Lake Flores: Manatee County Considers another Massive Planned Community

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Whiting Preston. Photo by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie

While the Long Bar Pointe saga boiled over the summer of 2013, its neighbors were preparing another, maybe even competing, community.

I took the lessons learned from covering Long Bar Pointe and applied them to covering Lake Flores. Honestly, the developer, Whiting Preston, also took lessons from Long Bar Pointe. For the most part, he looked more favorable to residents because his family was part of the county for generations, even if some of his prior developments met some controversies as the family turned farmland into homeland.

He had a PR flak at the ready, an updated website looking for public input before any hearings took place and he was accessible from the start. Also, while in the neighborhood of Long Bar Pointe, it wasn’t waterfront. Well, not Sarasota Bay waterfront. Lake Flores (at one time called Crossroads), would mean that the developer would build a man-made lake to create some waterfront property.

The business desk decided to check out the communities in person Preston said inspired him to create this community. We find out that there’s more than just inspiration. There are business interests involved who is planning this community and one of the Orlando communities.

The main stories contained in this land use coverage are below:

March 2, 2014

Preston’s Crossroads: Manatee Fruit Farm on path to new West Bradenton development

Whiting Preston, president of Manatee Fruit Co., is ready to develop 1,300 acres in West Bradenton into a master planned, mixed-use community called The Crossroads featuring two hotels, 6,500 homes and 2.78 million square feet of commercial space.

WEST BRADENTON — In fields once famous for thousands of Gladiolus cultivated over the years, Whiting Preston is sowing seeds for an urban village — housing, retail and hotels called Crossroads — on 1,322 acres of his family’s land.

Until now, the Preston family kept its farming operation in an area surrounded by growth, unlike many other neighboring farmers who sold their land and moved their operation to East Manatee.

Today, roads and sidewalks intersect through the fields still managed by the 122-year-old family farming company.

Preston has decided to embrace the changing landscape but wants to hear from Manatee County residents about how his fields should be transformed.

“We’re sort of at a point right now where we need to put something down on the property that we can look back on and say it’s a great asset to the community,” Preston said. “Whether or not we continue to farm, we may have to move, but that will be it. My kids are too young to know what they’re going to do.”

If you like or dislike his plans, he says he wants to hear from you: He’s asking area residents to submit comments at http://www.bradentonsfuture.com.

“We think it’s important for us to have this conversation about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Preston said.

Preston’s new master-planned community is set to have a small, old-town feel that relies heavily on a grid pattern instead of a dead-end cul-de-sac maze, lending itself to a New Urbanism-inspired design with details unlike any other development seen in Manatee.

“We want to embrace West Bradenton — it’s where I grew up,” Preston said. “I’m proud of West Bradenton. Our idea is to invite West Bradenton to ultimately enjoy some of the things on the property.”

He has room and the right under county regulations to build 8,500 homes and 4 million square feet of commercial space on the 1,322 acres, creating the largest housing development project in Manatee County. But Preston says he doesn’t want to approach the maximum entitlements.142862553123-630x472

A pre-application draft with the county shows he wants to build 6,500 homes, 2.78 million square feet of commercial/ retail/ office and two 250-room hotels. The commercial uses will be broken up into three District zones in neighborhood/ village centers.

“You’ll either have more residential or more commercial. One will play off the other because you have a limit of what you can build,” Preston said.

The Crossroads contains three distinct neighborhood designs: District, Borough and Neighborhood, according to his pre-application filed for county staff to review before hearings begin. Once his plans are filed to gain approval, a hearing is required before both the Manatee County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners.

Welcome to the neighborhoods

The project’s centerpiece may be a new 19-acre man-made lake, west of 75th Street and south of Cortez Road and surrounded by the Borough. A walking and biking trail meanders southeast across 75th Street into a larger trail section that goes all the way to 51st Street on the eastern edge and south of one of three commercial districts on the northern parcels.

Canin Associates, a master urban planner in Orlando, has drafted a 50-page draft design code for the Crossroads.

“The Florida environment is such that it’s a great place to be outside most of the year,” Preston said. “What better way to travel from Point A to Point B than with a bike or a golf cart?”

