233-unit DeSoto Road Apartments project wins County Commission approval

Property will be rezoned for development near the Mall at University Town Center

A graphic shows the location of the DeSoto Road Apartments (in yellow). Image courtesy Sarasota County

It took an assurance that a revised site plan was preferable to residents of a nearby condominium community, plus some last-minute wordsmithing for setback stipulations. After the proposed ordinance language was clear, the Sarasota County Commission this week unanimously approved a Comprehensive Plan amendment and the rezoning of about 18 acres at 5380 DeSoto Road — in the southeast quadrant of Honore Avenue and DeSoto Road — from medium density to high density for the construction of 233 apartments.

One question that remains is whether the developer and county staff can work out the construction of a new southbound lane on Honore Avenue from DeSoto Road to University Parkway, as well as a new northbound lane in conjunction with the project, DeSoto Road Apartments. Paula Wiggins, the county’s transportation planning manager, told the board that the applicant’s engineer had submitted documents regarding the expense of both lanes. “We are verifying those numbers,” she added. “The negotiations are ongoing.”

Commissioner Alan Maio sought clarification that if the total of mobility fees the applicant paid would cover the expense of both lanes, the developer’s agreement the county ultimately approves would call for that construction.

“I believe so,” Wiggins responded.

During his March 22 presentation, Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, who was representing the applicant, said it appeared to him that the mobility fees for the project “should be more than enough” to pay for the northbound lane and most of the expense of the southbound lane. The calculations he had, he pointed out, indicated a potential gap of $115,000 to $118,000. If the County Commission wanted to cover that gap so both lanes could be constructed at the same time, Bailey said, his client would manage the project.

A graphic shows other land uses near the property. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In response to a board request, Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy explained that because of state law, the county “does not have the ability to force the developer” to pay for the extra lanes on Honore Avenue. Impact fees the developer will pay to the county, as required by county ordinance, will cover “whatever part [of the road] gets constructed,” he added. Even though Bailey had suggested the commissioners could supplement the impact fee revenue, if needed, to get the new southbound lane completed at the same time as the new northbound lane, Roddy noted, “right now, we don’t even know what those [construction] numbers are.”

On a separate motion by Commissioner Charles Hines, the board also agreed unanimously to a suggestion by the county’s impact fee administrator, Tom Polk, relative to that discussion. Polk had asked for commission direction to the staff to work on a revision of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, so that would include both the new north- and southbound lanes on Honore Avenue. With that amendment, Polk pointed out, the commission could proceed as it saw fit after the mobility fee total was determined.

During a Jan. 10 public hearing on the project, the developer — Gabriel Bove, president of the Bove LLC of Jacksonville — explained that he and other members of the team had held more discussions with neighbors of the site after an initial appearance before the County Commission in November 2016. He acknowledged that one of the primary concerns nearby residents had conveyed to him regarded the prospect of increased traffic congestion. The widening of Honore Avenue will alleviate those worries, Bove added. The project team’s analysis showed that the residents of the 233 apartments would account for only 3% of the increased capacity of the road improvements, Bove said.

Gabriel Bove. Photo from the Bove website

During the Jan. 10 public hearing, Bove also told the commissioners that rent would range from $1,800 to $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Although board members had asked him in November 2016 about reducing the density of the project, Bove explained that if he built 160 units instead of 233, that would necessitate charging an average of $333 more in rent per month to make up for the loss of the other apartments.

Bove also noted that this would be the first new housing stock of this type to be constructed in that corridor in a number of years.

Bailey talked of its proximity to the Mall at University Town Center and other shopping areas, as well as to employment centers.

The site itself

In regard to the site plan: attorney Bailey explained that after the Jan. 10 public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment and rezoning petition, Bove met with residents of the Grande Oaks Preserve condominium community. (Grande Oaks is west of Honore Avenue.)

During those discussions, Bailey continued, it became clear that the Grande Oaks residents wanted a revision of the site plan to include an extra two-story building on the northwest corner of DeSoto Road and Honore Avenue that originally was part of the proposal. It and the two-story structure next to it, Bailey explained, were seen by Grande Oaks residents as a “more of a buffer from the higher buildings” in the project.

Bove then told the board that after the Jan. 10 public hearing, “we had a lot of dialogue about what to do on that corner …” He presented a rendering to a committee of Grande Oaks residents, Bove continued, and it was circulated among the members of the homeowners association. The leader of the committee then let him know, “‘We’ve all collectively said this is the right thing to do,’” Bove added. “We’re just trying to accommodate the wishes of the community.”

Bailey presented the email from the committee leader to the board and said he would make it part of the record for the public hearing.

Bove also showed the commissioners two renderings. The first featured the single structure in the corner in question, with the parking area visible behind it. The second rendering showed two buildings in the corner, which obscured the parking area.

The Bove firm built the Mirasol project in Celebration. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The project team’s landscape architect had suggested the change, Bove noted.

“You can understand the struggle,” Hines responded, when the commissioners hear that a representative of a neighborhood “has the authority allegedly to speak for the entire community.” That was why he wanted to be absolutely sure that Grande Oaks residents would not complain later about the site plan change, Hines added.

In response to a question, project team member Crystal Allred of Stantec explained that the locations of all the other buildings, as shown to the board in January, would remain the same.

During the Jan. 10 public hearing, county Planner Adriana Trujillo-Villa noted that the heights of three of the buildings had been reduced. Bove showed the board a chart then that indicated no structure would stand taller than six stories. That also was a response to neighbors’ concerns.

The staff report in January — based on the application Stantec submitted to the county’s Planning and Development Services Department in July 2016 — also pointed out that “a very large wetland, mesic hammock, and stormwater management area are located in the southernmost part of the parcel; therefore, the Applicant has designed the project with all of the development in the northerly portion of the parcel.” The report continued, “In order to accommodate the number of units and parking on the site, the applicant has proposed to utilize in-structure parking and increased heights of buildings with the tallest building located toward the center of the parcel.”

The applicant is Remi Properties Inc. of Rockledge.

One other stipulation

Commissioner Alan Maio. File photo

Commissioner Alan Maio has begun joking about his insistence on the inclusion of new bus shelters in projects, though he readily acknowledges that regulations prevent the county from requiring them.

“Repeatedly, I’ve got to be the bad guy,” he said during the March 22 public hearing.

Maio told Bove, “What this commissioner would like to see is the shelter, the covering, a bench, a bike rack and a darn garbage receptacle” for a new bus shelter as part of the DeSoto Road Apartments project.

“We will be happy to provide that,” Bove told him.

Therefore, one of the stipulations the County Commission approved for the project on March 22 — as read to the board by Planning Services Manager Tate Taylor — says that prior to the county’s issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for the apartment buildings, the developer will construct a pad compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a shelter and a bicycle rack, and it will provide a garbage receptacle for a Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus stop. The pad will be connected to the public sidewalk, Taylor noted, and its design and location will be coordinated with SCAT staff.