Everyone agrees that the 40-acre tract just north of Fox Lea Farms along Auburn Road is eventually going to be developed. After more than three years, a make-or-break decision on Murphy Oaks could come later this month.

If the project moves forward at that point, it’s a lesson in how competing interests can be balanced.

The project has a somewhat convoluted history. The highlights:

• The land was annexed into the city in 2008 but never rezoned to a city zoning designation, though that’s supposed to happen within a year.

• When developer Herb Lawson applied to rezone it, he got a recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission but with 16 stipulations, five code modifications and two sidewalk waivers.

• When the Venice City Council saw all those conditions, it recommended the project come back as a planned unit development so they could be incorporated into its master plan.

• Lawson filed for a PUD but the Council rejected it last November, finding it was incompatible with Fox Lea Farms’ equestrian operations and the Sawgrass community across Auburn Road.

• Rather than go to court, Lawson sought relief under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act, which sends such disputes to mediation. The result was a revised rezoning ordinance considered last month.

It still proposed a 105-unit development but with enhanced buffering, some protections for Fox Lea’s ponds and a couple of road improvements the city doesn’t have the power to require, among other changes.

Lawson’s attorney argued any potential adverse impacts on Fox Lea had been eliminated. Fox Lea’s attorney, Jeff Boone, disagreed, citing continuing concerns about dewatering on the Murphy Oaks property and the density of the proposed development.

An attorney for Sawgrass also spoke in favor of a reduction in density.

Lawson ultimately agreed to reduce the density to 85 units and the ordinance was amended accordingly, then postponed until Sept 24 so the parties could try to resolve some remaining compatibility issues. If they can’t, then the ball will be back in the Council’s court.

That lesson we mentioned? It’s actually a two-parter.

First, Murphy Oaks’ neighbors didn’t just send some emails to defend their interests; they hired attorneys, attended meetings and in general were proactive in pushing Lawson to consider them. Not everyone can get a lawyer but everyone can participate in the process.

Second, Lawson listened. That’s not to say that Fox Lea or Sawgrass necessarily will love the final version of Murphy Oaks, assuming it gets approved. But they’ll like it more than what he originally proposed: 118 units, less buffering, no road improvements and a potentially significant impact on Fox Lea’s ponds.

That’s probably what they end up with if they don’t take an active role in the process.

The takeaway is that if you want some grease, you need to squeak loudly, in person.


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