Residents cite big increase in residential density and incompatibility with their neighborhoods
On Oct. 6, nine residents of the Longwood Run community, which is immediately south of University Parkway and north of Desoto Road, urged the members of the Sarasota County Planning Commission not to endorse a development of 94 townhomes on 10.14 acres west of their single-family homes.
They showed the planning commissioners photos of residences in their neighborhood east of Longwood Run Boulevard, stressing the abundance of trees and green space. They talked about the increasing traffic congestion with which they must contend on a daily basis, and they voiced worries about the potential exacerbation of flooding. They especially stressed that the townhomes would have a higher density per acre than their community in Longwood Run.
Among them was former state Rep. Ray Pilon, who lives in the Calista Village neighborhood.
“We have reached the point of diminishing returns,” he told the planning commissioners. He questioned whether the county’s impact fees are covering the expense of new developments, as they are supposed to do, and he disputed the findings of the traffic study for the project proposed by the nationally known D.R. Horton firm.
“No, I’m not Mr. Lobeck,” Pilon said, referring to Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck who long has urged the slowing of residential growth in the county.
Nonetheless, Pilon continued, while the design of the project may meet all of the necessary county regulations for approval, “based on what’s on the books,” a 2006 County Commission rezoning of the site where the new townhomes would stand called for just 40 single-family homes.
Altogether, the new plans would result in a total of 632 dwelling units in the 268-acre development, the county staff report said.
The proposed site of the townhomes is zoned Residential Single-Family 1/Planned Unit Development (PUD), the report explained. That zoning allows for 2.5 units per acre. The county’s Future Land Use designation for the land is Moderate Density Residential, the staff report further noted. That allows 4.99 units per acre.
If the site ultimately were rezoned, the staff report added, the overall PUD density would be 2.36 units per acre.
The County Commission keeps approving increases in residential density, Pilon pointed out. “When you increase density,” he said, “you need more firemen, you need more policemen, you need more parks, and I don’t think we’re meeting that criteria for the citizens of Sarasota anymore.”
Nonetheless, at the conclusion of the public hearing, the planning commissioners voted 5-3 to recommend that the County Commission approve the D.R. Horton application. The project would be constructed on the site of the Longwood Run Athletic Club, which residents testified is within walking distance, so they use the club’s tennis courts.
The County Commission is scheduled to conduct its public hearing on the proposal on Dec. 13, county Planning and Development Services Department staff told The Sarasota News Leader.
Debating a court precedent
Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper made the Oct. 6 motion, and Planning Commissioner Colin Pember seconded it.
Cooper referenced testimony from Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln, who was appearing on behalf of the Longwood Run Community Association, as well as attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, who was representing D.R. Horton.
Lincoln had discussed a judicial precedent, City of New Smyrna Beach v. Andover Development Corp., regarding planned unit developments. The 1996 opinion was handed down by Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Lincoln stressed that that ruling is the standard for determining whether an established planned unit development can be amended.
Bailey had pointed out that the new project entailed the amendment of a PUD.
The court ruled, Lincoln said, that an amended PUD must be compatible with the surrounding area. Lincoln emphasized that, as a planner himself as well as a lawyer, he could assert that the D.R. Horton proposal is not compatible with the existing Longwood Run homes. “They want to build urban townhouses in a suburban project,” Lincoln said of the developer.
However, Bailey emphasized to the planning commissioners that the two-story, 35-foot-tall townhomes would be compatible with the duplexes, four-plexes, six-plexes and even eight-plexes in the southern part of the community, on the west side of Longwood Run Boulevard. Just to the north of the site, Bailey noted, Calista Village — where Pilon lives — comprises duplexes.
In discussing Lincoln’s and Bailey’s comments, Planning Commissioner Cooper said he had considered the original intent of Sarasota developer Piero Rivolta in designing Longwood Run.
(One of the speakers, Susan Miller, told the planning commissioners that Rivolta “rode on horseback through the untouched woodlands just south of University Parkway,” so he could gain a better idea of how to lay out the homes to preserve 50% of the site as open space.)
Changes do take place in communities over time, Cooper continued. In Longwood Run itself, he noted, the original plans called for an equestrian center; it never was built. For another example, a 1986 aerial view of Longwood Run that Bailey presented to the board members made clear that a sewage treatment plant once occupied the space where Calista Village stands.
Yet, Cooper added, the residents apparently did not mind those changes.
Then Cooper talked about the fact that one of the communities in Longwood Run that would be south of the D.R. Horton townhomes has 7.75 dwelling units per acre. That, he said, “is not very different from 9.4 units per acre,” which he noted as the plan for the townhomes.
Moreover, Cooper added, in regard to the traffic issues residents had cited, “The challenges of exiting onto University Parkway are a University Parkway problem, not a Longwood Run problem.”
