LAKEWOOD RANCH – Residents in a Lakewood Ranch suburb have cleared a first hurdle in convincing Manatee County officials to eliminate planned pedestrian access between their gated neighborhood and a future retail area.

On Thursday, the Planning Commission recommended that a pedestrian connection between Neal Communities’ Central Park and a commercial-zoned site at the southeast corner of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and 44th Avenue East be eliminated from development plans.

The County Commission will have the final say on Nov. 2.

The 16.4-acre commercial property is within a development order for the 1,518-acre Northwest Sector of Lakewood Ranch, a master-planned community by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

The Northwest Sector is mostly east of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, south of 44th Avenue East, west of Lorraine Road and north of State Road 70. It includes 39.3 acres west of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

The latest version of the development order, which dates back to 2007, calls for 3,833 single-family homes, 698 multi-family units, 105,000 square feet of offices, 200,000 square feet of commerce space, 19.2 acres of parkland and an 18-hole golf course.

Much of that approved development already has been built, including more than 800 homes in nearly sold-out Central Park and the LECOM School of Dental Medicine.

At the request of Neal Communities’ Central Park Lifestyles and Equitable National Property Co., the Planning Commission recommended deleting a requirement for two pedestrian accesses between Central Park and the future commercial hub.

One access would have led from Belvedere Terrace to the loading dock of a possible grocery store and another from the cul-de-sac Tilden Park Court to a parking lot. Both streets are behind berms and concrete walls.

In a letter to the county, David Sidham, acting president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association, said residents are concerned about safety and security – including “children entering the loading dock unsupervised and injuries from playing on the embankment that currently lies on either side of the wall” as well as “noise and light pollution.”

The Planning Commission also gave its stamp of approval to alter the development order to shift 2.3 acres of residential zoned land to the commercial area. In doing so, it also increased the maximum of six gasoline pumps for a potential convenience store to 10.

Although there is no commitment now for a future gas station and convenience store, Katie LaBarr, a planner with the Stantec consulting firm, said the developers do not want to rule out that possibility. Increasing the number of pumps will make it more likely that a chain such as Racetrac or Wawa would be interested, LaBarr said.