The District zones have three distinct areas: spanning from 86th to 71st streets along Cortez Road; another in the southwest portion of the Borough south of the planned lake; and at 51st Street and 53rd Avenue west adjacent to IMG Academy. The first district, near Cortez Road, and the third district, near IMG Academy, each include proposals for a 250-room hotel, according to draft plans.

Each District is predominantly for commercial use, weaving in housing — inspired by places like Baldwin Park in Orlando. Buildings could reach six stories with outbuildings at two stories.

Within the District are at least four concepts: The Workplace area features office and research areas, with some apartment homes and scattered retail with office buildings close to its frontage. The Main Street features lower density retail, office, townhomes and apartments with tight streets and wide sidewalks. The Service Center is designed for places like car repair shops and other commercial uses that don’t mesh well with homes. District General includes a “variety of nonresidential uses and civic buildings of regional importance,” the draft states. A regional shopping area is also planned.

“The mixed-use is about work, live and play and opportunity to do all those uses within the same property,” Preston said.

Churches, daycares and cultural facilities will be sprinkled throughout the Crossroads to weave in with other mixed uses, according to the draft code. For instance, the neighborhood general area will allow use like a bed and breakfast, according to the draft code.

The Neighborhood area includes a Neighborhood General and Neighborhood Centers and has plans for 3,500 homes. A Neighborhood General area could feature three-story single-family and attached homes and also allow two-story outbuildings. Neighborhood Centers could see three-story homes, live-work units, small mixed-use buildings, apartments and office buildings.

Some homes will see alleys, streets and a mew, which is a small park in between homes to be shared. Some neighborhoods will see a court design and others a pocket neighborhood.

Other neighborhoods will be pulled in with a Dutch-inspired bricked walking area resembling a pedestrian mall.

Plenty of parks are planned for the Crossroads — ranging from half-acre pocket parks and dog parks to playgrounds and two-acre parks — as well as green space that can reach up to eight acres.

The Borough is proposed for higher density mixed use with 3,000 homes planned. Single and attached homes plus larger apartment buildings could reach six stories in height, but would have to be three stories or less within 60 feet of the Neighborhood General to create a blended look.

A new downtown by design

Preston’s plans will be influenced by the Urban Land Institute report and the Manatee County “How We Will Grow” report, providing guidance on the character of the community.

The county’s comprehensive plan encourages more suburban communities with cul-de-sacs, and there’s a clearer path to an urban-style community design that will likely be seen in Preston’s plans, providing for a higher aesthetic standard, said John Osborne, Planning and Zoning official for Manatee County.

Osborne considers the Crossroads as close to a true mixed-use concept as a developer can get.

“What he’s proposing on Manatee Fruit Farm is very much like a little old town,” Osborne said.

Having so much vacant land offers flexibility where he’s not as bounded to community.

The community could have some New Urbanist influences that traditionally feature picket fences on small lots and rear car access garages for a walkable, efficient community. The New Urbanism design is also meant to help calm fears of creating congestion, with enough retail, entertainment and office space mixed with housing to be a self-sustaining village. It’s certainly not going to be a gated or walled community.

“I think this would be a great opportunity to put a New Urbanist neighborhood, certainly parts of it will lean to that. I don’t know that it could be the entire” plan, Preston said. “Clearly that type of feel could and should be allowed to occur.”

What sets this apart from Lakewood Ranch is the Main Street feeling and design, Osborne said.

“Lakewood Ranch took a shot at it, but it’s a cul-de-sac,” he said. “Those businesses don’t have a lot of traffic capture.”

Within the village feel, there is a good chance a big box store or two will be there, as well as some shops, but Preston wants it to be comfortable.

“I think where people will like to hang out is in the smaller shops and smaller restaurants,” he said.

Without a named home builder, it’s difficult to predict home designs.

“Whatever we do it has to belong and has to be authentic and be something that works with the community,” Preston said. “There will be a need to match that up. As far as the detail goes, I think we’ll just have to see how far that will take us.”

Edward Hill of Hill Real Estate Strategies in Longwood was among the attendees accompanying Preston at a pre-application meeting with county staff. Hill specializes in master planning and land development and previously worked from 1997 to 2006 for the St. Joe Company, which developed Arvida on Perico Island. He was the project manager for the Little Harbor Resort community in Ruskin that features 2,000 mixed-use homes.

