Benderson Development wins unanimous County Commission approval to switch out retail space for office space within University Town Center

Build-out of entire 281 acres to be completed by end of 2030

An aerial graphic shows the Mall at University Town Center (right) and other portions of the development just south of University Parkway. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With no comment on Aug. 28, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved a request that will allow Benderson Development Co. to incorporate more office space, in lieu of retail options, in its build-out of University Town Center in the area of University Parkway.

Additionally, the completion of that build-out will be delayed from 2020 to Dec. 31, 2030.

The original concept won board approval on July 27, 1993, staff documents showed.

The county’s Planning Commission voted unanimously on July 11 to recommend that the County Commission approve the amendment drawn up to memorialize the latest changes.

During a presentation at the Planning Commission session, Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, explained that changes in the retail market led the company to refine its plans as it continues to work on its 281-acre site.

“Five, 10 years ago, we could have named dozens of ‘junior boxes’ and ‘large boxes’ that would have loved to open new stores [in UTC], but that’s not the reality today,” Mathes said, referring to major retail chains.

County Planner Vivian Roe put it a bit differently the same evening: “The retail market is kind of flat-lining …”

Conversely, Mathes added, “Our office market … vacancies are very low.”

Roe emphasized that no increase in traffic would be allowed in conjunction with the changes in the plans. The total number of trips cannot be higher than 1,811 during the peak afternoon/evening drive time; 1,370 is the net new number allowed for peak afternoon/evening trips for Phase I. The corresponding figures for Phases IIA and IIB are 7,344 peak afternoon/evening trips and 3,885 net new trips during the same period of day.

This is the master development plan for University Town Center, included in the agenda material for the County Commission’s Aug. 28 meeting. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Phase I, which is to be completed by Dec. 31, 2030, “includes up to 634,000 gross square feet of retail uses on approximately 147.3 acres,” with a maximum of 3,169 parking spaces, the ordinance says.

Phases IIA and IIB also have a build-out date of Dec. 31, 2030, the ordinance continues. “Phase IIA includes up to 1,046,000 gross square feet of retail uses, 220,000 gross square feet of office uses, 500 hotel rooms, and 1,750 multi-family dwelling units,” the ordinance adds. “Phase IIB includes up to 600,000 gross square feet of retail uses and 100,000 gross square feet of office uses.”

The previous amendment governing the UTC development — adopted by the County Commission on July 10, 2007 — eliminated light industrial uses in Phase II, reduced the office uses by 20,982 square feet, and increased the retail uses by 830,902 square feet. It also raised the allowable number of multi-family dwelling units to 1,750, according to the staff report provided to the commission in advance of the meeting this week.

The ordinance the County Commission approved on Aug. 28 also notes that the Benderson property is “located in the southwest quadrant of the I-75/University Parkway interchange in Sarasota County …”

With the County Commission running behind schedule in addressing items on its Aug. 28 agenda, Chair Charles Hines was hurrying up his colleagues so they could meet with a student group during the lunch break. The Benderson requests were included on that agenda as a “Presentation Upon Request.” When Hines asked whether any board member wanted a presentation, no one responded.

Hines also reported that no one had signed up to speak during the public hearing.

Commissioner Alan Maio then made the motion to approve the latest changes in the plans for University Town Center.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded the motion.

This graphic shows the transportation matrix for University Town Center. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Material provided to the board members in advance of the meeting said no correspondence had come in on the proposed UTC ordinance amendment. No staff member on Aug. 28 indicated a change in that status.

The backup agenda material also included summaries of two Neighborhood Workshops Benderson conducted as it prepared for the public hearings, as required by county regulations. The first was held on April 12, 2018; the second, on June 19.

Fourteen people attended the session last year, the summary of that workshop noted.

During the 2018 discussion, Mathes of Benderson Development explained that the company was seeking to extend the UTC build-out period from 2020 to 2030. The company also wanted “to provide maximum flexibility for maximum retail or office development,” the document added.

Only six people showed up at the June 19 meeting, the summary of that discussion pointed out.

Many questions during both Neighborhood Workshops focused on issues unrelated to Benderson’s proposed changes to the UTC ordinance, as indicated by the summaries. Planner Roe mentioned that fact to the Planning Commission in July.