City Commission agrees to 180-day extension of agreement with Texas firm so further environmental analysis can be pursued on Marian Anderson Place Brownfield site

UrbanAmerica still very interested in project on the property, city’s general manager of economic development says

An aerial graphic view shows the Marian Anderson Place outlined in red. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Because of the need for further soil studies on the Marian Anderson Place property, the City Commission this week voted unanimously to approve a 180-day extension of a contract with a Texas company that has proposed development on the former Brownfield site.

With the parcel having been used for a landfill from the 1940s through 1960, Steve Stancel, general manager of economic development for the city, explained to the commission on Dec. 3 that the potential exists that layers of solid waste might have to be removed and new soil placed on the property before any construction could begin.

However, as part of a motion made by Commissioner Willie Shaw, city staff will hire a geotechnical firm to undertake more studies to determine what the appropriate next steps should be.

Removing the contaminated soil from the site, disposing of it and bringing in fresh soil would cost between $7.4 million and $8.5 million, Stancel said. The estimate for the new study would be slightly more than $40,000, he added. That money will come out of a fund already established by the city for remedial work on the site.

Stancel also pointed out that alternatives to soil removal do exist. For example, the soil on site could be compressed to ensure any construction on it would not settle. “They take a crane and they literally drop a heavy weight [on the area],” Stancel described that option.

Steve Stancel addresses the City Commission on Dec. 3. News Leader photo

When Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch asked whether such “dynamic compacting” had been pursued in other projects in the area, Stancel replied that he was not certain about that, but he would undertake some research and let her know.

Another possibility is the use of pilings. He has heard from geotechnical consultants, Stancel told the board, that contaminated soil could be stored under buildings if pilings were used.

On May 7, the City Commission approved an agreement with UrbanAmerica LLC — a minority-controlled real estate investment firm headquartered in Arlington, Texas — to undertake a feasibility study for development of the Marian Anderson Place property. The company’s initial plan called for about 4 acres of commercial, retail and office space; approximately 7.5 acres for a vocational-technical school and industrial park, with the latter described as “smart business incubator areas”; and about 1.5 acres of passive recreational space, according to a city staff memo provided to the board before that meeting.

The vision is for the project to be known as “Destination Marian Anderson Place,” Stancel noted at the time.

The total amount of property at Marian Anderson Place is 13.19 acres. The parcel is about 300 feet west of U.S. 301 and about 1 mile east of U.S. 41.

UrbanAmerica has agreed to reimburse the city for the cost of the new soil studies, Stancel said on Dec. 3, if the firm and the city ultimately agree to the company’s purchase of the property. “[It] is very interested in working with the city [to resolve the issues].”

A rendering shows UrbanAmerica’s plans for a vocational-technical training facility and industrial space on the Marian Anderson Place site. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Keith Dubose of the Matthews Eastmoore law firm in Sarasota, acting as a representative of UrbanAmerica, was in the audience that night, Stancel noted.

A graphic on the UrbanAmerica website shows locations of its projects. Image from the website

Digging into the details

During his presentation, Stancel explained that a layer of natural organic soil is about 12 to 24 inches deep “over the entire parcel.” However, beneath that, a layer of solid waste is an average of 2 to 6 feet deep; in some places, the depth is as great as 12 feet.

If UrbanAmerica were to use traditional slab-on-grade construction on the site, he continued, that “likely would result in unacceptable settlement over the life of the structure.”

In the worst-case scenario, Stancel said, 80% of the soil would have to be excavated and disposed of off-site to allow construction to proceed without concerns regarding settling.

In 2005, he pointed out, when Wal-Mart was interested in building a store on the Marian Anderson Place property, its analysis produced an estimate of $7.65 million to remove the soil and dispose of it elsewhere. In 2006, Stancel added, the City Commission agreed to pay for that work. However, Wal-Mart ended up backing out of the project.

In 2011, he continued, the city hired a firm to look at various scenarios for construction on the property. The resulting report estimated an expense of $3.5 million to $6.5 million for dealing with the soil issues.

UrbanAmerica hired the geotechnical consulting firm Cardno of Clearwater to analyze the land as part of UrbanAmerica’s feasibility study, according to documents provided to the commission. Cardno produced a proposal, dated Sept. 24, calling for more studies at a total expense of $40,450.

Cardno provided this information about the background of Marian Anderson Place and UrbanAmerica’s construction plans in an Oct. 10 letter to a Sarasota attorney representing UrbanAmerica. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“I believe the most prudent thing,” Stancel told the board on Dec. 3, is to extend the contract with UrbanAmerica for another 180 days.

However, Stancel proposed the use of a firm already under contract with the city for work on geotechnical projects, instead of allowing Cardno to handle the additional analysis. He said he wanted city staff to collaborate with a firm on its own to determine the appropriate scope of work. “We have 30 years of study on the site; we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Moreover, Stancel said, staff wants to work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to insure its staff is comfortable with whatever steps the city takes.

In December 2014, Stancel told the board, FDEP issued the city a Site Rehabilitation Completion Order, releasing the city from further remediation of Marian Anderson Place. The property was designated a Brownfield in 2004, he said. One major concern was that arsenic in the groundwater would migrate from the site to the aquifer. That issue was resolved, he pointed out, as evidenced by FDEP’s order.

Stancel also said he did not believe the full 180 days of the contract extension would be necessary to complete the new analysis.

“There’s been so many test pits done on this site through 30 years,” he added. “We may not need to do any new test pits, but then again, we may need to do more.”

He told the commissioners, “I think we probably could tweak where the buildings go or how they’re situated.”

These are issues Cardno suggests need to be addressed on the Marian Anderson Place property. mage courtesy City of Sarasota

When Commissioner Hagen Brody asked whether the city would need to do more remediation involving other contaminants on the property, Stancel said, “There will have to be some work done …” Once someone starts digging into the soil, Stancel indicated, the possibility exists that such a response will be necessary. The new analysis, Stancel pointed out, should provide details about the best approach to developing the land.

Brody also suggested city staff members work with City Attorney Robert Fournier “to protect ourselves from liability” if construction does take place on the site. Then, Brody continued, “if some crack appears, we’re not on the other side of the lawsuit.”

Stancel concurred with that.

After Commissioner Shaw made his motion to approve the 180-day contract extension and the new study, Vice Mayor Ahearn-Koch seconded it, and the ensuing vote was 5-0 in favor of it.