No matter who comes on board, the builder has to be flexible with his vision.

“What’s important to us is that they share our vision and the thoughts of a mixed-use community and what that can be,” Preston said.

The project’s planner has designed places including Avalon Park in Orlando, a 1,800-acre master planned community for 8,500 residents. It features some of the same Smart Growth concepts as are being proposed for 5,181 acres in Edgewater and the Crossroads.

The West Bradenton village could lend itself to looking in part like Celebration and Orlando’s Baldwin Park, he said. Baldwin Park markets itself as “Neighborhood Friendly | City Smart.” It is a 1,100-acre neighborhood featuring 8,000 residents and 125 businesses in a master-planned development with a lake, school and a village center that offers retail. Construction of Baldwin Park began in earnest in 2001 after years of planning and demolishing the former Naval Training Center.

Why now?

All told, Preston still owns more than 2,000 acres in the county. His family sold much of its land here for development and road extensions, including Lockwood Ridge Road.

While he’s lived here for ages, his name isn’t as prominent as some of Manatee County’s home builders. The Prestons stayed mainly out of the headlines by selling land instead of developing it. Preston has been known in Manatee as the guy who sold land for development and not the planner, with the exception of the Bay Pointe at Terra Ceia Bay project in Palmetto — Manatee County’s original Community Development District — and Bay Club.

Today Manatee Fruit Farm is chiefly a landscaping and potted plant operation for grocery stores, landscapers and brokers and independent garden centers. At one time gladiolus washed the landscape, but a disease consumed the crops in 2006, killing 70 percent of the bulb stock, he said.

The gateway to development opened in 2010 when Manatee County deemed his land suitable for mixed-use development, creating a new community in West Bradenton.

“We just haven’t had investment in the southwest sector,” Preston said. “It’s now a good time to bring this part of town back to life.”

Preston also owns 360 acres on Cortez Key that will be developed as a separate community called Peninsula Bay.

He also owns 350 acres surrounding the Terra Ceia project, but is not actively developing it. The adjacent North River Baseball Fields are set to open in August on land that the county bought from Preston in 1998.

His land deal to Jacksonville-based St. Joe Co. to build Arvida on Perico Island garnered controversy in 1998 with plans for 10-story condominiums, earning a fight from environmental groups and residents and eventually a legal battle with the county. Minto Communities began buying the land several years ago to develop what is now called Harbour Isles.

Preston said the Crossroads will not be a quick dig and build, as plans could continue to change as he collects community comment.

Market demand will also dictate phases and his master-planned village could easily take 20 years to build out “if it’s done right,” Preston said. Permitting will lengthen the initial phase.

“Our hope is to be able to put together a master plan that will be somewhat flexible that, as the market place changes, we’ll be able to meet that market demand,” he said. “What you don’t want to do is start out on a plan where you can’t achieve it. That doesn’t serve anyone’s interest.”

The plan resembles something that might have been attractive during the housing boom, Osborne said, but Manatee County just wasn’t made to have this type of community then.

“During the boom, there were also projects like this out there, but they were in places that would support it for sure, like college towns,” Osborne said.

Neighboring IMG Academy

IMG Academy is a powerful economic driver in the county, and IMG’s needs and wants help shape Preston’s vision, even in the balance of commercial and residential.

“Frankly, if IMG gets bigger and can get as big as it is, there will be a lot more job opportunities and a lot more office and retail,” Preston said.

Preston’s land abuts IMG Academy, which spans from its entrance at 5500 34th Street West to west of 47th Street West.

“IMG is an important economic pillar in this area, and it’s important for the sports industry,” Preston said. “We think this offers the golden opportunity to create West Bradenton as a place to live and go to.”

Preston has had several discussions with IMG that could help influence his project. His friendly relationship with the sports performance school led to a deal in 2011 to sell 110 acres for IMG’s football stadium, finishing up work on a fieldhouse and adding practice fields for football, soccer and lacrosse.

“I think it’s been good for Manatee County and good for the sports industry,” Preston said. “It created opportunity and created the type of focus on international sports.”

