LWR at 20: The Makings of a City

Posted by on Apr 6, 2015 in Blog

LWR at 20: The makings of a city, with more growth to come
By Dale White , Herald-Tribune / Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Richard Bedford, the new vice president of planning for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, says build out could be 20 years away. (Staff photo/Dale White)
Richard Bedford, the new vice president of planning for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, says build out could be 20 years away. (Staff photo/Dale White)

Having experienced 20 years of growth and welcomed about 25,000 residents so far, Lakewood Ranch is far from being finished.

“Buildout is about 20 years away, so we’re about halfway there,” said Richard Bedford, a former architect, home builder and developer who recently accepted the position of vice president of planning for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch.

Now at about 9,500 households, Lakewood Ranch — which spans east Manatee and Sarasota counties — is likely to expand extensively given the development approvals it already has in hand — plus those it could still request for vast tracts that remain in agriculture.

The 500-member and growing Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance predicts the community could eventually have as many as 32,000 homes.

For years, residents have speculated about whether Lakewood Ranch will eventually become a city. If so, it could surpass Bradenton and Sarasota in size and population.

The makings of a city are already present.

LakewoodRanch 028Since its inception with the Summerfield subdivision, Lakewood Ranch has grown into a multi-faceted development with not just single-family homes but condos, apartments, country clubs, colleges, shopping complexes, a hospital, a sports complex and the largest business park in the region.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age in the Lakewood Ranch area is almost 43. The median household income is nearly $89,000. Most residents are in owner-occupied homes with a median value of more than $344,000.

Those demographics could vary as the master-planned community continues to expand and diversify.

On the drawing board

Del Webb intends to build Lakewood Ranch’s first 55-and-older subdivision off State Road 70, with 1,300 homes.

The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, on SMR’s Sarasota County property, will offer several housing types in what is considered a walkable “village” setting — as required by Sarasota County’s 2050 growth plan for areas east of Interstate 75.

“The project will differ from present development patterns, according to Sarasota County’s 2050 Plan, as well as the unique nature of that land,” Bedford said. “Specifically the significant number of extremely large lakes that new development will encompass will provide a wonderful and exceptional development environment.”

Rex Jensen (Staff photo)
Rex Jensen (Staff photo/Thomas Bender)

Rex Jensen, SMR’s president, especially wants Lakewood Ranch to offer more work force-priced housing — noting the heavy commuter traffic that can be seen entering and departing the community at the start and end of a business day.

“A significant portion of the 2050 project will be work force housing,” Bedford said of the upcoming villages.

Of the 5,144 homes to be built there during the next 20 or so years, 2,037 are to be priced for households earning less than 120 percent of area median income.

If Lorraine Road and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard are extended south into Sarasota County by about mid-2017, Bedford expects residents to start moving into the earliest phase of those lakefront villages at about the same time.

Also on SMR’s drawing board is the continuing development of Lakewood Centre, between State Roads 64 and 70 and east of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

Lakewood Centre north and south“Lakewood Centre has a number of residential developments starting in 2015,” Bedford said. “Additionally SMR is aggressively looking for commercial-lifestyle-retail opportunities for Lakewood Centre as well.

Ultimately, Lakewood Centre could have 3,239 condos and apartments and 1,444 singe-family homes.

Meanwhile, several suburbs within Lakewood Ranch — such as Lake Club, Country Club and Bridgewater — are still selling homesites. Other neighborhoods will soon be underway, including the Savannah and Harmony subdivisions and two condo complexes at Main Street.

Kirk Boylston (Staff photo)
Kirk Boylston (Staff photo/Thomas Bender)

Kirk Boylston, president of SMR Commercial Realty, said numerous businesses are under construction — including a Wawa convenience store at Lorraine Corners, Doodlebugs Daycare in Commerce Park, The Learning Experience day care at Lorraine Corners, Senior Lifestyles senior care facility on Ranchland and an expansion of The Windsor senior care facility in Town Center.

Boylston said SMR would like to attract “a self-storage facility in the Business Park, a signature retail use for the 1.8-acre parcel at University at the I-75 on ramp, build-to-suit corporate office projects for the Corporate Park and data center facilities.”

With more than 1.9 million square feet of colleges, corporate headquarters and other businesses, the Corporate Park south of University Parkway still has a long way to go before reaching a potential build-out of 6.2 million square feet.

The city question

A pending question about Lakewood Ranch’s future is whether its voters will ever incorporate the community as a municipality.
Much of Lakewood Ranch is governed by community development districts, which are headed by elected boards that tax residents to build and maintain roads, stormwater ponds and other infrastructure.

For a CDD to become a city is not without precedent.

Weston — a 15,000-acre, master-planned community in Broward County — started as a CDD. In September 1996, 90 percent of its electorate favored incorporation as a city.

“SMR has always believed that incorporation would be a resident based decision, although we see no immediate need to incorporate,” Bedford said.

When Lakewood Ranch residents were surveyed about the idea in 2011, Bedford said, the “general consensus was that it was too early at that time.”

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh conducts a Town Hall meeting in Lakewood Ranch. (Staff photo/Dale White)
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh conducts a Town Hall meeting in Lakewood Ranch. (Staff photo/Dale White)

“I think it’s possible in the years to come, not today or tomorrow,” said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, a Lakewood Ranch resident and business owner.

Although becoming a city would strengthen Lakewood Ranch’s identity, it will involve a lot of debate about what services — such as police or sanitation — would be provided by the municipality or contracted out.

Regardless of whether it becomes a city, Baugh expects Lakewood Ranch to have “a bright future” because of the appeal of being a master-planned community.

“A master-planned community, as we know it, is not for everybody,” Baugh said. “It just depends on the lifestyle you want.”

For her and her neighbors, it means living in a development where “everything is kept up beautifully and so well,” Baugh said.

While other areas may have weeds and litter in the medians and overflowing garbage cans in the parks, Lakewood Ranch is known for being impeccably maintained. Its CDDs see to that and its residents are willing to pay extra taxes to ensure it.

Baugh thinks that appearance will continue to be Lakewood Ranch’s strongest magnet. “It’s just a nice place to live.”