Wednesday’s Sarasota County Commission meeting will mark another battle in the fight between the preservationists who want to keep some of the region’s land rural and the developers who want to maximize its profit.
County commissioners are poised to consider a comprehensive plan amendment and an ordinance that could open up nearly 10,000 acres of green space at Hi Hat Ranch to development. The wide expanse of land is located between Fruitville Road and Clark Road near Lorraine Road to the west and the Oak Ford Golf Club to the east.
The long-term proposal for the land is a mixed-use development that would include roughly 13,081 dwelling units, 450,000 square feet of commercial building, 75 acres for a high school and 40 acres for a K-8 school. The potential project is slated for years in the future—a county ordinance puts the completion date of all Hi Hat Ranch construction in 2056.
The development requires multiple policy changes to be tenable. On Wednesday, county commissioners will decide whether to change the land use designation for 1,258 acres on the northeastern part of the land from "hamlet" to "village," paving the way for more density and more development in that portion.
The proposed community could house almost 30,000 residents in an area of town that is largely uninhabited, compared to the towering condos of downtown Sarasota and the unending subdivisions of Lakewood Ranch. It would also greatly increase the amount of dwelling units allowed on the land, which currently has a maximum density of one unit per acre. But the proposed village land use requires a minimum of at least three units an acre, and the designation allows for as many as 5 or 6 units an acre. That translates to up to 25,746 total—almost double the proposed amount.
That’s not a proposition that many nearby residents are happy with, especially those who live in rural Old Miakka. Becky Ayech, Old Miakka Community Club president and resident environmentalist, wrote in a Jan. 17 email to county planners, “This is a very dangerous precedent. It opens the door for other areas with the hamlet designation to seek village designation. The function of the hamlet land use form is to contribute toward the establishment of open space east of the countryside line and provide north-south habitat corridors.”
Despite objections, on May 6, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval for the amendment and ordinance, giving the first green light for future development in the area.
But developers still have to pass through another hurdle before they can even begin: rezoning. The land will have to be rezoned in a process that county staff anticipate could happen in as many as five phases.
The presentations and public hearing on the topic begin at 1:30 p.m.