While IMG did not return a request for comment, officials have written to the county endorsing other developments that would feature a hotel by its campus. The majority of IMG’s hotel bookings are at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.

As the campus grows and adds more events and plans to bring all of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference teams in for spring training, housing for players is a big need. At least one team wasn’t happy with having to commute from Sarasota to IMG, highlighting the need for a hotel.

“We think it makes a lot of sense to have a hotel on the property somewhere,” Preston said.

His spokesman Scott Carpenter, who has done public relations for Minto Communities, backed off on committing to a hotel.

“I think that will be driven by what people are wanting,” Carpenter said. “If we get a big response ‘no hotel,’ that would be something we would value and look into.”

Long Bar lessons

Just last year, Larry Lieberman and Carlos Beruff’s process unraveled with their Long Bar Pointe proposal across the street from Manatee Fruit Co. — making it easy to see why Preston wants to avoid public controversy. Long Bar Pointe ended its mixed-use, marina plans after a 13-hour meeting in front of more than 1,000 people at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

“I grew up here, and I think it’s important that I hear from the neighbors,” Preston said. “That’s my approach.”

He has an up-to-date website ready to gather comments from the start, he has his own spokesman to organize strategy and is pulling his neighbors into the process before he shows off a plan.

“We’re going to take public comment not only up to the point where we’re submitting the plans but after that for a period of time,” Preston said. “We’ll be meeting at that point with neighborhoods and other parties interested in our plans.”

Preston might avoid much of the controversy because, even though he has waterfront land on Cortez, he doesn’t own submerged land rights like Beruff and Lieberman.

“I think if there’s anything we heard from the community is they want to make sure the mangroves and seagrasses are protected, and we hear that loud and clear,” Preston said.

He hasn’t thought about having a full-blown design charrette where neighbors are invited to work with consultants to plan the community and its uses, something that’s been done on a smaller scale to rework the historic Sarasota High School campus. Currently no neighborhood workshops are planned.

“We are promoting the website as the most expeditious way for us to get the community involved in what we’re trying to do,” Preston said.

A few other key differences from Long Bar Pointe: The Crossroads does not lie in a flood prone area and its evacuation zones are in B and C instead of A. But a western portion of the project lies within the 100-year floodplain.

While Preston is touting openness to the community, Cortez resident Jane von Hahmann has reservations about the project. The former county commissioner was one of the primary opponents of Long Bar Pointe and isn’t sure how much traffic will be self-contained.

“The thought of anyone going to work there is going to live there — it doesn’t work that way,” von Hahmann said.

Often the homes and apartments are too expensive for the type of jobs found in the office and retail buildings, she said. She also sees struggling businesses in village centers anchored by a Target in those communities Preston envisions modeling, she added.

But the key, she said, is if Preston follows through on his promise to listen.

“It’s one thing to make people feel like they get to have input,” von Hahmann said, “but if you don’t listen and respond to their concerns, then that’s just a play.”

The Crossroads draft plans show about eight collector roads or extensions of collector roads to handle the bulk of in-village traffic to exit and enter the community, beyond the alleys and side streets that will serve the homes and shopping centers. Additional roundabouts are proposed on 75th Street, as well as a stoplight at 81st Street and Cortez Road, another at 53rd Avenue and 51st Street and two signals for the walking trail crossing 75th Street and 53rd Avenue. A traffic study has not been submitted yet to the county.

The expansive acreage Preston holds means he has a lot of options for the Crossroads.

“Because of where we are and what’s going on, there’s an immense amount of flexibility, but that just means that we can do so much in terms of how we present the community and what it’s going to look like,” he said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

March 23, 2014

At a Crossroads: Orlando’s Baldwin Park a model for West Bradenton development

Inspiration for West Bradenton’s Crossroads can be found in Orlando’s Baldwin Park and nearby Avalon Park.

ORLANDO — Nestled behind a stretch of State Route 50 in northeast Orlando, Baldwin Park is hidden from most drivers as the corridor transforms from the specially designed chain restaurants, to a tired pattern of strip malls, to a rough looking gentlemen’s club with bars on the windows.

Not many people would guess that behind all of this is a former Air Force base-cum-Naval training center transformed into a walkable, compact, planned community with lakefront views.

