Latest material submitted to Sarasota County also shows increased use of Pine Shores neighborhood for traffic associated with the proposed development
Almost exactly five months after Sarasota County staff notified Benderson Development Co. of a multitude of insufficiencies in the firm’s revised proposal for the mixed-use Siesta Promenade complex, Benderson responded to the county.
However, based on copies of correspondence The Sarasota News Leader has obtained between the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates of Tampa, Benderson has yet to provide all sought details about traffic projections for the project.
In a Dec. 19, 2017 email, Nathan Kautz, an FDOT traffic services engineer, notified Kimley-Horn employees that they had not proved that a traffic signal would be warranted at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.
Kautz added that the median opening at Glencoe Avenue would need to be closed to accommodate traffic headed from the east to a northbound queue, “if a signal is warranted.” Further, Kautz wrote, “How Avenue A will work with the queues at the proposed signal should be addressed.”
In a Nov. 6, 2017 email to Kimley-Horn employees, Kautz noted that some of his colleagues had asked for assurance that the proposed signal at Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C would not cause westbound traffic queues to back up into the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
In a Nov. 17 letter to Kautz, Christopher Hatton, senior vice president of Kimley-Horn, wrote that the firm’s traffic studies indicated that westbound traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of [Stickney Point Road] & US 41.”
However, Siesta Key residents have talked of such traffic backups occurring already on days during the height of season when beachgoers are headed from the mainland to the island via Stickney Point Road.
Additionally, the responses to county questions that Benderson submitted to county Planner Todd Dary on Dec. 28, 2017 indicate increased plans for Siesta Promenade residents and shoppers to use streets in the adjacent Pine Shores Estates neighborhood.
Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, had assured Pine Shores residents that the firm would limit traffic through the neighborhood, Sura Kochman, a spokeswoman for the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, told the News Leader in a Jan. 3 telephone interview. However, a map in Mathes’ 71-page response to county staff show “Vehicular Connections” on Glencoe Avenue and Crestwood, Beechwood, Birchwood, Brentwood, Hazelwood and Redwood streets.
The Alliance is a coalition of six neighborhood associations and commercial property owners in the vicinity of the Siesta Promenade site, which is on the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
Parts of Pine Shores Estates date to the 1950s, Kochman pointed out to the News Leader. “This is not a major thoroughfare neighborhood, and they are going to destroy the peaceful existence of everybody in this neighborhood for their own gain,” she said of Benderson Development employees.
Kochman pointed to Future Land Use Policy 2.3.7 of the county’s Comprehensive Plan to underscore her belief that Siesta Promenade, as proposed, would be inappropriate on the property where it is proposed. That policy says, “In established residential areas, incompatible land uses shall be discouraged if traffic is generated on abutting local streets in amounts that would substantially and adversely affect traffic flow, traffic control and public safety.”
On June 28, 2017, Mathes submitted revised plans for Siesta Promenade to county staff. Instead of 506 dwelling units, the new proposal called for 415. The December 2017 plans put the figure at 414.
A hotel on site was modified in the June 2017 documents to provide 130 rooms instead of 150. However, Benderson still called for 140,000 square feet of retail and office space. Mathes also noted in his Dec. 28, 2017 letter that “there will be small gathering places throughout the project for residents and visitors.”
From the past to the future
In that Dec. 28, 2017 letter to county Planning and Development Services staff, Mathes reiterated that Siesta Promenade is planned on property that “was formerly home to a 300+ unit mobile home park.” He added, “The site has long been considered eligible and appropriate for CAP [Critical Area Plan] designation.”
On Jan. 25, 2017, the County Commission voted 4-1 to allow the firm to proceed with specific studies in accord with the request for the CAP designation. Winning approval for that would allow Benderson to have density up to 25 units per acre, instead of the 13 per acre allowed in standard county Commercial General zoning districts.
In his Dec. 28, 2017 letter, Mathes says the proposed density would be 18 units per acre. However, Kochman disputes that, saying the 414 dwelling units, combined with the 130 hotel rooms — which equate to 65 residential units — add up to 20.5 units per acre.
In one response to county staff’s July 2017 questions, Mathes indicated that the residential units would be priced at “market rate (with the exception of the required attainable living units) and unrestricted by age or otherwise.” Because most of the units will have one or two bedrooms, and they will be close to the beach, he continued, “our expectation is that more units will be occupied by temporary residents and single or dual occupant households but, again, there will be no restriction.”
