Proposal could take advantage of attainable housing bonus that City Commission approved last year
Benderson Development Co., which has offices in University Park near the Sarasota/Manatee county line, has filed a preliminary application with the city of Sarasota, seeking to change the future land use designation of its former Southgate Mall property to Urban Mixed-Use, which would allow the company to construct residential units on the site.
Benderson’s goal, documents indicate, is to achieve a base residential density of 25 units per acre, with a maximum of 35 per acre when 15% of the units are priced as “attainable,” or workforce, housing.
An ordinance that the majority of the City Commission approved in October 2022 defined “attainable” housing as units priced for households earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), as determined annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The 2023 AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton AMI for a family of four is $98,700. In 2022, the figure was $90,400.
The mall site comprises slightly less than 34 acres, Benderson documents note.
As city Planning staff pointed out during the discussions about the 2022 changes to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, “Successful commercial shopping center locations could transition into future transit-oriented mixed-use sites.”
In fact, the slide that featured that statement showed a photo of the former Southgate Mall with one of its current tenants, Connors restaurant.
The Urban Mixed-Use Future Land Use classification that the City Commission approved allows for a residential base density of up to 25 units per acre, or up to 35 per acre on the North Tamiami Trail corridor. Yet, the ordinance also allows for the density to be “no greater than 3 times the maximum base density” if attainable housing is provided.
Additionally, the ordinance points out that among the existing and planned uses of that classification would be “multiple-family dwellings such as condominiums, apartments, and rowhouses.”
In a May 24 letter sent to the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk, Philip DiMaria, an urban planner and project manager with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, wrote that Benderson is seeking “an opportunity to present [a] privately initiated Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment and Zoning Text Amendments for the property known as the Crossings at Siesta Key,” which he added is known colloquially as Southgate Mall.
In May 2022, a Benderson affiliate paid $25.1 million for the most of the mall property located at 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, as The Sarasota News Leader has reported. That affiliate is SWFL Retail Associates LLC. In 2014, a different Benderson affiliate, Siesta Retail LLC, bought the portion of the mall site that formerly housed the Dillard’s store.
As DiMaria pointed out in his letter, the property is east of South Tamiami Trail, north of Bee Ridge Road, west of South School Avenue, and south of Siesta Drive.
DiMaria further noted that when the City Commission last year approved attainable housing ordinances that amended the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the Future Land Use Map designated properties along South Tamiami Trail from Hillview Street to the southern city limits, with the exception of the mall site, as having the Urban Mixed-Use classification.
“Though implementing zones for the Urban Mixed-Use Future Land Use Classification will be determined and identified by subsequent Zoning Text Amendments,” DiMaria continued, the Urban Mixed-Use category has the following stated purposes and intents:
- 1. “Encourage mixed-use development along commercial corridors and commercial centers. Mixed-use development encourages both residential and/or non-residential projects and will further activate these areas, creating spaces where people can live close to transit options, employment center, retail, and neighborhood services.
- 2. “Incentivize attainable housing along commercial corridors as well as in existing Downtown Bayfront, Downtown Core, and Urban Edge Future Land use classifications and throughout the city by providing density bonuses in exchange for attainable housing.”
DiMaria added that Benderson has no immediate plans for redeveloping the mall site.
More details about the proposed zoning changes
The company is cognizant of the fact that the city’s Metropolitan Regional No. 9 (MR9) land use category “prohibits the City’s vision of Mixed-use Development for its corridors, and prohibits any and all housing opportunities,” DiMaria pointed out.
That MR9 classification involves only parcels zoned Commercial Shopping Center, as shown in the city’s Zoning Code, and that is the zoning of the former Southgate Mall site.
Moreover, DiMaria wrote, that MR9 land use “is inconsistent” with Section 163.3177 of the Florida Statutes, which requires that “the Future Land Use element [of a Comprehensive Plan discourage] the proliferation of urban sprawl.” Further, he noted that that land use is inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan goals, objectives and action strategies, “as well as New Urbanist best practices.”
As the American Planning Association explains, “New Urbanism is a time-tested planning practice that incorporates interrelated patterns of land use, transportation, and urban form to create communities that foster the most desirable characteristics of human habitation: neighborliness, environmental sustainability, economic efficiency and prosperity, historic preservation, participation in civic processes, and human health.”
Then DiMaria explained, “The proposed Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment would amend the Existing and Planned Primary Uses for MR9 to permit uses other than a regional shopping center and to amend the General Characteristics to permit a base density” of 25 dwelling units per acre, with the option to increase that to 35 units per acre, “provided 15% of the units over the base density” are priced as attainable housing.
Further, DiMaria wrote, the proposed zoning text amendments would modify the Commercial Shopping Center (CSC) zoning district “to establish flexible development standards that implement the revised MR9 Category. This may include, but is not limited to, the following standards,” he added:
- Inclusion of language that the zoning text amendments would apply only to areas where the Future Land Use designation is MR9.
- “Permit residential density at a base density” and provide attainable housing units when the densities exceed the base.
- “Provide shared parking standards.
- “Establish architectural design guidelines.
- “Provide street tree guidelines.
- “Establish maximum block lengths and perimeters.”
DiMaria added, “We believe that these amendments will reconcile a major discontinuity in the City’s blueprint for development … and harmonize the future development pattern of South Tamiami Trail.”
Another document that the News Leader received through a public records request says the preliminary application will be on the agenda for the June 21 city Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting. The DRC group comprises representatives of city departments and divisions that deal with land-use issues. The individuals work with applicants to help them refine proposals to comply with all relevant city policies and regulations.
The DRC meetings are open to the public, though members of the public are not allowed to offer comments; they may observe the proceedings only.
A News Leader check of the June 21 agenda found that the Southgate Mall item is No. 7 on the list of preliminary applications for the current cycle of Comprehensive Plan amendments.
The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the City Commission Chambers of City Hall, which is located at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota.