In the meantime, Pine Shores Alliance members are rallying for the Oct. 11 boundary hearing for the project and continuing to voice their concerns
Benderson Development Co. staff is reviewing whether it would be feasible to reduce the residential density of the proposed Siesta Promenade project at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
“We’re trying to see whether that’s something that can be done and make the project viable still,” Todd Mathes, director of development for the firm, said during a Sept. 16 telephone interview.
In the formal application it submitted to the Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department in late August, Mathes wrote that Benderson planned to pursue a project with 501 dwelling units, a 150-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of commercial space. The figure for residences had dropped by almost exactly 100 since Mathes made a presentation to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on June 2.
In the meantime, residents of the Pine Shores neighborhood — just east of Siesta Key — have engaged in a flurry of emails as they prepare for attending the Oct. 11 Sarasota County Commission “boundary hearing” on Siesta Promenade, Sura Kochman, a spokeswoman for the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, told the News Leader during a Sept. 9 telephone interview. Scheduled for the morning during the board’s regular meeting that day in Sarasota, the hearing will cover the planning area for the proposed Critical Area Plan (CAP) that Benderson is seeking so it can increase residential density on the site up to 25 units per acre.
Kochman pointed out that the project “affects hundreds and hundreds of people — thousands of people,” not just those in Pine Shores — adjacent to the Siesta Promenade site — but those on Siesta Key and in the surrounding area.
Many Siesta homeowners “are just beside themselves,” she added, because of the proposed residential density and fears about how that will exacerbate traffic backups, especially during the height of tourist season.
During his Sept. 16 interview with the News Leader, Mathes explained, “I don’t think [a decision by the firm on the project density is] a critical question for the CAP to proceed.”
County staff members have let Kochman know that 145 minutes has been set aside for the hearing. “They’re anticipating that there’s going to be a lot of public comment.” Nonetheless, Kochman told the News Leader, “A lot of working people are very unhappy with that time [for the hearing].” It is impossible, she pointed out, for “working, taxpaying individuals to attend a meeting of this importance” during a weekday morning.
If the County Commission approves the planning area as proposed, the expectation is that the full CAP application — as submitted — then will be scheduled for public hearings before the county’s Planning Commission and the County Commission, county staff has said.
Todd Dary, the county planner handling the Siesta Promenade project, has explained to Kochman that the full county review process for such a proposal generally takes six to eight months, she told the News Leader.
During the interview, Kochman made it clear that Pine Shores homeowners are not opposed to a project on the property. “They are entitled to develop [the land] for the [commercial zoning district] they are requesting,” Kochman said of Benderson employees. The request is for rezoning of the site to Commercial General, she pointed out. In such a district, she said, a maximum of 250 residences, 150 hotel rooms and 140,000 square feet of commercial space would be allowed.
What Benderson is requesting is double the number of dwelling units, she added, which is why it is seeking approval of a CAP. “We are saying, ‘No, that is not compatible with the neighborhood.’”
Kochman also noted that the plan calls for at least one six- or seven-story residential building. Mathes told the SKA members in June that the hotel also would be 85 feet tall, if the CAP is approved.
“The privacy of every single home [in Pine Shores would be] compromised,” she stressed, because anyone in the tall structures would be able to look down on the adjacent single-family homes.
She added that many people continue to have the mistaken impression that the residential buildings will be constructed along U.S. 41. The 85-foot-tall buildings would be next to the neighborhood, Mathes explained during the June 2 SKA meeting.
“You’ll be looking at a grocery store and retail” on U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, Kochman said.
What about all the traffic?
When Mathes made his presentation during the June SKA meeting, the majority of questions focused on traffic.
Although Benderson submitted a traffic study with its application, Kochman told the News Leader that she and other residents maintain the undertaking was inadequate to capture the full measure of impact the project will have on the surrounding area.
The Sarasota consulting firm Kimley-Horn analyzed traffic from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, 2015 and on Saturday, March 28. Mathes told the SKA members that the firm set up “continuous video monitoring of Stickney Point [Road]” on a Saturday, but the Kimley-Horn report said its analysis covered from 12 to 2:30 p.m. on March 28.
Given the steady stream of traffic onto Siesta Key from about 9:30 in the morning until 6 or 6:30 p.m. at the height of tourist season, Kochman told the News Leader, she and her Pine Shores neighbors believe the traffic study should have been undertaken for a much longer period on a day during the business part of the year.
“There are constant reasons that roadway is congested,” she added of Stickney Point Road.
County staff members and those at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) are reviewing the traffic analysis Benderson submitted in conjunction with its Siesta Promenade application, Mathes told the News Leader. “We’ll respond.”
“We sort of suspect we’ll get something from [FDOT] this month, he added, while Benderson expects to hear from county staff shortly.
FDOT staff members already have voiced alarm about the increased traffic intensity Siesta Promenade would be expected to produce.
One SKA audience member in June pointed out that traffic already stacks up both northbound and southbound on U.S. 41, waiting to turn onto Stickney Point Road, during busy times of the year.
Kochman told the News Leader that vehicles also queue up eastbound well beyond the Stickney Point Road/U.S. 41 intersection, and that will worsen if 501 dwelling units and a 150-room hotel are built at the Siesta Promenade site. Residents in the Esplanade by Siesta Key development on Stickney Point Road, for example, have to access their homes via Constitution Boulevard when traffic is at its worst trying to access the Key, Kochman said, and that has a ripple effect on other neighborhoods. “The traffic just sort of filters through all these roads.”
As for the mix of commercial space planned for Siesta Promenade, Kochman also pointed out to the News Leader the impact online shopping has had on brick-and-mortar locations. “We need to be very aware of what’s happening to retail,” she said. “The Landings is half-empty,” for one example, she noted. “Dead retail is worse than no retail.”
The Siesta Promenade shops will be a mix of national and local companies, Mathes told the News Leader. The only anchor — what he characterized during the June SKA meeting as a mid-size one — will be a high-end grocery store of about 35,000 to 40,000 square feet, he pointed out to the News Leader.
Much of the rest of the commercial property will be a mix of services — such as dry cleaners and barbers — and restaurants, he told SKA members.
“It’s very, very viable,” he added in the interview with the News Leader. “There’s big demand for space.”
Kochman disputes that. “We’ve got barbershops galore,” she told the News Leader. “We’ve got dry cleaners galore.”
In an Aug. 25 addendum to the application Mathes filed with the county, he wrote, “Maps with distance rings … are the simplest and most widely used method for defining a trade area. … In our case as a mix of convenience, comparison [shopping] and lifestyle/service amenities, we believe the 3-5-7 mile radius is the most appropriate segment to analyze for Sarasota.” The demographics of the areas within the corresponding 5-, 10- and 15-minute drive-time radii of the site show the plan for Siesta Promenade is suitable, Mathes added.
Among the data provided, for example is that the estimated population this year within 5 minutes of the site is 61,066 in 30,816 households, and the estimated average household income is $89,272. The projected annual growth for the population is 1.6% from 2016 through 2021, the documentation shows.
Within 15 minutes’ drive of the property, the estimated population this year is 188,189 in 88,483 households, and the estimated average household income is $79,483, according to the data.
Furthermore, the retail trade analysis shows that the total retail expenditure of households within 5 minutes of the site will be $907 million this year; within 15 minutes, $3.51 billion.
Benderson used census records from 2000 to 2010 to provide the figures, the document says.