Mathes added that Siesta Promenade would be “smaller than any of the other neighborhood shopping centers which are nearby including The Landings and Paradise Plaza to the north, and Pelican Plaza to the south.”
The development would include five-story, three-story and two-story residential towers, transitioning down in height the closer they would be to Pine Shores Estates, he noted.
Before Benderson acquired the property, Mathes pointed out, the county amended its Future Land Use Map designation of the site to Commercial Center and Commercial Corridor, which made the mobile home park a non-conforming use. “The zoning, however, has not been amended,” he added.
“In essence,” Mathes noted, “CAPs are small sector plans which, as far back as 1984, the County said would ‘… provide a bridge between the general characteristics of the Comprehensive Plan and the specific nature of the land development procedures.’”
Both Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 are “major corridors and define a commercial area that is sensitive relative to the unique quality and value of Siesta Key and the significant transportation operations concerns which the community has raised,” Mathes wrote. “Applying a CAP to the only redevelopment parcels at this intersection which have zoning that is non-conforming is exactly what was intended by the process.”
“They’re bastardizing the wording of the CAP ordinance for their own purposes,” Kochman told the News Leader. In almost every case with which she is familiar — having gained expertise through years of service on a New Jersey planning board — Kochman said CAPs are designed for areas where properties with multiple owners are considered for inclusion in one project.
Planner Dary told the News Leader in a Jan. 2 email that county staff would begin its standard technical review of the latest documents to determine whether they are complete. That would take 30 to 45 days, he indicated. After that process ends, if the materials are deemed complete, he added, the formal review process would commence.
The first public hearing on Benderson’s petition for rezoning of part of the 23.38 acres and its request for CAP designation would be held before the county’s Planning Commission about 60 days after Planning and Development staff signed off on the revised applications, Dary noted. The final hearing before the County Commission would occur approximately 45 days after the Planning Commission hearing, he added. Notices of those hearings will be advertised, he pointed out.
Continuing questions about traffic
The Traffic Signal Warrant Summary Kimley-Horn submitted to county staff, dated Nov. 15, 2017, shows that the busiest hour for motorists on Stickney Point Road is from 11 a.m. to noon, based on a standard trip generation formula applied to traffic counts it conducted in February 2017 on behalf of Benderson Development. The figure it reported was 2,621 for that one-hour period.
The second-highest total was 2,507, which the firm said was the level expected between 3 and 4 p.m.
In material submitted to the county in late June 2017, Kimley-Horn reported that it conducted the traffic studies on Feb. 15, 2017 and Feb. 25, 2017, “as requested by the [County Commission] at the CAP workshop [in January 2017].” The weekday count was undertaken from 4 to 6 p.m., the report notes, while the Saturday count was recorded from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Residents who live on Siesta Key and in the vicinity of Stickney Point Road have pointed out to the News Leader that those are not the prime beach-going times for drivers. Thus, those residents have questioned the validity of the Kimley-Horn studies.
Kimley-Horn employees also have suggested that the Coast Guard be consulted about the operations of the Stickney Point Road drawbridge, to ameliorate traffic backups.
In a June 26, 2017 letter to county Transportation Planning Manager Paula Wiggins, Kimley-Horn Senior Vice President Hatton included logs for the opening of that drawbridge in February 2017. He added that the bridge “significantly impacts traffic volumes in the area, creating significant queues,” though it is not under county or FDOT control. “It is recommended to discuss drawbridge operations/controls with the Coast Guard,” he continued. “As the drawbridge does not operate on a fixed schedule, it is unknown what impacts to traffic are anticipated in the future peak hours.”
Because of numerous complaints about Siesta drawbridge openings’ contributions to traffic congestion, the Coast Guard implemented new rules, effective Oct. 5, for both the Stickney Point Road and Siesta Drive bridges. As a result, the bridges open only on the hour and half hour between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily; at other times, they will open on boaters’ signals.
“The Coast Guard is not going to prevent maritime traffic from flowing to support or assist land traffic,” Kochman pointed out to the News Leader on Jan. 3. “How presumptuous to assume the Coast Guard would close [the bridge] to accommodate Benderson Development.”
The updated traffic analysis report from Kimley-Horn also recommends that Constitution Avenue be reclassified as a significant local roadway, as Kimley-Horn’s expectation is that drivers will use Constitution to avoid congestion on Clark Road and Stickney Point Road if Siesta Promenade is constructed.
“I use it myself,” Kochman acknowledged of Constitution, because traffic backups already are so bad, especially during season.