Avenue B and C intersection one focus of transportation studies
Benderson Development Co. is considering reducing the number of residential units in its proposed Siesta Promenade project from more than 500 to a level between 300 and 350, a Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance representative has told The Sarasota News Leader.
At the same time, staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has asked a consultant for Benderson to evaluate whether a roundabout at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C would be the best way to handle the expected increase in traffic if the mixed-use development is constructed at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
In an April 13 email she sent to Pine Shores residents — whose neighborhood is adjacent to the approximately 24-acre Siesta Promenade site — Sura Kochman reported that she recently had talked with Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development. He told her the firm is analyzing two new prospects for the project:
- 300 residential units and two hotels, plus the originally proposed 140,000 square feet of retail space.
- 350 residential units and one hotel, plus the 140,000 square feet of commercial space.
Mathes did not respond to a number of messages the News Leader left him, seeking comment.
During the April 6 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Gene Kusekoski reported on the prospect that Benderson would reduce the residential density for Siesta Promenade and that it might focus on getting Commercial General zoning instead of pursuing the Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation it applied for last year. Although fewer dwellings would be preferable, he noted, if Benderson opted simply for the rezoning, it would not be required to pursue the traffic studies authorized under the CAP process. Kochman has made that point numerous times, as well.
Noting the same number of residential units Kochman referenced in her email to Pine Shores residents, Kusekoski further told the SKA members that if Benderson does decide to go with a rezoning petition, “[that figure is] probably realistically about the best you could expect, and they have a right to do this.”
Still, Kochman wrote in her email to her fellow Pine Shores residents, “Before you all see this as a ‘win,’ IT IS NOT! [her emphasis].”
Based on her math [and that of the News Leader], she continued, both of the new options would constitute a density of 18 units per acre, which is higher than the 13 allowed in a county district zoned Commercial General (CG). The density would include any hotel units, she added, each of which equates to half a residential unit.
Because the site encompasses 23.4 acres, Kochman wrote, Benderson would be entitled to a total of 304 units under CG zoning. That could equate to 250 residential dwelling units, plus a 108-room hotel, plus the retail/service shops, she noted.
During a June 2, 2016 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Mathes talked of the firm’s plans for four buildings with a total of about 600 dwelling units — primarily one-bedroom rental apartments and condominiums — and a 150-room hotel, which he said most likely would be a Marriott or Hilton “product,” along with the 140,000 square feet of retail space fronting on U.S. 41.
He pointed out that the current zoning for the property allows for up to 300 mobile homes.
At that time, Mathes also talked of Benderson’s decision to seek county approval for a Critical Area Plan designation for the site; that way, Benderson could get a density of 25 units per acre.
The application Benderson submitted to the county Planning and Development Services Department in August 2016 called for 501 residences, with about 200 slated as apartments and the rest as condominium/townhouse units.
Following a Jan. 25 discussion, the County Commission voted 4-1 to approve staff proposals for specific analyses Benderson would need to complete in its effort to obtain Critical Area Plan (CAP) approval for Siesta Promenade. Among them were traffic studies of the surrounding area conducted during the peak of tourist season. (Commissioner Nancy Detert, who voiced her objections to the proposed development, cast the lone “No” vote during the meeting.)
Mathes told the News Leader after that discussion that the firm was going to “start right away” on the entire scope of work staff had outlined. He hoped the traffic analyses could be conducted in March, he added.
Later, during a Feb. 16 telephone interview, Mathes said that the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm had begun the data collection on the firm’s behalf. The traffic studies were expected to continue through February, Mathes noted. “From there, we’ll produce the report,” he told the News Leader, anticipating that that would happen before the end of March.
When the News Leader checked recently with county staff, spokesman Jason Bartolone wrote in an April 10 email, “Nothing has been submitted, and staff has received no timeline of when materials will be submitted.” Bartolone added, “There has been no discussion with staff with respect to the project not utilizing the CAP. Planning Services is awaiting submittal of updated applications.”
In her email to Pine Shores residents, Kochman also wrote that she had talked recently with Todd Dary, the county planner supervising the Siesta Promenade project. He “expects that no hearings before the [county] Planning Commission or the [County Commission] will take place until sometime in the fall.” She continued, “He did say, however, that a Neighborhood Workshop would have to take place prior to the Planning Commission [session] to inform the public about the ‘new plan’ that Benderson is providing.”
