Benderson Development plans roundabout at entrance to project next to county’s Celery Fields

County Commission agrees to further delays in timelines for build-out of first three blocks and a linear park

A graphic shows the layout of the seven blocks for the Benderson/Coburn Road LLC project just south of Fruitville Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

For the second time in 16 months, the Sarasota County Commission has approved a delay in the date for the start of construction of projects Benderson Development Co. plans next to the Celery Fields, at the intersection of Fruitville Road and Coburn Road in the eastern part of the county.

The reason, a staff memo explains, is the firm’s decision to build a roundabout at the entrance to its property.

No commissioner offered a comment on the latest changes before the board gave unanimous approval to the new timelines. The second amendment to the original contract between a subsidiary of Benderson and the county was listed along with 60 others on the July 11 Consent Agenda of routine business items. The July 11 meeting was the next-to-last regular session for the board before it began its five-week summer break.

Officially, the commission approved a delay from Sept. 20 of this year until Nov. 15 for the start of construction of a light industrial and mixed-use project Benderson first proposed in late November 2013. The earlier date was included in a March 8, 2016 contract amendment that the County Commission also approved unanimously.

Additionally, as stipulated in the original contract, the firm is to create a linear park separating the development from the Celery Fields to the south. The amendment approved on July 11 also pushed back the beginning of the construction of the park from Sept. 20, 2016 to July 15 of this year, with completion due by July 15, 2018.

The new timeline calls for the first phase of the light industrial project to be completed no later than May 15, 2019, instead of March 20, 2019. The original contract notes that that initial build-out entails three of seven blocks.

The staff memo says the roundabout would be just south of the Fruitville Road intersection, at the entrance to the 41.34-acre site. The county sold the property to Benderson for $3 million, after the commission and the firm agreed to terms detailed in an Aug. 27, 2014 contract.

An aerial map shows further details of the location of the project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Construction and opening of this roundabout concurrent with the opening of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard on the north side of Fruitville Road is optimal,” says the July 11 memo from Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Division. “Due to timeframes related to design, permitting, transportation analyses, and plan review,” Kurant continues in the memo, the Benderson subsidiary — Coburn Road LLC — “has requested to extend the commencement and completion dates of the linear park and the construction of the cross access points and public parking.”

When the county and Coburn Road executed the original contract, county records show, Coburn Road was to begin construction of 200,000 square feet “of light industrial and supporting development” within six months, but the contract allowed for an additional six-month period “if Benderson was diligently pursuing Site Plan approval,” the second amendment to the contract says.

Then on Oct. 28, 2015, the County Commission unanimously rejected a rezoning request by Benderson staff in an effort to modify the design for the site. Todd Mathes, the firm’s director of development, explained during the public hearing that Benderson wanted to adjust the street grid to create bigger blocks. He also pointed out that a number of the buildings would serve as warehouses, but some of them would be expected to have retail storefronts.

Mathes said the firm wanted to create blocks that would be six-tenths or seven-tenths of a mile in length, instead of four-tenths or five-tenths of a mile. The main north-south road would connect with Coburn Road, he said, and the east-west connector would border the Celery Fields.

Todd Mathes speaks to a colleague during the Jan. 25 County Commission meeting. File photo

Agreeing with numerous members of the public who testified during the hearing, the commissioners said the redesigned project did not conform to the goals of the Fruitville Initiative, although the project would be in the area designated for the 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.”

Mathes maintained that the county’s Future Land Use regulations for the site entitled Benderson to 516,000 square feet of space with a mix of industrial, office and retail uses, along with 300 dwelling units. The second amendment to the contract — which David H. Baldauf, manager of Coburn Road, signed on May 23 — says Benderson “may develop 300 multi-family units, 400,000 square feet of Office, 57,500 square feet of mixed use retail, 8,500 square [feet] of stand-alone retail, and 50,000 square feet of Industrial [space] .…”