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Massive land use change would allow a new city to arise in rural eastern Sarasota County

Map of Lakewood Ranch Southeast
Sarasota County
Lakewood Ranch Southeast would be built alongside the existing Lakewood Ranch community

Residents say the estimated 5,000 new homes would extend into what is now ranches and farms between Fruitville Road and University Parkway.

Sarasota County Commissioners voted Wednesday to rezone 4,120 acres in the county's northeast corner for a new planned community. But many residents believe it would alter the area's rural nature.

A steady stream of about two dozen residents told board members the change is not compatible with the county's master growth plan. They said adding an estimated 5,000 new homes would extend the urban boundary into what is now ranches and farms between Fruitville Road and University Parkway.

Deb McCabe, who lives off Fruitville Road, said the project would alter the area's makeup of ranches and farms.

"I feel like if we let this plan go through and make a change, it will just snowball and it will go farther and farther out east," she told the board members, "and what we all love about Sarasota is going to go away."

But commissioners unanimously voted 4-0, with Commissioner Michael Moran absent, to approve Lakewood Ranch Southeast. Commissioner Ron Cutsinger said planned communities such as this would be better for the environment than single-family homes that are built haphazardly.

"We are conserving all of the environmental features. We're required to. We have very strict rules on how you do that," he said. "And what happens when you have these 5 and 10 acre sites with the environmental features of that land, is those wetlands sort of get abandoned."

The change to the county's master plan to allow this "Village Transition Zone" will now go before the state Department of Economic Development. County commissioners will vote again on the project on Oct. 25.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.