county to the west, such as Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton.

Myakka residents Elizabeth Arnold and Carol Felts are concerned about development encroaching on the area surrounding their homes.

In addition to other commissioners’ concerns about infrastructure and utilities, Commissioner George Kruse said people who live in Myakka City chose to live there in part because it is a rural, low-density area. He said he would rather see increased height and density close to existing infrastructure and employment centers, adding further eastward development would clog county roads as people head west for work.

“We don’t want to push out until we’re bumping into DeSoto (county),” Kruse said. “We don’t need coast-to-coast housing. That’s not the intention. I’d rather incentivize people to stay away from that line and build closer to where I think we should be building in the first place.”

Myakka City resident Heidi Minihkeim moved there from the Finger Lakes region of New York about five years ago. She is one of the people who moved to Myakka City specifically because she enjoys the rural community and landscape.

“Every year, it’s getting scarier,” Minihkeim said. “They’re encroaching on us. And it’s frightening because we love Myakka and we love what it is, but it is changing daily.”

Myakka City resident Carol Felts is concerned about a number of issues regarding possible development beyond the boundary line. For one, she said the county needs to maintain its agricultural area east of the line. She also believes development east of the line could add to existing county issues with water, sewer and roads.

“Sometimes, we don’t mind having dirt roads (in Myakka),” Felts said. “Because we had a promise. We had a land development code. We had an urban boundary line. And for someone to come up here and ask for more, all the time more. … Lakewood Ranch is not going to be the stellar community that you’ve made it to be if you can’t get to the beach.”

The Observer reached out to seven companies who have developed in East County for comment on this subject. Neal Communities President and CEO Pat Neal declined comment through a spokesperson, as did Lennar. AR Homes by Arthur Rutenberg, Lee Wetherington Homes, Meritage Homes and Pulte Homes did not return requests for comment.

Medallion Homes President and CEO Carlos Beruff said he’s not currently interested in land east of the boundary line because he has already purchased enough land to keep his employees working for at least 15 years. He said in addition to utilities, the county should consider whether it has the necessary roads to handle growth east of the line.

“We still have a lot of roads to be built within the urban service boundary, and expanded, that unfortunately have not been built as quickly as they should be built,” Beruff said. “It’s a myriad of things. Some of it is within the control of the county. And they haven’t been able to execute. And some of it is the constraints the government has to work under because of the procurement requirements they have.”

In the long run,Beruff said it’s inevitable Manatee County development will encroach on Myakka City after Lakewood Ranch and Parrish are built out.

“Twenty years from now?” Beruff said. “Yeah, of course, because I don’t think people are going to stop coming to Florida.”