Earthmoving permit application for Siesta Promenade site still focus of county review, with several insufficiencies noted

Attorney for Pine Shores resident fighting the mixed-use development tells Siesta Key Association members oral arguments in lawsuit could be conducted by fall

An aerial map shows part of Pine Shores Estates next to the Siesta Promenade site. Image from Google Maps

An earthmoving permit application involving the site of the proposed Siesta Promenade project remains under county staff review, The Sarasota News Leader learned this week.

Formally filed on May 1, the application from Siesta 41 Associates LLP, an affiliate of Benderson Development Co., had notations of insufficiencies as of May 15 in regard to the required Tree Protection Review, the History Center Review and the Air & Water Quality Review, the county’s Permitting Division records showed.

Further, the Stormwater Division and Environmental Specialist reviews remained open as of the afternoon of May 15.

The Permitting records note that the purpose of the work would be to clear the property on the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, where the mixed-development project would stand. On Dec. 12, 2018, the County Commission approved the Siesta Promenade proposal on split votes. Both Commissioners Nancy Detert and Charles Hines opposed the requested rezoning, which will allow Benderson to construct 414 condominiums/apartments, a 130-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of retail and office space.

The application says impervious structures and septic tanks will be removed from the approximately 24 acres, where a mobile home park stood for decades.

One county staff stipulation notes that Siesta 41 Associates also will have to obtain a permit from the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County “prior to any septic abandonment” and that the work must be “conducted by or under the direct supervision of a Florida Licensed Septic Contractor or Licensed Master Plumber.” That stipulation was added by Matthew Miller of the Health Department staff, the notation says.

In regard to the Tree Protection Review, county staff member Darren Semones wrote on May 8, “Removal of pads and roads can occur without the need for tree removal.” That information underscores comments Semones made in an April 24 letter to Siesta 41 Associates’ representative, Clint Cuffle of Water Resource Associates (WRA) in University Park, as a follow-up to discussion that was part of the county’s April 18 Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting.

Cuffle appeared at that DRC session to discuss how Siesta 41 Associates could best proceed with the site clearing.

A photo of units in the Pine Shores Trailer Park was among materials Benderson Development provided for a Neighborhood Workshop in 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In fashion similar to Semones’ notation in the Permitting records, County Archaeologist Steven Koski has reprised statements in the April 24 letter in his notations. He pointed out on May 2 that the demolition plan must include information about the preservation of the Pine Shores Clubhouse chimney, “so the demolition contractor is aware there is an avoidance area around the chimney until it is relocated.”

John McCarthy, former director of what was then the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, explained to theNews Leader a couple of weeks ago that the clubhouse was constructed of logs, making it an unusual building in the county. A fire destroyed the clubhouse, he said, but the chimney was saved.

Koski added in his notation, “The relocation plan [for the chimney] and methodology must be submitted to Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) and Historical Resources (HR) for review and approved prior to proceeding with the move; coordinated with the point persons with [PRNR] and HR.”

This is one page in a demolition application WRA submitted to Sarasota County on behalf of Siesta 41 Associates. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Koski continued, “The new location of the chimney must be selected and prepared prior to delivery. … The day of delivery shall be coordinated with PRNR and HR. … Costs incurred under the mitigation plan including preparation of the relocation site, preparing the object for moving and delivery [and] setting [it] in [its new] place” will be the responsibility of Benderson Development or Siesta 41 Associates.

Further, Koski wrote that any post-move stabilization of the chimney at the relocation site will have to be covered by the developer.

Ongoing litigation

Ralf Brookes addresses Siesta Key Association members on May 2. Rachel Hackney photo

Litigation begun in early January in an effort to halt the construction of Siesta Promenade was a topic of discussion during the May 2 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).

President Catherine Luckner welcomed as a special guest Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral, who is handling the Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed on Jan. 11 on behalf of Sura Kochman, a resident of Pine Shores Estates, which would be the closest neighbor of Siesta Promenade.

Typically, Brookes explained, construction of a project will not begin until after litigation has been completed.

After reviewing some of the facets of the legal case, Brookes told the approximately 60 audience members that the presiding judge, Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh, issued a Show Cause order on April 17, giving Sarasota County 30 days to give her reasons why she should not overturn the County Commission approval of Siesta Promenade.

After the county files its response, Brooks said, he would have 15 days to file a reply. Then, depending on the judge’s schedule, he continued, he would imagine oral arguments in the case would be set for either late summer or early fall — the August/September/October timeframe.

It could be the winter, Brookes added, before the hearing is conducted, as “the courts are very, very busy.”

Still, he pointed out, the Siesta Promenade case has such a high profile, he anticipates McHugh will opt for an earlier schedule rather than a later one.

Brookes also addressed the earthmoving application, saying he attended the April 18 DRC meeting, when that process was proposed to Cuffle of WRA.

An earthmoving application, Brookes pointed out, normally is submitted by someone working on a farm or in some type of agriculture-related business. He does not believe such an application is appropriate for the clearing of the Siesta Promenade property, he added, so he has considered filing a challenge to the suggestion that Cuffle take that approach.

DRC facilitator’s work with county questioned

Robert ‘Bob’ Schmitt. Image from the Land Planning Associates website

Questions also have been raised about the person who serves as facilitator of the DRC meetings, the News Leader has learned. That man is Robert “Bob” Schmitt of Land Planning Associates of Lakewood Ranch. Brookes indicated that Schmitt was the one who proposed the earthmoving application idea.

Land Planning Associates’ website says the firm “is proud to represent landowners and developers with assistance in obtaining approvals of anything relative to land use permitting. The main emphasis is to represent small businesses unfamiliar with negotiating their way through a variety of permitting processes. Most work is related to rezones and other conditional land use approvals in Manatee County, Florida.”

The website also notes that Schmitt worked in Manatee and Sarasota counties for more than 30 years, most recently as Manatee’s zoning official.

In response to a News Leaderq uestion this week about Schmitt’s status as Sarasota County DRC facilitator, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, said that Schmitt works for a firm called Ad-Vance; he has been facilitator of the DRC meetings “for some time.”

Osterhoudt stressed that Schmitt’s firm does not work in Sarasota County.

Ad-Vance Talent Solutions’ website says that the company “has been the Gulf Coast/Tampa Bay Area’s leading employment agency for the past 20 years, serving all areas of Sarasota, Bradenton, Tampa, and New Port Richey.” The website adds that the firm “offers Temporary & Temp-to-Hire Staffing, Government Staffing, Hospitality Staffing, & Professional & Executive Search services positions [in the area].”

Schmitt was chosen to be the DRC facilitator, Osterhoudt added, “based on his professional background.”