Laurel Road graphic

The Venice City Council will ask Sarasota County to step in and partner with Pat Neal to get Laurel Road widened.

VENICE — The City Council is fully committed to the four-laning of Laurel Road, but its role should be as cheerleader, not ball carrier.

That was City Manager Ed Lavallee’s recommendation Tuesday after developer Pat Neal made a presentation on the project.

The price tag for the work, including right of way acquisition, landscaping, irrigation and lighting, is about $11 million if done through a public/private partnership with his companies, he said.

That’s significantly less than the county’s $16 million estimate.

And between road impact fees and park impact fees, along with the prospect of tapping state and federal funds and short-term borrowing, there will be money to cover the cost, Neal said.

The key, he said, is to get the engineering design completed and start right of way acquisition. The project won’t be considered “shovel ready” until those things happen and won’t qualify for economic stimulus funding, he said.

He asked the Council to authorize Stantec Engineering to complete the plans for no more than $894,000; to ask the county to hire attorney Morgan Bentley to handle right of way acquisition; to direct its Tallahassee consultant to pursue a state grant; and to have the city’s Finance Department work with his consultant to develop a fiscal plan.

Those four steps would get the project moving, he said, and that’s what Council members said they wanted to do, since widening the road has been under discussion since 2016.

“I wouldn’t stop now,” Vice Mayor Rich Cautero said.

“I feel we’re at the 5-yard line right now,” Council Member Joe Neunder added.

But, Lavallee reminded them, Laurel Road is a county road, so it should be up to the county to make these decisions.

The city should ask that Laurel Road be made a priority and pledge its support, as well as any impact fees it controls, he said, but otherwise leave it to the county to partner with Neal and move the project forward.

The project enjoys County Commission support, Neal said.

The Council voted to have staff draft a resolution to that effect, working from one Neal had presented. It will be on the Sept. 28 agenda.

That will also give staff the time to pin down just how much might actually be available in impact fees.

Including an estimated $800,000 to be collected in each of the next three fiscal years, Neal put the total at $10.2 million. The county figure he reported was $2.3 million less, however, because of the city’s commitment to improving the Pinebrook Road/East Venice Avenue intersection.

Finance Director Linda Senne had told the Council that the number was $2 million less than that, which Lavallee said was a further pledge the county made toward the Pinebrook Road project that the Council hasn’t voted on.

So it’s possible the unencumbered road impact fees might be only $5.6 million. And some of that money would be needed for improving the Pinebrook Road entrance to the new Sarasota Memorial Hospital Venice campus, he said, though SMH has offered to pay half.

The numbers should be sorted out by the next regular Council meeting, he said.


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