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Should Sarasota County's development plan be altered?

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- A heated meeting is expected Wednesday which could shape how development in our area happens for decades to come. The question at hand is Sarasota County's 2050 plan.

Some county commissioners want to make tweaks to the growth management plan to help bring on more development, all while some neighborhood and slower growth groups say it's current residents who will be left footing the bill.

Cathy Antunes is the Vice President of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. 70-plus of them have joined together to make up the group. She says they have a simple message. "At the end of the day, this is about your taxes and your home’s value."

She's talking about the county's 2050 plan, which was put in place more than a decade ago to control urban sprawl. If developers want to build, mostly east of I-75, they have follow strict guidelines -- paying for infrastructure needs and more green spaces, and protecting the environment.

She says proposed changes to the plan would have taxpayers subsidizing development outside the current urban service boundary. "If you want to build out there, we will let you, but you have to pay the bills. Don't stick us with it. That is what they are systematically undoing."

We recently talked with Sarasota County commissioner Joe Barbetta, who supports changes to the plan. "People think we are just going to allow paving out east without any contribution from developers. That could not be any further from the truth."

He says some changes to the way developers have to prove they're paying their own way is necessary. "It's the workforce of the people living in the home. They spend money in the community: the sales tax, the multiplier effect, the contributions to charity. None of those things were ever factored into fiscal neutrality in a proper way."

The problem with the current plan, he says, is nobody can do it. Only one developer has been able to get a project done within the guidelines, and he needed dozens of exceptions. "12 years later, nothing has happened."

Antunes says in-fill development should come first, saying this side of the urban service boundary west of I-75 has tens of thousands of living units already approved. "It's cheaper for taxpayers if it is done that way. We already have the roads, the schools, the police, the fire."

She says more is at stake than many realize. "This is not rocket science. This is about your home’s value, long-term."

Commissioners will be discussing the issue Wednesday night at the County Administration Building, starting around 5pm.