Venice’s $16 million Laurel Road funding after City Council vote

The council also adds the former Venice Army Air Force Base Service Club to the local historic register and commissions a new circus mural on Tamiami Trail

VENICE – The Venice City Council agreed Tuesday to use up to $8 million in tolls to widen Laurel Road.

The item, originally on the council’s agenda for approval of items without discussion, was to authorize Mayor Nick Pachota to sign the agreement. But Councilwoman Joan Farrell asked for a formal vote in a last-ditch effort to stop the widening, favoring instead a quick widening of Knights Trail Road and adding a traffic light at the entrance to Toscana Isles, east of Technology Drive.

Her request followed public comment from Tuscany Island resident Paula Steinert, who asked the council to do so.

“I back the citizen advocates to emphasize the Knight’s Trail to Rustic Road and not Laurel Road to Jacaranda,” Farrell said, citing concerns about Myakka River flooding and the effects of draining wetlands.

“Why is it that we’re — I don’t want to swear — heaven bent to widen Laurel Road and not Knights Trail, which needs it, for all the reasons that were given,” said Farrell, who is in his first year on the council .

Previous support for widening Laurel Road

IN In 2018 and 2019, Northeast Venice residents urged the City Council to expedite the widening of the 1.5-mile stretch of Laurel Road between Knights Trail Road and Jacaranda Boulevard.

Farrell, she ran for election in 2023 in response to a grassroots movement to stop the development of a shopping center at the southwest corner of Laurel Road and Jacaranda. Many of those opposed to the mall also questioned the wisdom of widening Laurel Road.

Mayor Nick Pachota and City Manager Ed Lavallee explained the earlier demand for the warehouse expansion. The city also received an $8 million state grant in 2023 to help pay for construction.

Lavallee said about $1 million in impact fees already spent on the project would have to be repaid from the general fund if the priority changed.

“We’re pretty much locked in professionally and financially,” Lavallee said.

He also noted that impact fees, as well as mobility fees that Sarasota County now collects, are used to expand road capacity, which may not include the installation of a traffic signal.

Councilman Ron Smith noted that improvements to Laurel and Knights Trail roads, as well as Jacaranda Boulevard, will all be needed in the coming years, then added, “I don’t think we can walk away from an $8 million state grant for Laurel Road.”

Pachota said moving money isn’t easy. “Unless we adopt these roads as ours and maintain them as ours – which would be very costly – we will have to be patient,” he said.

To Steinert and other residents of the Tuscan Islands, Pachota added: “If anyone led you to believe that it will be tomorrow, I apologize.”

The point passed, 6-1, with Farrell dissenting.

Army Air Base Building added to local historic register

The Venice Municipal Mobile Home Park clubhouse at 780 Firenze Ave., once the Venice Army Air Base Service Club, is now on the Venice Local Register of Historic Resources following unanimous approval of a second reading of an ordinance placing it on the list.

Once used as a service club to provide rest and relaxation for the pilots and members of the service unit who trained in Venice, the structure still has its original floor, letter boxes and sink.

In another decision related to the mobile home park, the council unanimously approved the painting of a new circus mural on the wall at 780 S. Tamiami Trail, located at the entrance to the mobile home park.

Venice Area Beautification, Inc. proposed that Lake Worth-based artist Sami Makela paint the new mural, which will replace an existing one painted by artist Frances Smith. A photo of the original mural will be included in a related display.

The new mural will not include a depiction of copyrighted images related to Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus circus animals, partly because the new circus wants to distance itself from the previous practice.

Trapeze artist Tito Gaona, once a Ringling Bros. circus performer. who now runs a trapeze academy in the city, agreed to have his image included along the wall.

The work continues to balance the interests of developers and villa owners in planned housing developments

Alison Yurko, an Orlando-based land use attorney hired by the city to help create a “uniform control” provision in the city’s land development regulations for planned entities, updated the council on her progress. The board unanimously urged city staff to continue working with Yurko on a final provision.

The definition of unitary control was one of the main issues residents cited in their opposition to a land use change to allow the construction of a shopping center at the southwest corner of the intersection of Laurel Road and Jacaranda Boulevard.

The goal is to balance developers’ interest in maintaining flexibility as a project matures and homeowners buying into a new planned unit development based on expectations created by the initial plans about whether they will be close to open space, other housing or commercial hubs.

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