The 1,100-acre neighborhood boasts 8,000 residents

and more than 125 businesses after a city-approved development plan for the old base was built out a decade ago.

Its retail district funnels traffic and dog walkers toward Lake Baldwin, where diners can hang out at the Gators Dockside for a casual lunch overlooking the water, or opt for one of the high-end restaurants along New Broad Street. A CVS Pharmacy stands on the corner, giving the village a mix of small businesses, such as salons, and chains like Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Subway, a smoothie shop and banks.

A component of this is envisioned for West Bradenton, spanning from a bustling IMG Academy on the eastern end to cars on Cortez Road heading to the beaches to the west. Between those bookmarks — now farmland — the Crossroads would serve as a new urban center of its own.

Whiting Preston’s Crossroads development conjures a walkable, New Urbanism-inspired 1,300-acre development with 2.78 million square feet mixed-use retail, commercial offices, 6,500 homes and apartments to be built over 20 years. A 10-acre manmade lake is planned, mimicking the waterfront focus of Baldwin Park’s housing and commercial district.

Residents can easily do just about anything in Baldwin Park. Jennifer Violand toted her wheeled bag along so she could get groceries at Publix after her appointment at Planet Beach spa tanning.

“You can just walk everywhere,” said Violand, who just moved to Baldwin Park from Sarasota. “Look at me with my little cart!”

While the retail district is beautiful, the long-term vacancies in the 182,434-square-foot village center give existing businesses pause. The vacancy rate is at about 25 percent, with some commercial space vacant longer than five years, and pushing as many as nine years as the project was completed during the real estate crash.

“Restaurants seem to do fine in here, but as far as bringing people in, you kind of have to be a destination spot just because we are in the middle of the neighborhood, and you can’t see us from main drives like Colonial or the other main roads where people see shopping malls,” said Johanna Stewart, manager of the Farris and Foster’s Famous Chocolate Factory.

The chocolate shop keeps a steady business as community kids come in for chocolate parties where they can make their own candy, and the shop offers romantic date nights for couples, Stewart said. The downtown used to include a kid’s shoe store, a kid’s boutique, a French furniture store, a wine store and a Barnie’s Coffee and Tea that still have residents and business owners there wincing about their departures.

“Everyone’s really friendly in here and wants to succeed,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to get people in here.”

The coffee shop moved within the village but found there wasn’t enough foot traffic to sustain its business, according to other business owners in Baldwin. Barnie’s wanted to renegotiate its lease but couldn’t, so moved closer to downtown Orlando.

Dale Petersen, vice president of the Baldwin Park Residential Owners Association, said a lot of the troubles can be attributed to the housing crash.

“The business environment went through a difficult time because it was just getting established as the crash occurred,” Petersen said. “We have a new owner of the village in and we’re bringing new businesses in.”

The Dallas-based Tabani Group has purchased the Village Center for $28 million to manage and attract new tenants. Once the new businesses come in, the vacancy rate will be between 15-19 percent, according to commercial real estate experts in the community.

William Comer has owned and operated his Loco Motion bike shop since Baldwin Park’s inception in 2004, and he’s contemplating leaving. The commercial retail rental rates are going for $18 to $26 per square foot, plus community association fees set by previous management companies. McKinley, the latest group, is handling some renegotiations for more attractive lease rates as the center transitions ownership to Tabani.

Comer understands that the charge was in line with the neighborhood’s high-end housing and top income bracket, but all the money inside those homes is not flowing to the village center’s businesses.

“When they start telling you everyone’s going to live in there and work and then play, that’s a lie and they know it,” Comer said. “They can look at the figures and most aren’t.”

Some of the fault lies with the community’s design of being hidden from most, he said, and with that, folks who live here don’t always shop here.

“The majority of people are not going to work in the community. I don’t care what they say, I don’t care what the freakin’ politicians say or the developer says,” Comer said. “Are they going to strike a big deal and put a big office building there? It’s not going to happen.”

Javier Fong, a civil engineer, has lived in Baldwin Park for nine years and finds himself frequently outside the village.

“We spend more time outside Baldwin Park than inside for leisure activities, and actually restaurants, too,” Fong said as he walked his dog, Hannah.

