Extra 0.78 acres would be used for open space, workshop leaders tell participants
In July 2020, the director of development for Benderson Development Co., which is based in University Park, submitted a preliminary application to the Sarasota County Planning Division, proposing an increase in residential density for the Siesta Promenade project.
Todd Mathes noted that a subsidiary of the company had purchased two single-family homes in Pine Shores Estates that bordered the northwestern quadrant of the approximately 24-acre site where the mixed-use development is planned.
As a result, Mathes wrote in the preliminary application, “[W]e kindly request our total allowance of Residential Units be increased by 16 units. Previously approved Residential Units totaled 479 Units,” he continued. Benderson wanted formal County Commission agreement to increase that figure to 495. The request, he explained, was based on the addition to the Siesta Promenade site plan of the 0.78 acres where the single-family homes stand.
On Dec. 12, 2018, the County Commission split votes in approving Siesta Promenade in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. The Binding Development Concept Plan called for 414 apartments/condominiums in a series of residential structures, plus 133,000 square feet of retail space, 7,000 square feet of office space and a 130-room hotel. The latter’s rooms would count as 65 dwelling units, county staff materials noted, as each hotel room without a kitchen is considered half a unit.
Slightly more than a year later — on July 29 — representatives of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm conducted a county-required Neighborhood Workshop on a different proposal than the one submitted in 2020. Philip DiMaria, planning project manager for Kimley-Horn, stressed on multiple occasions that evening that Benderson’s subsidiary, Siesta 41 Associates LLP — the official developer of Siesta Promenade — no longer was interested in increasing the number of residential units.
“There are no [proposed] amendments to increase densities or intensities on the project site” or to modify the development plans the County Commission approved, or the 16 stipulations that were part of those plans, DiMaria told the approximately 10 workshop participants.
“In fact,” he continued, by adding the two new parcels to the site plan, “This essentially decreased the development intensity and density.” The extra lots will allow for “additional open space for the overall project development,” DiMaria said.
(This week, The Sarasota News Leader asked Mathes, the director of development, for comments about the change in stance on the use of the extra acreage. In an Aug. 17 email, Mathes wrote, “[W]e are not looking to add any density to the project just the land. Everything else will be the same.”)
During the workshop, Pine Shores resident Sura Kochman asked whether the extra space would make it possible for the site plan to be modified so the apartment/condominium buildings closest to the homes on Glencoe Avenue could be lowered from three stories to two. (Kochman led a years-long fight against the intensity of the design of Siesta Promenade adjacent to her neighborhood.)
Logically, DiMaria explained, with the addition of the 0.78 acres, the site plan would have more open space. He added that he could not speak directly to Kochman’s question. “We’re still analyzing the site.”
However, DiMaria continued, “I can say that there would not be any additional encroachment of height anticipated along Glencoe Avenue.” He reminded Kochman that the Binding Development Concept Plan the county commissioners approved called for extra setback space between Siesta Promenade and the Pine Shores homes “along that corridor,” referring to Glencoe.
“Obviously, you’re not going to build anything higher,” Kochman responded. “That would really not make much sense.”
Then she added that she would hope to see more green space in the site plans. Moreover, Kochman continued, with the plans calling for a 10-foot-wide sidewalk along Glencoe, she hoped that Benderson would make every effort to preserve “some really old trees along Glencoe and along Crestwood [Avenue]. Beautiful old trees.”
She expressed optimism that Benderson would not clear-cut that area.
“Those trees add a lot of value to the property,” DiMaria told her. “We will be sure to relay that to the development team.”
During a follow-up telephone interview with the News Leader on Aug. 16, Kochman said she was “pleasantly surprised — shocked” that Benderson had given up on the idea of adding the 16 extra residential units to Siesta Promenade, as detailed in the July 2020 document provided to county staff. “They certainly would be entitled to [the increase],” she added of the company.
And even though DiMaria did not indicate the potential of lowered height for the new residential structures next to Pine Shores homes, Kochman continued, she remains hopeful that that redesign might take place.
During the Dec. 12, 2018 public hearing on Siesta Promenade, then-County Commissioner Charles Hines questioned Mathes of Benderson Development about the height of structures in the project, because the homes bordering the site contain one story.
Another question that arose during the July 29 Neighborhood Workshop pertained to whether the owners of the two houses Siesta 41 Associates acquired offered them to the company or whether Siesta 41 went to the owners, seeking to purchase the properties.
“I cannot speak to who approached whom,” DiMaria told that workshop participant. “The assumption is that it leads to just more sensible development,” he added.