Then he stressed of the proposal, “It is infill, and this is a massive focus of the county.”
Still, Cooper said, if the County Commission ultimately decides to deny the rezoning application, “I won’t lose sleep over it.”
Planning Commissioner Pember also referenced the judicial precedent of New Smyrna Beach v. Andover Development Corp. Having thought about that discussion in the context of the D.R. Horton proposal, Pember added, “I think the [latter’s] density is consistent with the west side of Longwood Run [Boulevard].”
In fact, Planning Commission Vice Chair Justin Taylor said, “Mr. Bailey gave some of the best testimony I’ve ever received” regarding compatibility of existing and new projects.
Noting that parking would be on the street in the townhome development, Pember did agree with residents on one point: “It’s not the best look.” However, he added, that is not an issue that the Planning Commission was tasked with considering.
Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz pointed out, “Anytime we have an infill development, or any development … we always have folks, rightfully so,” who testify about how the proposal will change their ways of life. The key, Stultz added, is to work to achieve a balance between the old and the new. “I think we try very hard to keep that [balance].”
Planning Commissioner Neil Rainford was on the opposite side. He explained, “I’m intimately familiar with this particular project area,” having attended the nearby Tabernacle Church in the past. Rainford added, “I just think the density’s a little bit of a stretch for me.”
Planning Commissioner Donna Carter, who had asked multiple questions about the results of the project team’s traffic study, also voted “No,” adding that she, too, did not find the townhomes compatible with the existing communities.
The third “No” vote came from Planning Commissioner Jordan Keller, who did not offer any comments.
Chair Teresa Mast supported Cooper’s motion.
Traffic study and stormwater questions
With numerous speakers having raised the issue of traffic, planning commissioners did ask for more details from the project team.
Mike Yates of Palm Traffic in Tampa explained that the project did not meet the criteria for county staff to require a traffic study; however, the team chose to undertake one anyway. It was completed in April, he added.
The results showed that the townhomes would lead to only 10 more trips during the peak afternoon drive time than the 40 single-family homes on the site would have generated, Yates explained — 52 for the townhomes and 42 for the single-family homes.
Conversely, he pointed out, if the athletic club were functioning at capacity level, it would be expected to generate 69 trips during the afternoon peak drive time.
Former state Rep. Pilon testified that he sees perhaps 10 to 12 vehicles arrive at the club in the morning, around 7 a.m., and only about five or six in the afternoon.
Referring to the comparison of the 94 townhomes to the 40 single-family houses, Planning Commissioner Carter told Yates, “I find that difficult to comprehend.” She would anticipate that working families would live in the townhomes, she added. “That’s a lot of traffic, compared to 40 single-family homes.”
Yates explained that traffic studies incorporate national data from the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) Manual. In working on his study, he continued, he used the 11th edition of that document, which was published in 2021.
The manual says that a townhome usually will produce six trips per day per unit, Yates continued. “It’s based on hundreds of studies at different sites. … I have found the ITE to be very accurate for almost all of their land uses across the board where there’s this much data.”
“It’s not common sense to me,” Carter replied.
As for stormwater worries: The very first speaker that evening raised the issue of flooding.
Alan Guttridge, a member of the Griffon Woods Board of Directors who lives in part of Longwood Run, showed the board members photos he had taken. Guttridge said he and his neighbors fear the flooding “will become more serious with the development of the [athletic club site].”
Since Benderson Development Co. began constructing its nearby University Town Center property, and the County Commission several years ago approved plans for the second Sarasota Whole Foods store “in a dedicated wetlands” near the intersection of Honore Avenue and University Parkway, he continued, “we have experienced more frequent floods and higher floodwater levels” in his neighborhood.
In response to a question from Planning Commissioner Cooper, Guttridge said he took the photos during the period of Hurricane Ian’s strike on Southwest Florida. Nonetheless, Guttridge added, the situation “has gotten worse in recent years.” He had photos going back to 2017, he noted.
“We have a lot of retention ponds in our neighborhood,” Guttridge continued, “and they fill up in a matter of hours, and the water overflows and comes onto our streets. … It comes up over 3 feet.”
So far, he said, it has not entered any of the homes in that neighborhood, but it has flowed into garages.
In response to Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz’s questions about that testimony, Dan Bond of BGE Inc. in Sarasota, a member of the project team, explained that the criteria county staff uses now for dealing with stormwater “is a lot more rigorous” than in years past. In fact, Bond added, the county “is one of the toughest regulating agencies when it comes to stormwater review.”
Bond also pointed out that county staff “makes it very difficult for us to go through [the application process] without showing there’s no adverse impacts to any of the adjacent properties. … We cannot increase any flooding levels.”