The village needs a better variety of retailers, Fong said, beyond food and mainly high-end restaurants.

“I think if they had more variety of stores or more stores opened, people would spend more time here in downtown Baldwin Park instead of having to go outside,” Fong said. “It seems like they can’t attract that many merchants.”

Hope remains for a resurgence, however, with Tabani’s takeover. The Baldwin Park Merchants Association is working with nearby Rollins College to devise a marketing plan. It is also reaching out to residents and businesses to hear what they want, with most of them calling for a breakfast spot and the return of a coffee shop.

But it’s ultimately up to the developer to sign the leases.

“I think if you came back here in a year you would see still a few vacancies, but certainly not what you see today. The new business owner has only been here for a month,” Petersen said. “They’ve gone through the process of renegotiating leases and deal with existing business owners in way of support while they do the necessary marketing and recruiting to get new businesses in here.”

Merchants and residents hope Tabani can renegotiate a strong non-compete lease that Publix holds. That prevented businesses like bakeries from coming to the village.

“Publix is both a blessing and a curse in the extent that it’s wonderful to have a Publix location here, but part of the lease that they negotiated originally was that some things could not be offered in the community if they provide them,” Petersen said.

Some business owners and residents say that if Baldwin Park could have a second try, they would open up the neighborhood to bring more cars and people to the village. Petersen thinks that the village center should run around the lake instead of perpendicular to the lake.

Michelle Owens, owner of Yoga East in nearby Avalon Park, has closely followed the paths of both Baldwin Park and her own Avalon Park, and believes once Baldwin figures out what it wants to be, it will succeed.

“They say Baldwin Park doesn’t really know what it wants to be,” Owens said. “Does it want to be part of downtown, does it want to be a regional shopping area or does it want to be a little local shopping area?

At a Crossroads: Inviting Avalon Park has it all

By Charles Schelle cschelle@bradenton.com

AVALON PARK — Avalon Park could double as Pleasantville with its idyllic village center offering everything residents need within walking distance. There’s not much reason to leave the confines of the self-contained community.

“You really don’t have to leave Avalon Park,” said Kerri Loper, a resident and manager at In Style Hair salon. “We have everything here. My doctor’s here, banks, supermarkets…”

East of Orlando in Orange County, nearly every storefront in Avalon Park is filled.

The YMCA on the corner of Avalon Lake Drive and Avalon Park Boulevard is bustling, while college students from nearby University of Central Florida are hanging out on the balconies above the stores having a beer and catching up on school work.

The village center’s buildings open like bookends, with a lake in the middle reflecting the storefronts. Pizza shops, bars, banks, gas stations, churches, schools and doctor’s offices are all in close proximity along with an art deco-inspired Publix. Residents and business owners here quickly describe Avalon Park as self- contained.

The 3,600 homes and apartments on 1,860 acres create a vibrant scene, along with 320,000 square feet of commercial space, most of it clustered around a village center on the southern end, with doctors’ offices in cottage-style offices nearby.

The similarities between Avalon Park, a community comprised of six villages, and the proposed 1,300-acre Crossroads village in West Bradenton could share similar traits and theory — both are designed by Orlando-based Canin Associates.

No firm plans have been filed yet for the Crossroads, but the draft code designed by Canin reveals similar ideals in these different communities. The layout of businesses will be a key difference because of the road network.

Avalon Park focuses on a hub-and-spoke design out from the village center, reaching out with tentacles of cul-de-sacs and county-maintained roads. An early proposal for the Crossroads features three commercial districts and a traditional city grid system connecting several roads in West Bradenton. Much like Avalon Park, the hub of activity will be focused around a lake.

Avalon Park’s commercial district is built out with few vacancies. Maybe a few clothing shops would do, residents say, but neighboring community Waterford fills many of those gaps in a short drive with movies, big-box retailers and the Waterford Lakes Town Center, an open-air shopping center managed by Simon Malls, the owner of Ellenton Premium Outlets.

