Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Framing a Community

In a brief presentation Tuesday evening, Matt Lewis sketched the defining elements of a Sarasota community coming into clearer focus.

Lewis, manager of long range planning for Sarasota County, spoke to the Fruitville 210 Alliance, a network of neighborhoods centering on the I-75 interchange at Fruitville Rd.

At the north end of the area in question is Nathan Benderson Park, an emerging world class rowing facility; at the south end stand the Celery Fields, a wetlands sanctuary for waterfowl.

Add them together, said Lewis, and "you start to see the community being enframed."

The Honore Ave. extension, which will feed into the southern portion of the area, should be complete by this summer. It will include roundabouts at Palmer, Sawgrass, and Camus, and certain areas will be distinguished by brick pavers.

North Cattlemen Road will extend up along the eastern edge of Benderson to DeSoto Road, and will have medians, sidewalks, wildlife crossings near the park, bike paths, and landscaping. It should be complete by 2013, and will serve as another North/South corridor parallel to Honore.

Fruitville Road's four-laning itself should be complete by February, and will also offer bike paths and landscaping. It will be a "beautiful signature gateway," Lewis said.

Additionally, at Bahia Vista and Cattlemen, a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and 911 center is slated to be built with the help of Homeland Security funding. It's been fast-tracked to be completed by 2013.

Wetlands restoration and walking trails at the southern end of Celery Fields Park should be complete by Spring of this year. Going forward, the large observation mound will offer trails for hiking and birding. Ponds at the north end might be designated for more active uses, such as boating, Lewis said.

Benderson Park is shaping up, with design completion set for 2012, and construction to be finished by the winter of 2013. It will have uses other than rowing, such as fishing, paddle sports, biking, concerts and more. But as a cornerstone of sports tourism, it's already showing its potential: Notre Dame is training there now, and Harvard's team will be there this week, said John Krotec of Fruitville 210.

The Fruitville Initiative, which involves the eastern quadrants of the I-75 interchange, has been developing via charrettes and dialog with the community. Lewis recalled that it was the first thing he worked on when he joined the county's staff in 2001, and it's now being reviewed by experts who are poring over what the community and the county came up with last summer. A Master Plan should be set in the coming year, which will show how the streets will work, what future buildings will look like, and possibly how a community center could become part of the projected employment center.

The coming year is "a big year for Fruitville 210," said Lewis. As these projects move toward deadlines, the picture of a community is beginning to emerge. The entire buildout will take place "over generations," says Lewis, but residents can anticipate public community meetings this summer to look at what the detailed projections are shaping up to be. Since there are economic components here, Lewis indicated there is likely going to be a economic development plan for the community.

These results represent a lot of hard work on the part of the community and the county. There were long, sometimes contentious sessions over guidelines for the Fruitville Initiative, and a debate with downtown hoteliers over funding Benderson Park with tourist tax monies.

In a sense, these intertwined projects offer a case study in the ways, means, tactics and strategies of civic, and civil, dialog. At the end of Matt Lewis's presentation, one attendee, Harmon Heed, stood up to recommend the County's Civics 101 class to those present. "It lets you know how to get things done in the county," he said. He also recommended the Sheriff's CLEA program, where citizens learn close up about law enforcement.

The fashioning of this large, complex, multi-faceted area, with its wealth of competing values, interests, and agendas is not complete, but it's well underway. Can we view it as a fair example of civics in action?

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