REX JENSEN HAS SEEN THE future of Lakewood Ranch, one of Florida's largest master planned communities, and it is greener. In late 2004, Jensen, president of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, announced that the next 9,750 acres of the ecologically sensitive Sarasota community will apply a far-reaching new set of criteria for responsible land use. In turn, SMR will require builders to go the extra distance to meet green construction requirements for all new homes in the community.

Committing to comply with guidelines established by the Florida Green Building Coalition for residential and commercial developers in 2002 will take a lot of work. SMR will, among other things, sow 80 percent of Lakewood Ranch's common areas with native and drought-tolerant plants, safeguard trees—and move some, if necessary—during construction, and build and maintain wildlife corridors to protect Sherman's fox squirrels, Southeast American kestrels, and other local species as they roam.

In addition, SMR will design the communities' recreation areas so they remain dry for about 10 months of the year, when they are in the most demand, but flood during the rainy season to prevent water runoff from damaging other areas. And because water conservation is such a critical issue for Florida's Gulf Coast, the developer will build a communitywide irrigation system that captures runoff and distributes it more evenly among its villages.

WATER COURSE: At Lakewood Ranch, golf courses exist in harmony with nature. Builders, meanwhile, need to agree in advance to abide by construction standards in such categories as energy, water, health, materials and disaster-proofing. They have to submit plans and documentation to the green building coalition and score at least 200 out of a potential perfect grade of 500 on the environmental evaluation sheet for residential construction certification.

Nothing New Certification as a green development was “the next natural step” for Schroeder-Manatee, a ranching company that continues to raise cattle, grow vegetables and fruits, farm timber, and mine shell elsewhere on the 28,000-acre property.

The land—21,000 acres in Manatee County and 7,000 in Sarasota County—was first assembled in the early 1900s and acquired in 1922 by the Uihlein (pronounced ee-line) family, founders of the Schlitz Brewing Co. Now owned by six branches of the family, the entire parcel is slated for development.

“As a company, we have practiced wise stewardship of the land for the past 80 years,” says Jensen, noting that SMR has won numerous awards for its agricultural and mining operations. “It's something we bring to the table.”

For example, the company has restored a 400-acre wetlands area that was damaged by an adjacent property owner, turning it back into a thriving ecosystem that provides sanctuary to fish and fowl—not to mention its share of alligators. And it has established a 38-acre gopher tortoise preserve along the banks of the Braden River that other critters also call home.

Still, Jensen admits that insisting that builders adhere to SMR's environmental principles gave the company pause. After all, agreeing to take your own company more deeply into the green movement is one thing, but requiring your builders to get on the environmental bandwagon or go elsewhere is a little different—especially when they are working to keep costs down.

“Many of our builders are trying to build in a market that maximizes the affordability of their product,” Jensen told the Sarasota Herald Tribune. “We didn't want to be countervailing some of their issues. We wanted to make certain that in solving one problem, we didn't create several others.”