Cutsinger wins commission colleagues’ approval of plans for duplex development on Manasota Key

President of Manasota Key Association and other residents protest proposal

Over objections of the members of the Manasota Key Association and other residents of the affected area, the Sarasota County commissioners have approved a rezoning petition that their chair, Ron Cutsinger, and his wife submitted to the county for a 2.52-acre site on the north side of Manasota Beach Road.

The proposal calls for construction of a seven-duplex development that will be known as Waypoint Villas.

Because Cutsinger was one of the applicants, he had to formally recuse himself from the Jan. 31 public hearing on the petition. Therefore, Commissioner Nancy Detert, as vice chair, presided.

The application sought the rezoning of the property from Residential Estate 2 (RE-2), which has density of one dwelling unit per acre, to Residential Multi-Family 2 (RMF-2), which has density of nine dwellings per acre.

The property is located approximately 1,200 feet west of State Road 776 in Englewood, a county staff memo noted.

Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion to approve the application, and Commissioner Joe Neunder seconded it.

John McIntyre, president of the Manasota Key Association — which, he noted, has 350 members — urged the commissioners to deny the request.

Among the association’s concerns, he said, is the fact that the duplexes will have to rely on septic tanks.

A second speaker, Stephanie Weisband, who lives on Manasota Key Road, also voiced worries about the potential of the project to exacerbate the poor water quality of Lemon Bay, which is about 1 mile from the Cutsinger property.

“Multi-family housing should not be approved” with septic tanks so close to Lemon Bay, McIntyre stressed.

Weisband pointed out that the northern part of the bay “is dying and is almost black with runoff and contaminants.”

The abundance of nutrients that feed the red tide algae, plus the loss of seagrass and manatee habitat in Lemon Bay, should be taken into consideration, she added.

Both McIntyre and Weisband also noted that Manasota Beach Road is the only public road that connects Manasota Key to the rest of Sarasota County. Therefore, they said, they were worried about the additional traffic that the new development would generate and its potential to make the area less safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The road, McIntyre told the commissioners, “is not in design condition to support multi-family housing.” No sidewalks exist to tie the area to State Road 776, where the closest retail operations stand, drawing people on foot and on bikes, he added.

“So we feel strongly that Manasota Beach Road should be brought up to current design standards to support multi-family housing before [such units are] allowed,” McIntyre said.

“Englewood can hardly support the current population,” Weisband pointed out of the Manasota Key residents; she noted the need for easy vehicular access for emergency services units and law enforcement officers.

Further, McIntyre talked about the Manasota Scrub Preserve, which the Sarasota County Commission created 20 years ago. It is directly across from the Cutsinger property, he said. The board members who established the preserve recognized “how environmentally sensitive this area of the county [is] and purchased the 154 acres,” he added.

Early on during her comments, Weisband did acknowledge, “I’m not sure how much weight you put on actual constituents’ comments or viewpoints …”

County Planner Kirk Crane provided the clerk to the board copies of emails from other county residents opposed to the development.

One woman and couple, who also live on Manasota Beach Road, urged the commissioners to deny the rezoning petition.

The couple, Lawrence Bold and Carol White Bold, wrote, “Is Sarasota County prepared to spend the millions of dollars it would require [to rebuild] Manasota Beach Road to make it safe for all of us who live here, not just invest here?”

They added, “The elephant in the room is how an elected official can use his position to bypass normal procedures to fast track a personal request … which will adversely affect his constituents and line his own pockets. This should not be allowed.”

The date on the Cutsinger application was Aug. 17, 2022. It has taken more than a year, in some cases with which The Sarasota News Leader is familiar, to reach the public hearing stage after a developer has submitted a petition to county Planning and Development Services Department staff.

The county’s Planning Commission, which conducts land-use applications ahead of the County Commission, conducted its public hearing on the Cutsinger petition on Dec. 1, 2022, the county staff report noted.

In December 2009, Ron Cutsinger bought slightly more than an acre of the site, paying RE/MAX Realtor Robert T. Anderson Jr. $95,000, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. The market value of that parcel in 2022 was $155,000, those records note.

Cutsinger purchased the other portion of the land in April 2022 for $210,000, the Property Appraiser’s Office says. Last year, that parcel’s market value was $203,400, the Property Appraiser’s Office says.

Rebuttal and approval

The staff report explained that the site comprises two parcels zoned RE-2. Properties located north, west and east along the north side of Manasota Beach Road also are zoned RE-2, the staff report continued. However, part of the land to the east of the site has single-family residences on large lots.

During his rebuttal, Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning and Development, the agent for the Cutsingers, explained that county staff examined the environmental report undertaken as part of the application process and found the scrub jay preserve would not be “an issue at all.”

Further, Medred said, county transportation staff reviewed the road conditions. Displaying for the commissioners a chart that was in the county staff report, Medred added that the new development would be expected to generate only eight more trips during the afternoon peak drive time.

County staff members have explained that they use a Trip General Manual produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) to determine effects of new development on existing conditions.

Commissioner Mark Smith did ask Medred about the septic tank plans. “In Sarasota County,” Smith said, “we’ve been trying to reduce the number of septic tanks,” in an effort to improve overall water quality.

“We are on the edge of the Englewood Water District,” Medred replied. In talking with staff of that district, Medred continued, he learned that central sewer connections in the area “would be a ways off.” Nonetheless, Medred explained, the project will have to undergo the required permitting process with county staff members, who will ensure that the septic tanks will not create environmental problems.

Medred stressed, “We’re a good mile from the bay.”

During his presentation, Medred also pointed out that the Cutsingers’ property is designated Office/Multi-Family on the county’s Future Land Use Map for the affected area.

He showed the board members a chart in the county zoning regulations that makes it clear that residential development is allowed within an area having that Future Land Use Map classification. The maximum number of units would be 13 per acre, Medred said. In this situation, the Cutsingers were seeking RMF-2, which allows nine dwellings per acre. “We believe it is a step down in density.”

Moreover, Medred emphasized that Manasota Beach Road “is not a local road; it is a minor collector.”

A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) glossary of terms explains that a collector is a “[d]ivided or undivided roadway which serves to link arterials with local roads or major traffic generators. [Collectors] serve as transition link between mobility needs and land use needs. Collectors may include minor state roads, major county roads, and major urban and suburban streets.”

After Commissioner Detert closed the County Commission hearing, Commissioner Moran immediately made the motion to approve the rezoning. He said that he believes it complies with policies in the county Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community. “I think it’s reasonable and permissible,” he added of the proposed development.

Commissioner Neunder told his colleagues, “I like the footprint,” as well as the plan to place the necessary stormwater management pond on the portion of the site fronting Manasota Beach Road. “I think that kind of gives it a nice touch.”

Neunder added that he always encourages applicants for projects to keep the communication lines open with affected residents.

Then the motion passed 4-0, with Chair Cutsinger out of the room.