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Goshen College students create plan for Florida Amish com-munity

It started as a campground for Amish visiting Sarasota, Fla., in the 1920s. Now, the community of Pinecraft has grown into a small village with paved streets, houses, churches, restaurants and a post office. Each winter, as many as 3,000 Amish people from “up north” trade in their buggies for three-wheeled tricycles and join the small year-round Amish population in Pinecraft.

Because of the spontaneous nature of Pinecraft’s growth, there are concerns about its safety, building permits, land use and ordinance codes. With the help of two Goshen College students and a recent graduate, these concerns are finally being addressed. 

The team is working with Sarasota County officials, the Pinecraft board and other citizens to develop a new plan that both preserves and enhances the Pinecraft community’s cultural heritage for future generations.

The team is made up of Niles Graber Miller, a senior business major from Goshen, Emma Ruth, a senior sociology major and global economics minor from Harleysville, Pa., and Hans Weaver, a 2013 GC graduate with a degree in business and minor in global economics. Norm Kauffmann, former Goshen College dean of students and recently retired city manager in Shipshewana, Ind., is overseeing the project.

“It’s been really exciting for us to be immersed in the culture here as we work on such a critical project for this Amish/Mennonite community,” Ruth said. “Not only will we help meet the needs of community members right now, we have also been given the opportunity to plan for the future and it will be really rewarding to see the results of our work years down the road.”

Pinecraft covers less than a square mile on the eastern edge of Sarasota and is located off of a four-lane highway that presents a safety concern for residents, an issue raised by many community members. It also continues to expand northward into a neighborhood across nearby Phillipi Creek, which might mean building a bridge to connect the community.

“We're looking at all sorts of things,” Ruth said. “Safety and transportation guidelines, building zoning and setbacks, commercial industries and park maintenance. We've been busy with all sorts of meetings, as well as learning all about community planning.”

Among the ideas to improve safety are to introduce crosswalks, speed bumps and streetlights. Others issues are more practical, such as regulations for renting rooms and bicycles, bringing in bus routes and adding amenities to the park. The team meets regularly with community stakeholders to figure out how to carry out these changes.

“Essentially what we are doing is serving as a link between the Pinecraft board, made up of property and business owners, as well as some who are just influential in the community, and Sarasota County,” Ruth said. “As the board comes up with concerns that they have for this community, as well as hopes and plans for the future, we are helping to make those things feasible.”

The goal is to have a master plan in place by the time the students return to Goshen at the end of the semester. According to the planning commission, the master plan created by the GC students could serve as a template for other communities throughout Sarasota and beyond.

“The written plan will document and organize the needs and wants of both Pinecraft and the county of Sarasota,” Graber Miller said. “Being able to accurately communicate the needs of the Pinecraft community will pave the way for the preservation of this community.”

According to their blog (pinecraft.weebly.com), the longer they are in Pinecraft, the easier it is to understand just how important this neighborhood is to so many people. The Pinecraft community has embraced the students and has been very supportive of their work.

“We've felt wholeheartedly welcomed by this community and are enjoying the opportunities we have to become involved in daily life within the neighborhood,” Ruth said. “Hans and Niles are learning to golf and I’m waiting to be invited to a quilting circle. We have experienced Amish church, an auction and numerous visits to homes.”