Early on during the session, which was conducted via Zoom, DiMaria noted that Siesta 41 Associates was unable to acquire the two parcels prior to the 2018 public hearings on the plans for Siesta Promenade.
As the News Leader has reported, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that, on Aug. 14, 2019, Siesta 41 Associates paid $825,000 for the parcel at 6331 Glencoe Ave. and the same amount for the adjoining property, located at 6339 Glencoe Ave. This year, the Property Appraiser’s Office says the market value of the parcel at 6331 Glencoe is $240,200; for 6339 Glencoe, the market value is $210,400.
During the July 29 workshop, Kochman also sought clarification that no retail uses would be located on the two parcels. She said she hoped that Benderson would not consider creating a coffee shop, for example, on one of the new pieces of property.
“Residential facing residential is absolutely the intent,” DiMaria, responded, except in regard to the portion of the site along Stickney Point Road.
Another participant in the workshop, Kirk Winters, who lives in the Castel Del Mare condominium complex on Stickney Point Road, voiced concerns about the potential of Siesta Promenade residents and the patrons of the development’s commercial structures to exacerbate the traffic flow in the vicinity of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
“During the winter,” he pointed out, “it takes two or three red lights to get through the intersection of Stickney and Tamiami [Trail].”
Christopher Hatton, a registered professional traffic engineer who is a principal of Kimley-Horn, responded that he worked with another member of the consulting firm staff, Kelly Fearon, to conduct the traffic analysis for Siesta Promenade. “I think it [took] over three years” to complete that, Hatton added. “There’s quite a lot of detailed work [that went into the study],” he said.
Both Sarasota County’s Transportation Planning Division staff and representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) signed off on the results, Hatton told Winters.
Then Winters asked what would be done to mitigate the traffic congestion in that area. During the peak of tourist season, he continued, “It’s a little dangerous,” as drivers often pull into the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, prompting other motorists to honk their horns at them.
“Is there a plan based on [the traffic] analysis that’s going to make the current situation not worse?” Winters asked.
Hatton then explained that a traffic signal has been planned at the intersection of Avenue B and C and Stickney Point Road. (That is the focus of litigation filed against FDOT by Siesta resident James P. Wallace, who has argued that the light will create more severe congestion on Stickney Point Road.)
Other modifications have been planned, Hatton continued on July 29, to improve the situation. Moreover, Hatton noted, the Sarasota County Commission agreed in 2016 to implement the use of mobility fees for new developments, Siesta 41 Associates will be making a payment that will assist the county with measures to ease the traffic congestion.
Traffic calming devices also are planned in Pine Shores Estates, Hatton said, referring to a Neighborhood Workshop he, DiMaria and Fearon conducted earlier that week.
Pine Shores residents have expressed worries that, after Siesta Promenade has been constructed, even more drivers will use the neighborhood streets to try to get around the traffic congestion on Stickney Point Road.
In response to a July 29 remark about the planned traffic-calming initiatives, Kochman of Pine Shores asked for clarification about whether 67% of all the residents of Pine Shores would have to vote in favor of the traffic calming steps for those to be implemented.
Fearon replied that it is her understanding that Kimley-Horn would need only 67% of all the respondents to vote “Yes” on a mailer the firm will send out to residents.
Kochman also sought clarification that no traffic calming measures would be implemented if an insufficient number of people vote for them. “It’s either this way or the highway?” as Kochman put it, referring to the traffic calming plans outlined during that earlier workshop.
That is correct, Hatton told her. “We have come up with what we think is best,” and county staff has reviewed the proposals, he added.
Then Kochman pointed out, “We have a very apathetic public out there in general.” Because residents often think their neighbors will vote on something, she stressed, they fail to take action themselves. “That was my concern.”
She also asked when the mailers about the traffic-calming steps would be sent to Pine Shores property owners. “It’s still summertime,” she explained, which means people are out of town and their mail is being held for their return.
“It’s probably at least a month, if not more,” before the mailer will be sent to the residents, Hatton told her.
Fearon concurred, as she said the Kimley-Horn staff would have to ensure that all the affected properties have been identified, so the owners will receive the ballots about the traffic-calming steps.
“I would say at least September,” Hatton added, before the mailers go out.
“September would be better,” Kochman replied.
During the Aug. 16 interview with the News Leader, Kochman stressed the need for property owners in her neighborhood to respond to those mailers. “It’s an all-or-nothing proposition,” she said of the traffic-calming proposals. “If [they are] not approved, nothing will be done in the neighborhood at all …”