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Luxury homebuilder wants rezone for 500 acres near the heart of Old Miakka

Written by on Thursday, May 2, 2024

The longest-standing rural community in the region apparently didn’t factor into their plans.


By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 1, 2024

Host: As John Cannon Homes apparently sees it, it is planning to build 100 mansions on 511 acres of agricultural land somewhere in the boonies of Sarasota County. The wealthy buyers will be surrounded by sculpted nature, and protected by gates. The developer calls the project “Hidden Hammocks”. But to the neighbors, this place is anything but hidden. It has a proud history – a history of people growing things and raising animals, relying mostly on themselves. It’s their lifestyle. It’s their children’s future. It’s a tight-knit neighborhood – the oldest continuous rural settlement anywhere in this region. Near the gated project is the heart of this community: A 1910 wood frame schoolhouse that is home to the annual Hootenanny festival, and a historic Methodist church. And all this has a name: Old Miakka. With an “i”, setting it apart from the town of Myakka City to the Northeast.

Johannes Werner:  Now, just down the country road called Lena Lane, maybe 5,000 feet Southwest from the old schoolhouse, a “Hidden Hammocks Limited Liability Company” bought 511 acres of pasture and is set to ask the county to rezone this land from agriculture to something called “Open Use Estate”. This kind of zoning would allow construction of one home per five acres. Rather than spread the 100 homes on five-acre lots throughout the land, the developer wants to cluster the homes on one-acre lots, and keep most of the land as open space, plus retention ponds. Again, all this behind gates.

To some of the neighbors in Old Miakka, the developer and the potential buyers of the luxury homes might as well be from outer space.

Cannon Homes’ Hidden Hammock project (blue logo) is almost adjacent to the heart of Old Miakka and the Old Schoolhouse, home to the annual Hootenanny.

Elaine Kessler: Will this high-income housing fit in our area? The type of people that are going to be coming out don’t really want country life. They want a subdivision with their stuff.

JW: OK, so maybe they’re not from outer space. But the first contact actually happened in space. In cyberspace, that is, this Monday evening. The developer and county planners called it a “neighborhood workshop”. But the agenda was firmly in the hands of developer consulting firm Kimley Horn and it took place on Zoom. The only thing that could be seen on flickering screens were PowerPoint slides. The narrative came from disembodied voices, a lawyer and a planner hired by Cannon Homes. A female disembodied voice read typed questions from the Zoom chat, filtering out what a male disembodied voice said was offensive wording and personal attacks. The planner and lawyer mostly responded in an alien language known as “code compliance”, sometimes switching to the better-known language of “property rights”.

When the moderators began to take on phone calls, something like a dialogue between civilizations actually started. Local resident Jane Grandbouche, a board member of WSLR + Fogartyville, asked whether the developers were familiar with the Old Miakka Neighborhood Plan, a long-term outline for the historic community drawn up years ago with funding from Sarasota County.

Jane Grandbouche: This is so not what this community is, and I just wonder, have you read the Old Miakka Neighborhood Plan? Have you looked at, have you talked to these neighbors that are just right buckled up to this? And then you came and bought this piece of property on Lena Lane, which we all know very, very well. Please read the Old Miakka Neighborhood Plan, the county paid for that.

Male voice 1: Yes, madam.

JG: We got a grant from the county to do that.

Male voice 1: I look forward to rereading it.

JG: It was done by the whole community. This wasn’t just a few people that sat down. The community did this.

JW: Another caller, whose last name was inaudible, appealed to the developers to talk to Keep the Country Country Inc., a local group of activists that formed in resistance to a planned 5,000-home expansion of Lakewood Ranch to the northwest of Old Miakka. And that seemed to prompt an actual response from one of the disembodied voices.

Unidentified workshop participant: Keep the Country Country is a loosely organized group of folks, and they have the yellow signs that say ‘Keep the Country Country’. Their website is Sarasotacountry.net. And those folks, I think, are kind of aggregating a lot of the feelings of the folks, the people that live around where this development will be. And I’m wondering what sort of interaction do you plan to have going forward with the community? I mean, since they are a pretty good grassroots organization that’s developed a lot of connections with people in the area that that do have concerns. What is your plan to interface with them? 

Male voice 1: So great question. And you know, the one thing that I would say is we do not plan for this to be a one-and-done event, Charlie. I know we’ve talked about this. I know that Tim and the folks from John Cannon Homes are willing to be very transparent with this. I know, we’ve not set up any subsequent meetings, but we have talked about having some additional kind of meet-and-greets as well with the folks from Keep the Country Country. 

Male voice 2: Yeah, that’s exactly right. We prefer to have our own neighborhood workshop, but we do intend to reach out to the leadership of Keep the Country Country. I’ve not personally had any interaction. I don’t believe there may be members of their leadership that I’ve worked with over the years, I’ve never directly interacted with that organization. But we do intend to reach out with them to have to have additional discussions.

Old Miakka. Photo: Michele Fadely Fultz

JW: Up to that point, the reactions of neighbors to the plans flickering on their phone screens were probably more like that of the main character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, when he learns that an alien civilization plans to blow up Planet Earth because it’s in the way of an intergalactic highway: Disbelief.

Potential flooding and fears about the effect on groundwater and wildlife aside, the neighbors’ biggest concern is the fact that the hundreds of daily vehicle trips generated by the one-exit development will all be funneled through a narrow two-lane country road that meanders right through the heart of the historic community.

If they indeed took note of the concerns, and if they stick to their schedule, Cannon Homes has just weeks to make changes before it submits its plans to Sarasota County. In about a month, one of the disembodied voices said, this will go before the planning commission, and in another month or two, the matter will be in the hands of county commissioners.

Old Miakka residents created Keep the Country Country two years ago, in a battle against a much bigger 5,000-home development planned to the northwest of Old Miakka. Three residents are fighting that development in court, spending tens of thousands of dollars. They lost the first round before an administrative judge, and are now taking it to circuit court.

We will keep you posted.

This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.

 

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.