Reconfiguring traffic patterns
As Kimley-Horn representatives have been working on new traffic studies for Benderson, the potential of a roundabout at the intersection of Avenue B and C and Stickney Point Road has arisen, based on documents provided to the News Leader.
In a March 17 letter to Nathan Kautz at FDOT’s District One office in Bartow, Kimley-Horn Senior Vice President Christopher Hatton and Project Manager Adam Gibson responded to a March 10 FDOT letter regarding the department’s review of the Siesta Promenade CAP application. Hatton and Gibson acknowledged that the firm would look not only at the potential need for a traffic signal at the Avenue B and C intersection with Stickney Point Road but that it also would evaluate whether a roundabout at that spot might be more appropriate.
Furthermore, Hatton and Gibson acknowledged FDOT’s request that Kimley-Horn address the potential for increased queuing of southbound traffic on U.S. 41 in regard to a proposal for a Siesta Promenade driveway from U.S. 41.
Finally, FDOT staff had written, “The closure of Avenue A is something that should be evaluated as a possibility, not as a given. While this seems to be of a high possibility, it will need engineering justification to be closed. I do agree with your proposal to study additional intersections that would be used as access should this median, or others, be deemed necessary to close.”
Hatton and Gibson responded that they also acknowledged that comment.
In a Feb. 24 letter to county Transportation Planning Manager Paula Wiggins, Hatton and Kimley-Horn Transportation Analyst Kelly Fearon wrote that, based on traffic volumes the firm recorded in February, a queuing analysis shows eastbound traffic backing up past Avenue A. However, they continued, “Based upon discussions with the FDOT, it is necessary to close the Avenue A median opening due to safety concerns.”
That correspondence also indicated the expectation that a traffic signal would be needed at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C. Additionally, the letter said, the closure of the Glencoe Avenue median would be necessitated by a future left-turn lane for eastbound traffic existing Siesta Promenade, because of the expected traffic signal at Stickney Point Road/Avenue B and C.
Hatton and Fearon also referenced a Feb. 9 “transportation methodology meeting” with county staff. As a result of that discussion, they continued, they had updated their plans for the traffic analyses. At the time they wrote their letter, they anticipated county and FDOT staff reviewing their data submission in April, with the hope of the county’s Planning Commission holding a public hearing on the CAP application in May and the County Commission holding one in June. The letter also noted the expectation that Siesta Promenade would not be completed until 2024.
In that Feb. 24 letter, Hatton and Fearon referenced 506 residential dwelling units, up to 150 hotel rooms and 140,000 square feet “of neighborhood retail space …”
Factoring multi-modal use into traffic counts
A subsequent letter Hatton and Gibson sent to Shannon Rodden in the county’s Planning and Development Services Department addressed staff comments provided to Kimley-Horn representatives on March 15. Among them was a concern that the consulting firm planned to factor into its traffic analyses a 5% reduction in counts because of assumptions for the public’s use of the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus system (2%) and bicycles (2%), as well as the belief that people will walk to and from Siesta Promenade (1%).
Staff had questioned the fact that Kimley-Horn based its justification for the 5% reduction on previous county approval for such a factor, adding that this time, it “is inadequate.”
In their response, Hatton and Gibson pointed to the fact that SCAT already operates Route 10 service in the area where Siesta Promenade is planned and SCAT was proposing an open-air trolley service. (The latter began on March 20, but it is a pilot program that will run through August; its extension beyond that period is not certain, SCAT’s director, Rocky Burke, has explained. The trolley also does not travel on Stickney Point Road.)
Kimley-Horn’s representatives further referenced U.S. Census data as a justification for the 5% reduction in motor vehicle traffic, in conjunction with anticipated multi-modal uses.
The total estimated population within one quarter-mile of the Siesta Promenade site in 2016 was 1,345, Hatton and Gibson showed in a graphic. The number of employees in the same area was 1,104, the graphic said.
Within half-a-mile of the project site, the total population estimated for 2016 was 2,911, and the figure for employees was 3,590, the graphic showed.