Residents question numerous facets of Benderson plans for U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road property

Company representative plans four more public meetings this month, all at Pine Shores Presbyterian Church, after addressing SKA members on June 2

Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, holds up a rendering of a residential building for Siesta Promenade. Rachel Hackney photo
Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, holds up a rendering of a residential building planned for Siesta Promenade. Rachel Hackney photo

It could be more than 10 years before Benderson Development Co. completes all the residential construction it plans for Siesta Promenade, its project slated for the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, Todd Mathes, director of development for the firm, told about 110 people during the June 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting.

Although Mathes emphasized during the session that the firm has decreased the size of the project from the 250,000-square-foot plan it proposed in 2014 to 140,000 square feet, audience members continued to complain about the potential for greater traffic gridlock at the U.S. 41/Stickney Point intersection and along Stickney Point Road itself. Some people also pleaded for the company to create a park on the site instead of new retail and residential space and a hotel.

Mathes spent nearly an hour discussing the proposal and answering questions, but he stressed the June 2 SKA meeting would not be the last opportunity for members of the public to raise their concerns.

Mathes will offer a detailed PowerPoint presentation between 7 and 10 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14, at Pine Shores Presbyterian Church, he added, and he will be at the church from 5 to 8 p.m. on June 15 and 16. He encouraged people to contact him about setting up one-on-one opportunities to talk with him on the latter two evenings. His phone number is 941-360-7266, he added, and his email is toddmathes@benderson.com. The church is located at 6135 Beechwood Ave. in Sarasota.

Additionally, Mathes said, he will host a formal neighborhood workshop — part of the required county application process — at 6 p.m. on June 30 at the church. Nearby residents will receive notice by mail with more details about that session, he noted.

In his opening remarks, Mathes emphasized the downsizing of the project as a result of comments from adjoining property owners after the 2014 site plan was unveiled. The revised proposal calls for the retail space to be anchored by what Mathes characterized as a “mid-size” box, which will be a grocery store, such as a Whole Foods or a Fresh Market. A 150-room hotel — most likely a Marriott or Hilton “product,” he added — and four buildings with a total of 600 dwelling units — primarily one-bedroom rental apartments and condominiums — are also what Benderson proposes for the 24 acres.

Todd Mathes answers questions posed by Janet Emanuel. Rachel Hackney photo
Todd Mathes answers questions posed by Janet Emanuel. Rachel Hackney photo

The goal is to get the formal application process underway this summer with Sarasota County staff, Mathes pointed out, with the hope that construction can begin on the retail part of the project in the spring of 2017; the latter work is expected to take about a year. Construction of the hotel would start about a year later, he continued, with the first segment of the residential units planned in about five years.

“There’s huge demand in the whole area for residential product,” he pointed out. However, he noted, “we’re a company that’s toing to take it a little slower and do the right thing,” to make certain the design and timing are appropriate. One residential building will be constructed at a time, he added.

The 1,000-square-foot apartments would rent for upward of $1,000, he said, while the condos of the same size would sell for about $400,000.

Mathes also emphasized that the project will encompass 40,000 fewer square feet than Paradise Plaza on Bay Road in Sarasota. The tenant mix is designed to include small shops, services — such as a barber — and restaurants. Most of the shops will be on the side parallel to U.S. 41.

Furthermore, he said, all of the parking for that section will be on the interior of the project, so people driving along U.S. 41 will see the shops. “We spend a lot of time and energy on our architecture and our landscaping and improving properties,” he told the audience. In response to a question, he noted that there would be “no differentiation between the front and the back” of any of the structures.

Todd Mathes explains the placement of retail and residential structures on the site. Rachel Hackney photo
Todd Mathes explains the placement of retail and residential structures on the site. Rachel Hackney photo

The hotel also will be on the interior of the site plan, he said, so it will be more buffered from the adjacent neighborhoods.

Benderson will seek county approval for a Critical Area Plan so it can build 25 units per acre, he continued, and it will need a special exception for building height up to 85 feet. The residential structures and hotel probably will be seven stories tall, Mathes explained, if the County Commission agrees to the special exception. The ground floors of those structures would be taller than a typical floor, he explained, because the hotel rooms and dwelling units would be built over parking areas.

Right now, he pointed out, the zoning on the site allows for up to 300 mobile homes. When the firm bought the land, he said, it contained that many mobile homes, plus a service station and an office building.

