City planner encourages Benderson Development to lower base residential density in proposal involving former Southgate Mall

Community workshop on company’s plans scheduled for Aug. 1 at Selby Library

On June 21, when the City of Sarasota’s Development Review Committee (DRC) addressed a Benderson Development Co. proposal regarding the potential of adding dwelling units to the site of what continues to be referenced by residents as “Southgate Mall,” very few comments resulted, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

The DRC comprises city staff members who deal with land-use applications. They advise applicants on steps to take to ensure proposals comply with all of the relevant city regulations and policies.

One comment, provided by Senior Planner Briana Dobbs, encouraged the Benderson team to lower the base residential density it is considering to a level below 25 units per acre, “to achieve more attainable housing.”

In the preliminary Benderson application, filed with city staff in late May, Philip DiMaria, an urban planner and project manager with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, explained that Benderson is seeking to change the future land use designation of its former Southgate Mall property to Urban Mixed-Use, which would allow for construction of residential units on the property.

Benderson’s goal, the preliminary application indicated, 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 2022defined “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 ordinance that the City Commission approved in October 2022 to create the Urban Mixed-Use land classification called for a residential base density of up to 25 units per acre, except on North Tamiami Trail, where the figure would be 35 units per acres. That ordinance also pointed out that additional residential density “may be allowed when attainable housing is provided and the total density shall be no greater than 3 times the maximum base density of this land use classification …”

Another portion of that Comprehensive Plan amendment said, “The City has a long-term goal for achieving a 25% residential to 75% non-residential percentage mix of distribution of land uses within this [Urban Mixed-Use] classification.”

Senior Planner Dobbs also pointed out in her comments for the June 21 DRC meeting that a community workshop is required of any applicant requesting a Comprehensive Plan amendment. City regulations require the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk to notify, by mail, “all property owners within 500 feet of the subject site of the proposed amendment,” she added. Those notices have to go out at least 15 days prior to the date of the workshop. Moreover, the regulations note, “The Director of Neighborhood and Development Services reserves the right to expand the notification boundary as deemed necessary. In addition,” the regulations say, “all affected neighborhood associations, who are registered with the City Auditor and Clerk, shall be notified.”

Another city staffer, Daniel Ohrenstein, the assistant city engineer, wrote that Benderson should submit a “Development Application Form requesting a Traffic Concurrency Initial Review at a cost of $548.00. This initial review would determine if the PM peak hour vehicular trips that will be generated by proposed development will have a de minimis impact to the roadways serving the site or if a traffic study will be required. If a traffic study is required, the applicant will need to enter into a contract with the City whereby one of the City’s transportation engineering consultants will perform the study at the sole expense of the applicant. Additionally,” Ohrenstein pointed out, “administrative costs associated with a traffic study would be charged by the City.”

Details of the comprehensive plan amendment process

Yet another DRC comment — provided by David Smith, manager of the Long-Range Planning Division — provided details about how to find the city’s guidelines for seeking amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which actually is referred to as the “City Plan.” The link he included had information, as well, about the annual schedule staff employs in considering City Plan amendments.

Further, Smith indicated that city staff expected Benderson’s formal application for the amendment to be submitted to city staff by Aug. 23. That is the date on the schedule to which Smith had referred.

That schedule also calls for the community workshop to be held no later than the second Wednesday in August, which would be Aug. 9.

In response to a News Leader inquiry this week, Smith wrote in a July 6 email, “The next step in the process is for [Benderson] to hold a required community workshop. Currently, that workshop is scheduled to be held on August 1 at 5:30 PM at the Selby Public Library. Once the workshop is completed, the next step will be for the applicant to file a development application seeking to amend the comprehensive plan. The deadline for submittal is August 23. If a comprehensive plan amendment application is submitted, it will be reviewed for sufficiency. Upon a finding that the application is sufficient, a staff report will be prepared and public hearings will be scheduled, first for the Planning Board which makes a recommendation to the City Commission, and second for the City Commission, [which] will which make a decision on the application.”

He added, “Public hearings would be scheduled to be held after the beginning of 2024.”

Further, Smith explained, “In order for the plan amendment application to be approved, a supermajority vote of the City Commission approving the amendment is required.”

A supermajority would be four of the five commissioners.

“The applicant will also need to file a development application seeking to rezone the property,” Smith continued. “I am not sure if that will be filed simultaneously with the comprehensive plan amendment. I believe [representatives of Benderson] will discuss this at the workshop. If a rezone application is filed,” Smith pointed out, “it will be processed by the Development Services Department and processed in conjunction with the plan amendment processing.” 

1 thought on “City planner encourages Benderson Development to lower base residential density in proposal involving former Southgate Mall”

  1. the concept of “attainable” is a joke! With the median income at over $98,000, defining attainable as 120% of that, completely eliminates working families from these apartments

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