Tucked away off a busy intersection in Sarasota County, is a neighborhood unlike any other: Pinecraft.
Primarily a walking and bicycling community, Pinecraft has been home to Amish and Mennonite families for more than 70 years. The local population is comprised mostly of seasonal visitors who come by the busload each winter from Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Although it’s bordered by two major roadways and surrounded by a typical urban/residential environment, visiting Pinecraft can be a bit like stepping back in time. Quaint, modest homes closely line the streets. Residents, dressed in their characteristic plain clothing, can be seen transporting fresh produce in the baskets of their tricycles; gathering for lively shuffleboard tournaments at the local park or weekly services at the Tourist Mennonite Church; and crowding around the colorful flyers and want ads posted outside the neighborhood post office, which functions like a community water cooler (or low-tech Reddit, for Millennial readers).
“I don’t believe there’s another community like it in the country where different sects of Mennonites andAmish have come here for vacation and for fellowship,” said Todd Emrich, resident and owner of Yoder’s Restaurant, a Pinecraft landmark loved by residents and tourists alike for its country cooking and handmade pies.
The neighborhood is only one-quarter of a square mile in size, but its population soars by as many as 3,000 residents each winter, leading to concerns about safety and land use. A few years ago, residents approached Sarasota County planning staff with their desires for crosswalks, bus stops and other neighborhood improvements. County staff also recognized that the short-term rental of houses, small businesses operating out of residential properties, and non-conforming lots frequently found in Pinecraft would need to be reconciled with county zoning regulations.
“To have this unique area interwoven into the fabric of the community is not only an asset but a challenge,” said Tom Polk, Sarasota County’s director of Planning and Development Services.
Polk and his team realized that creating a community plan respectful of Pinecraft’s people would require consideration of design alternatives for roadway infrastructure and amenities and, more importantly, a true collaboration with the residents. A series of community meetings led to a stronger partnership between the county and a population not typically involved in local government. “The residents here are very encouraged by their dealing with the county,” Emrich said. “They’ve established a high level of trust, and it’s just been a great conversation.”
Because the issues were so specific to Pinecraft, the community also enlisted the help of Goshen College, a liberal arts college in northern Indiana known for its leadership in intercultural and international education. Three of the college’s interns worked closely with residents to capture valuable data about their needs and desires, and the project evolved into a new cultural partnership that will preserve and enhance Pinecraft’s quality of life while addressing many of the neighborhood’s planning and zoning issues—all with minimal budgetary impact.
In February, the Sarasota County Commission approved the community-led Pinecraft Neighborhood Plan, which features two main components. The first is a zoning overlay district that would address some of the land uses and building forms that are unique to Pinecraft. For instance, a resident might want to operate a bicycle rental business out of a home but without the typical requirements for vehicle parking, since so many Pinecraft residents don’t drive during their stay in Sarasota County.
The second component approved by the county commission is a neighborhood mobility plan to address vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle safety. One proposal would legalize golf carts on certain local streets within the community; another proposes construction of a pedestrian bridge across Philippi Creek to connect parts of the neighborhood. The mobility plan would take a comprehensive look at existing and needed signage on Pinecraft streets in an effort to prevent sign clutter and preserve the community’s identity.
The innovative partnership also allows Pinecraft residents to be largely responsible for developing and funding implementation of the community plan while the county serves as a planning and technical resource. Polk says it could serve as a model for other neighborhood improvement projects.
“The key thing to this is it’s been a collaboration,” Polk said. “It’s been a partnership between the county and community from the outset and will continue to be going forward.” Residents like Orva Bontrager, who’s been coming south to Pinecraft from Indiana for years, say they are excited about the new partnership with Sarasota County and what it will mean for the community’s future.
“The county has done a lot for us,” Bontrager said. “Together if we work with the county, and the county works with us, we can make it work.”
For more information please visit: www.scgov.net