COURTESY : Bradenton Herald
MANATEE - A fray generated at a recent Manatee County Commission meeting about gated roads in East Manatee neighborhoods could have implications for new development.
Earlier this week, Commissioner Ron Getman called for an investigation of and a report about gates in Lakewood Ranch. He wants to know where they're located and how they are operated.
Getman asked that someone go to check "how they're restricting access" and to check what the legal grounds are for restriction.
The timing may not be good for the development's newest community development district.
CDDs are independent local units of special purpose government created under Florida law in 1980. CDDs smaller than 1,000 acres are formed by county ordinance.
Through its board of supervisors, District 6 - consisting of the new Neal development in the middle of Lakewood Ranch - will go before the commission Tuesday to ask that its special powers, especially those governing recreational facilities and security facilities development, be granted.
The item was originally scheduled as part of the consent agenda, which is usually passed en masse without discussion.
But Getman said Friday that he is going to ask that the item be pulled, read separately and discussed.
At issue is exactly what constitutes public access to a gated road.
District 6's ordinance includes wording to prohibit the district from exercising any powers inconsistent with any Florida law relating to obstruction of public streets, highways, roads and rights of way within district boundaries.
It also disallows guardhouses, fences or gates on, in or across any public street unless public access will be permanently available on a continuous 24-hour, seven-days-per-week basis.
Two of the five original Lakewood Ranch districts, created by similar ordinances, have gated access and are in full compliance with the law, according to Tom Danahy, chief operating officer for developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
There is a manned gatehouse at Legacy Boulevard that is accessible to the public, operated on a 24-hour, seven-days-per-week basis, Danahy said.
"Our agreement with the county does require that we allow access 24 hours/7 days," Danahy said. "The operation of this gatehouse satisfies that requirement.
"The process and procedures for our gates and gatehouses have been thoroughly reviewed with legal counsel on several occasions," Danahy said. "We have a very strong opinion that we are operating legally, and we will vigorously defend that position."
But Getman's idea of public access is different, and he wants to know whether the county included conditions for approval of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch's developments regarding security gates.
"I want to know what our approvals stipulated or didn't stipulate," he said.
Getman admitted that if the county failed to provide specific conditions for operation of the gates, they would have no recourse at this point.
"Did we or did we not approve that with public access?" Getman said. "If we did, that puts a whole different light on it."
Up to commission
The gate system has been in place at Lakewood Ranch for about seven years, and the gates that require transponders have been operational for at least five.
Ultimate authority for approval of a project, including its gates, lies with the county commission.
Still, Getman has asked for a clear ruling from the county's legal staff on the authority of CDDs.
"I just want to make sure we're doing what's right for the public," Getman said.
"If we're wrong, we need to drop this issue and stop belaboring it," he said. "But if we're right, we need to get the developers to step up and do what they agreed to."
And the fact is, the roads are owned and maintained by the districts, at no cost to local government, said Gary L. Moyer, who spent 30 years involved in managing development districts across the state.
Now working as a consultant, Moyer said instances of public access challenges against gated communities are few and far between.
He sees the issue as reasonable public access versus unlimited public access.
"I have a right to go to my public library," Moyer said, likening the roads to a public amenity, "but I don't have the right to go to the library at 2 in the morning.
"The reality is these gates do provide some level of security enhancement," Moyer said. "It baffles me why county officials don't embrace using gated communities - after 9-11 I'm amazed there's still that mentality out there."
Commissioner Ron Getman wants to know whether gates at developments illegally restrict residents