Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sarasota Herald Tribune 11/29/06

Project planned in East Manatee
County to consider traffic issues at huge Lakewood Ranch park


LAKEWOOD RANCH -- A massive Lakewood Ranch commercial project would bring more than 700,000 square feet of new retail and office space to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south of State Road 64.
The Lakewood Ranch Commerce Park, planned for the southeast corner of S.R. 64 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, would provide more shopping and service options for the exploding residential growth along Lakewood Ranch's northern boundary.The 727,000 square-foot project is part of a larger retail and office development planned for that fast-growing intersection.

For comparison, consider that the new Super Target store at University Parkway and Interstate 75 is 174,000 square feet, or less than a quarter the size of this project.Manatee County is reviewing plans for the project, which had received initial approval in 2000.The county is reviewing the plans again because developers get three years to build approved projects before having to resubmit them.

In this case, the county is sure to consider whether the project would cause traffic problems in the increasingly congested East Manatee region.If the county decides existing roads can't handle traffic from the project,

Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch would be responsible for adding capacity.County Planner Laurie Suess said resubmittals are crucial with long-term projects such as these."A lot has happened since 2003 and we have to make sure it won't impact traffic," she said."They're taking the next step in keeping their project alive so they can finish it."One phase of the commerce park, the sprawling Publix plaza and its strip malls, is already complete.

This latest phase promises to bring 127,000 square feet of commercial space, 300,000 square feet of offices, and 300,000 square feet of industrial space.When built out, the commerce center would total 2.4 million square feet.

SMR submitted a new traffic study to the county. Planners are expected today to let SMR know how they feel about the project.

Final approval is expected sometime in the first part of 2007.

The commerce park is a welcomed addition to East Manatee, especially for residents like Bobbie Griswold.Griswold and her husband built their Waterlefe home knowing there weren't many stores around.But the couple lived under the premise that if homes were built, then commercial would soon follow.It has, but not fast enough for them.For the Griswolds, trips to doctor appointments, clothing stores and restaurants mean a drive into Sarasota or Bradenton."I just don't like to drive that far to go shopping all the time," she said. "I would just like to see more out here."

Lakewood Ranch spokeswoman Sondra Guffey said the commerce park has taken a long time to develop because it is so large.Another nearby project will bring more needed services to far East Manatee.Lorraine Corners, a 13.65-acre retail project on the southeast corner of Lorraine Road and State Road 70, promises to bring a pharmacy, office space, restaurant, stores and a day care.

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