Commissioner Moran objects, expressing concern about continued loss of property that could be home to manufacturing companies
With few questions beforehand, the members of Sarasota County’s Planning Commission voted unanimously on June 17 to recommend that the County Commission approve a proposed new development with 270 dwelling units, a two-story clubhouse and three, single-story commercial buildings that would be constructed east of Interstate 75 and north of Bee Ridge Road.
The site planned for the project — the Enclave at Bee Ridge Park of Commerce — encompasses 26.05 acres, county documents noted. The property is situated along Mauna Loa Boulevard and lies north of the 1,600-home community of Lake Sarasota. The developer is Larry Krauss, president and CEO of Terracap BR Partners LLP, according to the application.
Only one member of the public addressed the Planning Commission during that hearing. As a result, the proposal was included on the County Commission’s July 14 agenda as a “Presentation Upon Request,” a designation accorded items that staff considers to be non-controversial.
In this case, however, two members of the public did show up to voice complaints. One of them, Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln, was representing clients who live on Sarasota Golf Club Boulevard, near the site of the proposed Enclave.
The second speaker was Janet Nikla, who also lives on Sarasota Golf Club Boulevard.
Nonetheless, after the manager of the county’s Planning Services Division and a representative of the applicant responded to the concerns Lincoln and Nikla had aired, the majority of the county commissioners joined the planning commissioners in endorsing the project. Only Commissioner Michael Moran voted “No,” expressing concern that this latest development would reduce further the amount of land left in the county for industrial firms seeking space for new operations or the relocations of manufacturing plants.
Most of the property slated for the new development already was zoned Major Employment Center (MEC). The staff report on the proposal noted, “The uses typically found in MEC include light industrial, manufacturing, warehousing and offices uses, and combinations of those uses. … Limited amounts of residential development are also permitted to facilitate access between home and place of work.”
At the outset of the discussion, Todd G. Dary, manager of Planning Services, told the board members that he had consulted with the Office of the County Attorney and the applicant about a couple of issues that had come up in correspondence staff had received about the Enclave plans.
As a result, Dary continued, two new stipulations had been written, which needed to be included if the county commissioners decided to approve the project.
First, he explained, the developer would be limited to a maximum of 233 dwelling units on the site. However, Dary pointed out, the developer plans to build some half dwelling units, each of which would comprise 750 square feet. That was how the 270 figure had originated, Dary indicated.
“The half dwelling unit is our attempt to get more affordable housing [in the community],” Chair Alan Maio responded. “Two halves are one [unit], and that’s what the site plan shall reflect,” based on county regulations.
“Correct,” Dary responded.
The second stipulation said that the buffer around the development’s perimeter would have a minimum width of 50 feet and 0.7% opacity.
Yet, when attorney Lincoln took his turn at the podium, he told the commissioners, “There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.”
Lincoln complained that the number of residential units exceeds the limit for a Planned Community Development (PCD), which is the classification of the project.
Among other concerns, he continued, are insufficient buffering and the inclusion in the PCD of six parking spaces that actually belong to a neighboring hotel.
Lincoln noted several other factors of the plans that he argued were in violation of the County Code. “They’re just trying to shoehorn stuff in that’s just wrong,” Lincoln told the commissioners, referring to the members of the project team.
“This whole application is a mess,” he added, “and you shouldn’t approve it with Band-Aids on the PCD.”
During her time at the podium, Janet Nikla explained to the commissioners that she and her husband — and their daughter and son-in-law — live on separate, 5-acre parcels that would be directly behind a 65-foot-high building in the Enclave. When they bought their property, she added, “We never imagined that we’d have a tall, five-story building looking down into our back yards. [There] doesn’t seem to be much of a buffer between us. … We were quite shocked when we saw the plans.”
Nikla added, “We live in [Open Use Estate-zoned] property, thinking that we’re in the country … and this [Enclave] changes things dramatically.”
Staff and development team responses
Following the public remarks, Dary of Planning Services explained that during the standard “site and development” process, when staff works with a developer on the actual construction plans, staff would be able to work out the parking space and buffering issues. He added that those would be considered “minor modifications,” according to the County Code, so the County Commission would not need to address them.
Planning Division staff has explained in the past that any major changes to a Binding Development Concept plan that the commissioners approved after a land-use public hearing have to come before the commissioners again.
For examples, Dary continued, if a developer wanted to provide for a different point of access to a site, or if the developer wanted to change the location of a building after the Development Concept Plan was approved, the developer would have to seek new approval from the county commissioners.
To clarify Dary’s explanation, Chair Maio asked whether the board members’ adoption that day of the Binding Development Concept Plan would leave staff powerless to enforce county regulations.
“It does not,” Dary replied. “[The developer] still has to be in conformance with other applicable county regulations.”
The Development Concept Plan seems to give the project team “ample room,” Dary added, to make the necessary adjustments.
After Dary concluded his comments, Brian Lichterman of Vision Planning & Design in Sarasota, who was representing the developer, also disputed facets of attorney Lincoln’s remarks.
The Enclave, Lichterman pointed out, will be “part of a very well planned area east of I-75 …”
The northeast quadrant of I-75 and Bee Ridge Road has been designated a Major Employment Center (MEC) since the mid-1990s, Lichterman added. The MEC has hotels, medical and professional services, and multi-family housing, he continued. The new development is intended to provide a workforce close to job opportunities in a compact area, Lichterman said.
The project is infill, he added, referring to development on vacant lands within what is called the county’s Urban Service Area Boundary. The latter is the portion of the county where infrastructure — such as roads and water and sewer lines — already have been put in place.
Referring to Janet Nikla’s concerns, Lichterman acknowledged that the Enclave would be next to low-density residential areas, “but we have provided significant buffers.” The team is in full agreement with staff, he added, about more extensive buffering in light of homeowners’ concerns.
After Chair Maio closed the hearing, Commissioner Nancy Detert made the motion to approve the project, with the new stipulations Dary had cited. Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded the motion.
Maio again noted Dary’s comments about the site and development process and staff’s ability to approve minor changes to the Binding Development Concept Plan.
Maio also pointed out that the commissioners “worked awful hard” on a variety of changes to county regulations in the effort to spur creation of affordable housing stock in the county. Yet, he added, “This commission was beaten up” over the approval of the half dwelling units, because of residential density concerns.
“Get the counts right,” he urged the Enclave project team. “One half plus one half is one. I don’t know how that gets missed.”
Then Commissioner Moran brought up his concerns about losing part of another MEC to more residential development. He alluded to an early June discussion that the board members conducted with Dave Bullock, then-interim CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County.
During a June 9 presentation, Bullock told the board members that the county lost more than 500 acres of MEC land from 2007 to 2018; the property ended up being used for residential construction.
“There is just a desperate need in this community,” Moran said, for MEC property. “Is this one of those opportunities that we’re missing? … I’m far from supporting this [project] at this point.”
Nonetheless, Moran continued, Terracap owns the land slated for the Enclave, and the company pays taxes on it.
Maio concurred that county regulations allow property owners to use land in Major Employment Centers for residential development. “We have not changed the rules,” he added, but “I believe we will change the rules.”
Still, Maio said, the commissioners have to be aware of the rights of property owners.
With no other discussion, Maio called for the vote, which was 4-1.