The commercial and residential space in Avalon is managed by the Avalon Park Group, which includes the community’s founder and developer Beat Kahli, a Swiss-born investment banker. To jumpstart Avalon Park’s commercial district, Kahli offered equity loans, some up to $12,500, to encourage businesses to open. Organizations and neighborhoods outside of Avalon Park also receive assistance through grants by the Avalon Park Foundation. The foundation targets the neighboring low-income community Bithlo and its charter school for help through fundraisers, and also pitches in to help families within Avalon Park who can’t afford homeowners association fees. It also helped a family whose home was destroyed in a fire.

Outside Avalon Park’s northern boundary, Benderson Development Co. is building a strip mall to serve commuters. A Wawa convenience store is about to open on the adjacent corner.

Loper moved to Avalon Park in 2006 for its small-town feel within a big city. The salon’s business is growing as more homes are built, allowing her to attract new clients while retaining her regulars.

Residents here joke that Avalon Park has the stores and features that the folks in Baldwin Park want but don’t have. There’s a bakery and a coffee shop here. College-age students can find nice, affordable apartments.

Carla Bitterling, 72, sat on the banks of the lake with her granddaughter, Jianna Bitterling, who was catching up on homework. Jianna’s parents moved here 10 years ago from Clermont.

“I like it because it’s convenient for the kinds of stores I have to go to regularly,” Carla Bitterling noted, rattling off the grocery store, gas station, YMCA and pizza place that the family frequents.

Dominick Dolnack works at Davis Bakery and Café, and enjoys the family-friendly vibe he gets from working in the community and getting to know regulars who frequent the bakery every day.

“It feels like a family when you come in here,” said Dolnack, who lives about 15 miles away in Oviedo.

Michelle Owens, owner and director at Yoga East, represents the model citizen that these communities try to create: Folks who live, work and play in their own community.

“For me as a business owner, it’s easy to market my business in that kind of community,” she said. “People are out and about walking, riding their bike. We underestimated the impact that walk-by and drive-by traffic would have on our business, but since this is such a walkable place and people are out pushing strollers or riding their bikes, they see us.”

The visibility is a blessing even with tight signage restrictions, she said. Rush-hour traffic was noticeable on a recent Monday, as 4 p.m. rolled around and Avalon Park Boulevard quickly filled with school buses, cars lined from stop sign to stop sign and parents walking their kids home from school, providing a moment for drivers to gaze at store signs and shops.

Community residents are vocal and honest about the businesses here.

“We hear from them when they don’t like something, but we learn from that,” Owens said, beaming with pride about her town. “They feel comfortable because they know us. At the same time, because they know us, they like to patronize our businesses.”

Owens, who has operated her yoga studio for three years in Avalon Park, has lived there for a decade.

“Long before I was a business owner, I was a homeowner,” Owens said. “I would say the thing that gave me the incentive and the courage to open my own business is that I did live here. I saw the strong, solid community it is.”

The community has its own Facebook page maintained by the management group and an Avalon Park smartphone app to locate businesses or events.

“You really do know people and their families,” Owens said. “This is the type of community if someone is having a run of bad luck, a family tragedy or even a family celebration, everybody pitches in.”

Avalon Park was one of many Florida communities that benefited from the housing boom. It was able to insulate itself from some effects of the Great Recession as students searched for housing near the country’s second-largest university. And Avalon Park is growing again, with more apartments under construction.

“We’re poised for long-term growth, because if you look at the county’s growth plans, this is smack dab in the middle of what they call Innovation Way, which is a high-tech corridor that goes from University of Central Florida all the way over to the airport,” said Owens, a former principal planner for Orange County Government. “And Avalon Park sits right in the middle of that.

“Right now it may look like we’re self-contained, but in five, 10 years we’ll be in the middle of a high-tech hub.”

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

Manatee Fruit president files plans for 1,300-acre West Bradenton development

June 12, 2014 By Charles Schelle cschelle@bradenton.com

WEST BRADENTON — A proposed 1,322-acre mixed-use community is expected to have its first go- around before the public this winter.

Whiting Preston, president of Manatee Fruit Co., filed plans May 29 with Manatee County government for a community he’s calling Lake Flores, featuring 6,500 residences — half of them single family houses — about 1 million square feet of retail space, 2 million square feet of office space and 375- and 125-room hotels.

“I think at this point it’s time to get the word out that we submitted and start the process,” Preston said.

