New developments raise concerns in rural part of Venice

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VENICE, Fla. -- Despite concerns from those nearby, the Venice city council is one step closer to approving 700 homes between Border and Laurel roads off Jacaranda Boulevard.

It's called the Villages of Milano, and it's the latest plan by builder Pat Neal. But it’s not the only one in the area.

Those with Neal Communities are happy with the outcome. "Very pleased the council voted 7-0 in favor of our project," says Pat Neal.

The community is planned for 383 acres along Jacaranda Boulevard. Zoned for a home every five acres, the city's more recently adopted comprehensive plan now says more than 1,800 living units could be on site.

Neal says they're only asking for 700. "We will see primarily single family homes on the east side of Jacaranda. We have worked hard to make sure we have responded to all the environmental considerations."

A drive around the area reveals plenty of neighbors posting signs saying "Protect Border Road. Don't be dense."

Kevin Barton has one on his property. "What I am not happy about is, I think the setbacks should be much further back along Border Road; the gateway to the preserves, as we call it."

The rural property set for development is within a mile of the Myakka River, land reserves, and the Wildlife Center of Venice, which Barton operates.

He says there are some positive things they've been hashing out. “We have identified a wildlife corridor. It really hasn't changed their plan, except for identifying what could work as one within their wetlands."

"I thought it was a good example of our team working together with their team; both on this property and the Woods of Venice property, which has been a great deal more controversial," says Neal.

That’s another project he is proposing, just a few hundred feet down Border Road, with another 263 homes on 150 acres. It's even closer to environmentally-sensitive land, and concerns have brought neighbors out in droves.

"I have not heard from one single neighbor that doesn't agree with our stance that there should be more curtailed development as you approach the river," says Barton.

Neal says that project is still in the dialogue phase. More community meetings are to come. "My view is that everything is better than it was two or three months ago, and in due course we will be able to work out those problems," says Neal.

The Villages of Milano project is all but approved. A second reading will take place next month, but no setbacks are expected.