Third northbound left-turn lane from Stickney Point Road onto U.S. 41 part of January discussions among FDOT and Benderson’s consulting firm representatives
Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department staff has notified Benderson Development Co. that the firm still has not complied with all requirements for the proposed Siesta Promenade development.
The latest insufficiencies staff noted pertain to Benderson’s request for a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation for the project planned on an approximately 24-acre site at the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
In a separate letter dated April 17, Todd Dary, acting manager of the Planning and Development Services Department, wrote that the firm’s rezoning application for the project was complete.
The Sarasota News Leader learned this week that staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has not signed off on the most recent materials Benderson submitted to the county regarding traffic analyses for Siesta Promenade.
As Benderson representatives and county planning staff have exchanged materials and communications since August 2016, FDOT representatives have expressed concerns about the potential for traffic backing up through the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, because Benderson has proposed a new traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.
The last documents the consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates delivered to the county — in late March — regarding traffic studies for Benderson still called for the new traffic light. The March report added that Kimley-Horn had updated its traffic analyses to reflect comments from FDOT, as well as county staff.
However, the FDOT emails the News Leaderhas obtained say that department staff advised Kimley-Horn in late January that the firm’s analysis “will need to include more details about eastbound to northbound left-turn movements at the Avenue B and C intersection. FDOT also requested that Kimley-Horn “review hourly traffic volumes provided in the … analysis for the proposed signal at the project entrance/Ave B & C intersection.” The comments note that the median opening at Glencoe Avenue “will be closed to prevent left turn movements,” as Kimley-Horn has indicated in the materials provided to the county.
Moreover, the minutes from the Jan. 24 meeting between FDOT and Kimley-Horn representatives reflect discussion about a potential third, northbound left-turn lane from Stickney Point Road onto U.S. 41. The minutes say, “The minimum requirement is 11 foot lanes. If the triple northbound lefts went down to 10 foot lanes, a Design Variation will have to be approved …FDOT staff advised [that] the traffic separator could be reduced from 4 [feet] to a 2 foot traffic separator.”
In an April 24 email, Nathan Kautz, a traffic services engineer with FDOT’s District One office in Bartow, pointed out that FDOT still was evaluating responses from Kimley-Horn following the Jan. 24 meeting. FDOT had not sent any comments to Sarasota County Transportation Planning Division staff, Kautz added, since Kimley-Horn submitted the last material to the county in March.
In a Feb. 1 letter to Mathes regarding Benderson’s rezoning application for the Siesta Promenade property — responding to materials Benderson submitted to the county in late December 2017 — then-county Planner Dary noted that the Transportation Planning Division staff had deemed the materials incomplete. He included a similar comment in a separate Feb. 1 letter to Mathes regarding the firm’s rezoning application.
“Please provide an updated traffic analysis which addresses all FDOT and Sarasota County comments as discussed in the January 24, 2018 meeting,” Dary wrote in the rezoning letter.
In his April 17 letter to Mathes regarding the rezoning application, Dary made no reference to the Transportation Planning Division. He wrote only that Benderson’s March responses to Planning Services and Zoning division remarks in the Feb. 1 letter had been deemed sufficient.
The first paragraph of the April 17 rezoning letter says, “Sarasota County finds this application COMPLETE [emphasis in the letter].”
Dary added only two comments — one from himself and one from Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson. They asked for minor clarifications in labeling on the documents Benderson submitted in March.
No mention was made of transportation planning issues in Dary’s April 17 CAP letter, either.
After the News Leader inquired on April 26 about the lack of final responses from FDOT, Dary replied in an email: “Sarasota County is waiting on comments from FDOT and will hold off start of formal review of the CAP and Rezone Petition until they are received.”
The CAP petition insufficiencies
In the April 17 letter to Todd Mathes about the Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation for the mixed-use project, Dary pointed out that, in reviewing the March materials Mathes submitted, county staff members found the application to be insufficient.
“Please schedule a meeting with Planning Services to review comments,” Dary added.
Among the issues that letter cited is the fact that the March 27 material from Benderson “does not address the requirements and standards for the affordable housing plan.”
Furthermore, the letter said Benderson must submit a street vacation application for review in regard to buffers for Crestwood Avenue. Dary had made note of that in response to previous materials Mathes had submitted to county staff. In June 2017, Dary wrote Mathes, “[T]he development concept plan includes portions of public streets including Brentwood Avenue, Sunset Boulevard Street, and Crestwood Avenue. A plan is required that clearly indicates what portion of these rights-of-way are intended to be vacated and how alternative public access is to be provided.”
Mathes responded in late December 2017. Dary then referenced, in a Feb. 1 reply to Mathes, Benderson’s plan to realign Crestwood Avenue and its proposal for the County Commission “vacation of existing public streets” to accommodate the firm’s traffic plans. Dary wrote that “no public hearing can be scheduled [on rezoning the Siesta Promenade property] until street vacation has been processed and is scheduled before the Board of County Commission for authorization to proceed with vacation.”
As for the affordable housing issue: On Jan. 25, 2017, before the County Commission voted 4-1 to allow Benderson Development to pursue a CAP process for the Siesta Promenade project, staff provided a comprehensive scope of work that would be necessary for the firm to undertake in complying with CAP guidelines.
The CAP process allows a development to exceed the maximum number of dwelling units allowed on a site zoned Commercial General. Instead of 13, the CAP designation would enable Benderson to construct up to 25 units per acre.
In response to county citations last year regarding insufficiencies in materials Mathes had submitted, Mathes wrote in his Dec. 28 2017 letter to Dary that the “total requested density is less than 18 [dwelling units per acre].” However, in his March 27 letter to Dary, Mathes amended that, noting that the maximum total equivalent dwelling units would be 479, with those to include 130 hotel rooms. Each of the latter equates to half a residential dwelling unit, Mathes added. Thus, the density for Siesta Promenade would be about 20.9 dwelling units per acre, Mathes’ March 27 material says.
The Jan. 25 list of CAP application requirements for Siesta Promenade said, “In order to request such additional density,” Benderson would have to create an Affordable Housing Plan that would include criteria, a phasing schedule for the dwelling units and monitoring to ensure sales of the units comply with the plan. “Affordable is defined as 80% of AMI for family of four or below,” the scope of work explained. “Plan to be incorporated with the rezone stipulations pursuant to previously approved affordable housing projects.”
In the March 27 materials Mathes submitted to the county, he wrote that 15% of the residential density above 13 dwelling units per acre “will be attainable to families making 80% and 100% of AMI.”
“AMI” refers to area median income. The 2017 AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was $65,500, county Planner Vivian Roe told the County Commission earlier this year.
The latest data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton AMI for 2018 is $70,300. Therefore, 80% of AMI for a family of four is $56,250, according to the HUD figures.
Among other requests regarding the March 27 CAP materials from Benderson, Dary wrote in his April 17 letter,“All edited or new text, documents or materials must be integrated into the Critical Area Plan Document and submitted for review. Once remaining items have been addressed, re-assemble all the updated materials into one complete new and final document for staff’s review [emphasis in the document].”
Further, Dary asked that the Critical Area Plan maps “be printed at a scale [that] fills the page with minimum margin areas,” and he noted that the “graphic scale should be enlarged to a useable size with text a minimum of 1/16” in height.”