Benderson Development affiliate granted another delay in beginning construction of light warehouse project in Fruitville Initiative area

Company working on plans for roundabout at Coburn Road intersection

A graphic shows plans for the roundabout for the Coburn Road LLC project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Once again, the Sarasota County Commission has voted unanimously to give an affiliate of Benderson Development Co. extra time to begin construction of a 200,000-square-foot light industrial project at the intersection of Fruitville Road and Coburn Road.

This is the third delay approved for Coburn Road LLC since the County Commission voted 5-0 on Oct. 28, 2015 to reject a rezoning request for the site of the development, which is adjacent to the Celery Fields nature area.

As part of the project, Coburn Road has agreed to dedicate the southerly 28 feet of its property as a public park, an April 10 county staff memo pointed out. That is the area next to the Celery Fields. The amendment the commission agreed to last week also says, “Benderson shall convey a Permanent Linear Park Easement to the County no later than 30 days from completion of the Linear Park and County’s acceptance of the same.”

The latest delay came with approval of the commission’s April 10 Consent Agenda of routine business items. And, once again, the delay is related to Coburn Road’s plans to construct a roundabout at the entrance to its property on Fruitville Road. Most of the roundabout will be on land the company owns, according to an April 10 staff memo provided to the commissioners.

Additionally, “an associated stormwater treatment and attenuation pond is proposed to be constructed as an expansion of the existing stormwater pond currently serving the Sarasota County Fruitville Library,” the memo noted. The expansion of the pond “will occur primarily in the Coburn Road right-of-way and will not impact the parking lot serving the library,” the memo explained.

The contract amendment further calls for work on the light warehouse project to begin no later than 90 days from final approval of the construction plans, with completion by Aug. 30, 2019.

The latest amendment also deletes language in the original contract that said, “Benderson shall use its best commercially reasonable efforts to market and lease the Property to Class A Building tenants.”

According to the Building Owners and Managers Association International, Class A space refers to the “[m]ost prestigious buildings competing for premier office space users with rents above average for the area. Buildings have high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence.”

It characterizes Class B structures as follows: “Buildings competing for a wide range of users with rents in the average range for the area. … Building finishes are fair to good for the area and systems are adequate, but the building does not compete with Class A at the same price.”

Class C buildings, the organization adds, are those that compete for tenants that require “functional space at rents below the average for the area.”

A graphic included with the original contract shows the proposed layout of the seven blocks of the light warehouse project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That language remained in the first and second amendments to the contract.

BOMA International represents the owners and managers of all commercial property types, its website says. Its mission, the website adds, “is to advance a vibrant commercial real industry through advocacy, influence and knowledge.”

When the original contract for sale of the approximately 42 acres on Fruitville Road won commission approval — on Aug. 27, 2014 — it called for Benderson Development to begin construction no later than six months after closing on the property. The project was to be completed within 18 months of commencement of work. However, the contract allowed for a delay of up to six months if the closing occurred before the company received county site plan approval for the development and the company was “diligently pursuing Site Plan Approval in good faith …” The contract added, “In no event shall the Commencement Date occur later than twelve (12) months after Closing.”

The first contract amendment won County Commission approval on March 8, 2016. It called for build-out of three of the seven blocks of the planned project to be completed no later than Mach 20, 2019.

The second amendment extended the construction timeline so completion of those first three blocks was due by May 15, 2019, “or at the time Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, lying immediately north of the intersection of Fruitville Road,” was opened to traffic — whichever came first.

A years-long saga

The site of the Coburn Road project previously was determined to be surplus county land.

On Nov. 26, 2013, the County Commission heard presentations from Benderson Development and the firm Goodsports regarding proposals for the site. Afterward, on a 3-2 vote, the board directed then-Interim County Administrator Tom Harmer to negotiate a contract with Benderson. Then-Commissioner Nora Patterson and Commissioner Charles Hines cast the “No” votes, with then-Commissioners Carolyn Mason, Christine Robinson and Joe Barbetta voting “Yes.”

The board authorized execution of the contract with Benderson on Aug. 27, 2014, with Patterson and Hines again in the minority on a 3-2 vote.

A graphic shows the site of the proposed project, in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Benderson paid $3 million for the property.

During an October 2015 public hearing, Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, sought longer blocks than originally proposed for the project. He requested that they be six-tenths to seven-tenths of a mile in length, instead of four-tenths or five-tenths of a mile. The commissioners denied the request, agreeing with numerous members of the public who testified during the hearing that the redesigned project did not conform to the goals of the Fruitville Initiative, even though the project would be in the area designated for that initiative.

County Planner Steve Kirk explained that the Fruitville Initiative envisioned a main street with a mix of uses: primarily retail businesses on the ground floors of buildings, with upper-story offices and residences on the main street.

Although members of the public also complained about tractor-trailer traffic using the warehouses, Mathes told the board, “This is not going to be a truck stop.”

After the denial of the petition, the April 10 county staff memo noted, Coburn Road “was unable to meet the ‘Initial Development’ requirements as well as the construction timeline and requested an amendment to revise those terms.” “Initial Development” referred to the completion of three of the seven blocks Coburn Road planned on the 41.34-acre site.

That led to the first contract amendment.