The filing moves the project past conceptual discussions and makes it ready for inspection by staff, county politicians and Manatee County residents.

A public hearing has not yet been scheduled, said Shelley Hamilton, principal planner for Manatee County. The first Planning Commission hearing is likely to be scheduled for the end of the year or in January. Another hearing in front of the Manatee County Commission would still be required.

The development is expected to transform West Bradenton from empty fields to a bustling community over the next 20 years, borrowing from New Urbanism-inspired ideas with walking and biking trails and a 19-acre manmade lake.

The land, formerly known as Crossroads, has been in development since 2010, Preston said, stretching from IMG Academy west to 75th Street between Cortez Road and El Conquistador Parkway.

Preston brought in consultants along with Orlando-based Canin Associates to help shape the community, providing a detailed 50-page design code development plan covering everything from building height and shape to how the neighborhoods will blend.

Canin designed Avalon Par east of Orlando, which serves as partial inspiration for the plan.

Baldwin Park, also in Orlando, shares similar elements, including a lake serving as a community focal point. Retail and housing guide the energy of the village to the water.

Both communities were profiled by the Herald in March to give insight to the planned West Bradenton community.

“We wanted to create a people place around the lake and create a park-like setting,” Preston said. “That was a central feature of the project itself. It was the importance of creating a place to hang out, and we feel like we can create that around the lake.”

Districts by design

Lake Flores — named for Preston’s mother Flavia Florez while honoring the gladiolus flowers once grown there — features three distinct neighborhood designs: District, Borough and Neighborhoods.

The filed plans are nearly identical to the ones the Herald first reported from a pre-application Preston filed for basic review before the county. Now, more detail is available, including traffic reports and other civil plans.

The designs intermingle with retail and commercial space in different ways. Some might have retail on the first floor along a walkable alley with apartments above while some neighborhoods might have single family homes with churches, schools and convenience stores.

The land was allowed 8,500 houses and 4 million square feet of commercial space, but there will be fewer homes and commercial space to incorporate more green space, trails, a network of roads and the lake.

Timeline uncertain

Preston said he is not sure when he will start development if Lake Flores gains approval, partially because of permitting needed for the lake and other features. Also, he’s not sure of his phasing plan.

“We’ll know more when we finish with the approval process what our phasing plan will be,” Preston said. A housing developer and retail real estate firm has not been named.

During pre-application meetings with the county, Edward Hill of Hill Real Estate Strategies in Longwood was among the attendees. Hill specializes in master planning and land development and previously worked from 1997 to 2006 for the St. Joe Co., which developed Arvida on Perico Island. He was project manager for the Little Harbor Resort community in Ruskin that features 2,000 mixed-use homes.

“We did an additional workshop with additional consultants in the room and had different talent with retail, housing and environmental expertise,” Preston said. “We’ve gone through and taken a number of people’s opinions. That was the process and it has taken a couple years.”

Preston announced intentions in February to develop the community, launching BradentonsFuture.com to listen to the community.

“A lot of people voiced concern about change,” Preston said. “We recognize that, and the fact is that we are

producing a mixed-use community that will minimize the impacts on the traffic, environment and other things that are important for the people we live around.”

Additional traffic lights, roundabouts — including five on El Conquistador Parkway — and a grid network of road connections are all planned to serve the community. A traffic study shows an estimated 142,059 gross daily trips will pass through each of the four community areas.

During evening rush hour, 13,468 cars are expected to pass through the community when built out while 7,142 cars are expected to pass through during morning rush hour. Those numbers might not be realized until the community is completely built out.

The Manatee County Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use amendment based its traffic counts for the area on a previously submitted plan for Crossroads. The new plan would create 17.6 percent less traffic, or about 30,000 fewer trips, than what was allowed.

Preston said he plans to update his BradentonsFuture.com site next week with details about his proposed plan but wouldn’t say if he will display all public documents, which can be reviewed at the Manatee County government administration building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

MARCH 9, 2014 12:00 AM

IMG Academy would welcome planned hotels in West Bradenton

Two hotels are preliminarily planned for a 1,300-acre development called Crossroads in West Bradenton. Will nearby IMG Academy be enough to fill 500 rooms?
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