Governor Signed Lakewood Ranch District Expansion

Development

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY MAY 27, 2019

The area for the Lakewood Ranch stewardship district could soon grew by another 2,000 acres.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a bill into law authorizing new tracts of land to become part of the special taxing district. That would mean an additional $1 million in taxes will be raised in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, according to state revenue estimates.

State Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota, sponsored the local bill growing the district. He represents the Lakewood Ranch community in Tallahassee.  The legislation rolls two new pieces of property, a 2,264-acre property in Sarasota County and a 41-acre property in Manatee, into Lakewood Ranch.

“Because it’s an independent special district,” Gregory said, “it can’t change its boundaries without going to the Legislature.”

The district was created in 2005 and provides a sort of city boundary for the community, though such districts work differently than municipalities. A governing board gets elected, much the same as a City Commission, but votes get divvied out based on land ownership instead of granting residents a vote. Basically, every acre of land owned in the district gives an individual one vote.

It will ultimately take a referendum with land-owners finalizing the additional property to become part of the stewardship district. And it’s no small ask, considering infrastructure in the new lands could cost another $11 million, which will be funded by bonds payable by new homeowners residing there.

Revenue raised through assessments on property owners and budgeted by the district goes to infrastructure improvement. Rex Jensen, CEO of Schroader-Manatee Ranch, chairs the district’s governing board.

“The stewardship district was established when most of Lakewood Ranch was a cow field,” said David Ballard, Gregory’s legislative aide. By establishing the district, it allowed infrastructure for planned growth to be bonded using taxes from inside the district rather than using outside dollars.

The expansion of the district means Lakewood Ranch will officially span some 25,605 acres of Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The district was originally created through a local bill, a different process than most legislation considered by the Legislature. The bill and any subsequent changes, like the one just signed into law by the governor, must first be approved by the Sarasota County and Manatee County legislative delegations rather than going through a normal committee process. Both legislative delegations unanimously approved the local bill, which represents the fourth change to the stewardship district.

The full House and Senate later approved the local bills through a unanimous vote during the session.

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