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Big project prompts criticism about lack of process

Written by on Friday, June 7, 2024

Elected official speaks, ‘as a private citizen’, against Neal’s 3H Ranch.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: June 7, 2024

Host: 3H Ranch is one of the biggest planned developments in Sarasota County, and that’s to say something amid this time of accelerated suburban sprawl. 3H Ranch, the 2,700-acre, 6,500-home project proposed by developer Pat Neal in the rural Southeast of the county, was supposed to be discussed by the commission Wednesday. But the presentation was postponed, because Pat Neal’s lawyer, Ed Vogler, was unavailable. That meant that the eight people who had signed up for public comment were not part of the public record. Three decided to speak anyway, and we trained the microphone on one of them.

Johannes Werner: The Sarasota County Commissioners got an earful from an elected official at their meeting Wednesday. Not from one of the five, but from Venice City Councilmember Joan Farrell, who was elected last fall on a wave of anti-development sentiment. She came to speak as a private citizen, rather than a sitting city councilmember, and she used her three minutes of public comment to deride the planning process and Neal’s project. She began with what she described as missing guardrails.

Joan Farrell

Joan Farrell: This commission should defeat the reckless and irresponsible development of the 3H Ranch, a development of critical concern. If approved, this development will seal the fate of wildlife and destroy a huge chunk of what was once a beautiful paradise. The regional planning councils, which have been gone for years, provided growth management oversight. Now the guardrails are gone. There are no checks and balances, only developers pressing for more and more concessions.

JW: She then went to describe Pat Neal’s ask to the county commissioners, which amounts to granting multiples of what he is currently allowed to do with the land.

JF: One concession for zoning change from open-use rural and open-use village to village planned development. The current density would only allow for 386 dwellings. Under the requested changes, it would exceed 6,500 dwellings and increase to a density increase of 1600%. 

Even the county’s own planners are raising red flags. Mega developer Pat Neal is requesting a change from the required 50% open space to a mere 33%,  unprecedented. A change only allowed if net ecological benefit can be determined. Plans call for just 9-12 acres to be the equivalent of the removal of 466. A village plan development is also required to include a 500 foot-wide greenbelt surrounding the perimeter as a mitigation buffer.

Pat Neal is asking for 16 unified development code modifications. Plans call for a reduction of the greenbelt width from 500 feet to 50 on two sides and virtually the entire greenbelt on two sides. These egregious asks, if enacted, would create a dangerous precedent in Sarasota County, creating a sense of entitlement by Neal and other developers, and lowering the bar for all future developments.

JW: Farrell ended with the strain on resources and cost to taxpayers the added population means.

JF: Where’s the water? The City of Northport. Think Well and Park requested in the last two weeks an additional two million gallons of water from the Peace River Reservoir. The City of Venice dug a well just last week at Pinebrook and Edmondson. In the last year, Sarasota County dug three wells in the Myakka State Forest. Water pressure is currently now at very low levels in North Venice.

JW: The Sarasota Planning Commission recommended in a 5-0 vote in April that the county commission grant Neal’s ask. That came despite county planners’ concerns.

At that April meeting, Neal’s planners described the existing process as “extremely rigorous, detailed and comprehensive.” They called the 3H Ranch proposal a “shining example” of the implementation of the regulations designed two decades ago to manage development in the county’s rural east. The 2050 plan foresees creation of high-density villages with retail and offices, amid large chunks of green space. The 3H Ranch plans include hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail and offices. It’s not clear when Neal’s project will be back on the county commission agenda.

Reporting for WSLR News, this is Johannes Werner.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.

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