Traffic concerns abound

An aerial view shows the intersections of Glencoe Avenue and Avenue B and C with Stickney Point Road. Image from Google Maps
An aerial view shows the intersections of Glencoe Avenue and Avenue B and C with Stickney Point Road. Image from Google Maps

Asked whether Benderson has studied the impact of the extra vehicles associated with the 600 residential units and the 150 hotel rooms “on the already overburdened traffic patterns” at U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road — as the questioner put it — Mathes replied that such a review will be part of the traffic study required for the project. “There’ll be a projection of trips … and the distribution of trips,” he added, including details about where the vehicles would be expected to go when they head out of the development.

“I’ll tell you that everybody knows [that] there’s a lot of traffic out here during season,” he said. “The percentage increase that we are going to contribute is very, very small.”

That comment elicited murmurs of disagreement among audience members.

In response to a question about whether it would be fair to assume that the 600 condos would add 1,200 vehicles into the traffic mix, Mathes said, “I think it’s not.” His recollection, he continued, is that the formula traffic engineers use projects 1.5 vehicles per dwelling unit, “but those cars won’t all be moving at once.”

Andrew Terry, who lives on the southern part of Siesta, talked of “cars cutting off one another” on Stickney Point Road, adding, “I’ve seen fisticuffs.”

“So I should put my house up for sale now,” Terry told Mathes, given how much worse Terry expects traffic to be after people start moving into the new development.

Still, Terry said, “I give you a lot of credit, doing what you’re doing … trying to sell something like that.”

Audience members fill the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. Rachel Hackney photo
Audience members fill the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. Rachel Hackney photo

Mathes also explained that Benderson has proposed that the current “slip lane” — the outside lane for traffic turning westbound on Stickney Point Road from U.S. 41 — run the full length of the property. That would enable traffic to turn into the complex without having to merge into other traffic headed toward Siesta Key, he pointed out.

Furthermore, Benderson has asked for a traffic signal on U.S. 41 about 750 feet north of the Stickney Point Road intersection, as well as one at the Stickney Point Road/Avenue B and C intersection. However, he continued, FDOT staff has indicated it will not approve the one on U.S. 41. As for the second signal: Mathes said it is possible that it will be moved to the Glencoe Avenue intersection. He added that because of synchronization of the signals, he expects traffic moving in and out of Siesta Promenade will not be impeded by openings of the drawbridge.

Impacts on the beach

Given Benderson’s use of the name “Siesta Promenade” for the development, Siesta resident Katherine Zimmerman pointed out that that link to the Key will mean more people going to parts of the beach other than the county-owned park. Has any research been done about their impact on the beach, she asked.

Benderson staff filed this site plan withits pre-application for Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County
Benderson staff filed this site plan with its pre-application for Sarasota County staff review. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“We haven’t quantified what that will mean if you had full occupancy of the property,” Mathes told her, though he suggested “full occupancy” of the condos and hotel would mean about 1,000 people.

More hotel rooms and residences going up throughout the county means more people using local amenities, he continued. “That’s not unique to this property …”

“We have enough problems now trying to clean up after people on the beach anyway,” Zimmerman said, adding that the potential exists for six occupants per hotel room during Spring Break, when the Key is a popular destination for students.

When Zimmerman asked again whether the company had undertaken any research about the potential impact on the beach of those 1,000 additional people, he replied, “No.”

A park, please

Audience members listen as Evy Alland (standing, rear) pleads for Benderson to leave the site in its natural state. Rachel Hackney photo
Audience members listen as Evy Alland (standing, rear) pleads for Benderson to leave the site in its natural state. Rachel Hackney photo

Rhana Bazzini told Mathes that while so much of the focus was on potential traffic problems, she had different concerns: “This is Florida. We have a thing called climate change,” and U.S. 41 is an evacuation route.

Further, Bazzini said, “I still think [the property] would make a marvelous park.”

“I think we’ve reached … complete density on our little key,” Evy Alland told Mathes. “If your goal is to destroy the last remnant of Siesta Key’s ambiance and create seasonal and holiday bedlam like [that seen in] the Hamptons, this will certainly be accomplished with this building plan.”

Alland added, “I’m sorry that Mr. [Randy] Benderson made this purchase of land when he thought he might be able to get more out of it. … His mistake should not become our everyday living hell.”

Mathes had pointed out earlier that Benderson Development bought the property about 12 years ago.

Jim Moynihan, a partner with Partners Realty of Sarasota, was in the minority in praising the plan. He noted that he and his wife live close to the property, and they appreciate the fact that they will be able to walk there to the grocery store and shops.

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