Only Commissioner Detert voices objections to 34 homes adjacent to the Stonebridge community
Although residents of the adjoining Stonebridge community argued that the new homes would be incompatible with theirs, the Sarasota County Commission voted 4-1 this week to approve the rezoning of 8.94 acres to allow an infill development within Palmer Ranch.
The plan is for 34 single-family homes east of McIntosh Road and north of Palmer Ranch Parkway.
Commissioner Nancy Detert cast the “No” voted, telling Jeffery Boone, the attorney representing the property owners, that she felt the development would be incompatible with the homes in Stonebridge.
The rezoning the commission approved for the project is Residential Single-Family-3, while the adjacent Stonebridge houses are on property zoned Residential Single Family-2. The site was zoned Open Use Estate, which has a density of one unit per 5 acres. Residential Single-Family-3 (RSF-3) would allow 4 units per acre.
However, showing the board graphics, Boone explained that the development, as designed, would line up the same number of lots back-to-back with the Stonebridge parcels.
Still, Detert offered Boone a variation of a comment she has made numerous times since she began serving on the board in November 2016: His clients knew what the property was zoned. “That’s what you own; that’s what you have the right to build on.”
The Ridge Road Infill land is owned by KFS Holdings LLC of Gainesville, Ga., but Boone pointed out that members of the same family had held title to it for 50 to 60 years, “and they paid taxes on it.” He noted that they had resisted offers to sell out to the Culverhouse family, which developed Palmer Ranch.
A key component of the county’s Comprehensive Plan — which guides development — is the encouragement of infill projects where public facilities and infrastructure already exist, Boone told the board during its regular meeting on Oct. 31. In fact, he continued, the Comprehensive Plan calls for expedited staff review and permitting of infill projects.
Nonetheless, Detert told Boone, “You really cannot run away from the idea that you are really shoehorning these things in here. … To me, [infill] doesn’t mean sliding stuff in on every single piece of grass.”
Boone acknowledged the fact that some Stonebridge residents would prefer to see the land remain vacant. “Change is difficult.”
However, he said, his clients’ family “held out against the Culverhouse family. They’ve waited patiently for their time to come. … This is actually the opposite of urban sprawl. … This is well within the developed area in Sarasota County.”
When Chair Paul Caragiulo sought clarification that the property is “a remnant parcel,” Boone responded, “Correct.”
“It could have been implemented into a larger plan,” Caragiulo added. “But at the end of the day, you’re saying that what you believe … what you are proposing, is compatible, based on the adjacent density?”
That is correct, Boone replied.
Detert made a motion to deny the rezoning petition to enable the development to be built, but it died for lack of a second.
Then Commissioner Charles Hines made a motion to approve the rezoning. Hines referenced the fact that the project had been redesigned significantly since the county’s Planning Commission voted 7-2 in April to recommend the County Commission deny the rezoning petition. Those changes do make the proposed development compatible with Stonebridge, Hines added.
Although he understood Stonebridge residents’ displeasure with the prospect of construction taking place next door, he continued, “We are constantly told to follow our Comprehensive Plan.” Moreover, Hines said, the county’s future land use maps showed that the expectation long had been for the Ridge Road Infill site to be developed.
“Our plans force these types of developments inside the Urban Service Boundary,” Hines pointed out.
In seconding the motion, Commissioner Michael Moran said, “I do believe the applicant has made a good faith effort to work with the surrounding community on this. … I do believe it’s compatible with the existing land-use pattern.”
A number of modifications
Following the April Planning Commission hearing, the County Commission held a public hearing on the rezoning petition on May 23. However, as a result of discussions that day, the project team and the commission agreed to a continuance of the hearing so the developer could address concerns of Stonebridge residents regarding buffering between the communities.
Boone pointed out during the Oct. 31 public hearing that as recently as the previous evening, the project team had met with the directors of the Stonebridge Community Association to win their support.
Douglas G. Christy, the attorney for the homeowners’ group, had sent the board a letter to confirm that.
However, in response to commissioners’ questions, the president of the association, Dr. Bryan Masterson, acknowledged that the board vote to endorse the project was 3-2.
“Obviously, we can’t make everybody happy,” Boone said.
Yet, because of comments from Stonebridge residents, Boone explained to the board, the project team had modified its stipulations regarding buffers.
County Planner Todd Dary used graphics to show the board that a landscape buffer at least 15 feet wide would be created along the west side of the eastern parcel. Additionally, a buffer at least 5 feet wide would be erected along the west side of the western parcel and along the south side of two lots in Stonebridge.
Boone proffered one more stipulation on Oct. 31: A buffer 20 feet wide will be provided for the two proposed lots on the northern edge of the western parcel, while another 20-foot-wide buffer will be erected next to the four proposed lots on the southernmost edge of the western parcel.
The project team also has proffered the requirement that any home in the project within 25 feet of certain Stonebridge houses be no more than a single story and no taller than 20 feet. That will ensure that no two-story houses stand next to single-story homes in Stonebridge, Dary clarified in response to a question from Commissioner Alan Maio.
On other lots, a second floor would be allowed to encompass no more than 50% of the square feet of the ground floor. Boone referred to the latter design as 1½ stories.
Additionally, Gregg Carlson, the CEO of Lee Wetherington Homes, told the board that history has shown that the lots that sell most quickly are those seen as most desirable in a new community. Furthermore, he continued, those lots usually end up with replicas of the model home for the development. He indicated that the project team plans to construct a single-story model home, but the goal is to make it possible for a customer to add a second floor, if that is desired.
“We want to build like-kind and quality with our homes,” Carlson continued, adding that he expects the project to raise the appraised value of the neighboring houses.
Opponents plead with board
Among the five opponents of the plans who addressed the commission during the Oct. 31 hearing, Stonebridge resident Suzanne Black said she had “huge concerns” about how the project team had handled the proposal from the outset, including misleading Stonebridge residents about their zoning. All along, she said, she and her neighbors were told their zoning was RSF-3, when, in fact, it was RSF-2.
She also objected to the potential for a second floor on some of the houses, citing privacy concerns.
Any infill project, she said, should be made to be compatible “with what is already existing in our neighborhood.”
Ridge Road resident Ed Katchur told the board that the Stonebridge Community Association “does not represent our community views. … That needs to be clarified. … The residents do not have an agreement with the landowner.
As for the change from the RSF-4 to the RSF-3 zoning request, Katchur noted that the average lot size in Stonebridge is 8,500 to 9,500 square feet, compared to the 7,500 the developer proposes.
Dary explained that with RSF-4 zoning — which the project team originally sought — the standard is a 6,000-square-foot lot with a 50-foot width; for RSF-3, those corresponding dimensions are 7,500 square feet and 70 feet of width.
Additionally, Katchur told the board, no one has specified the opacity of the proffered buffers.
Beth Davey objected to the fact, she said, that the infill project “was presented to us as a fait accompli” from the outset.
“This is shoehorning homes into a long-existing neighborhood,” she added.
“This is just too much development for the space,” Steve McElroy, a Ridge Road resident, told the board.
Along with Masterson, the president of the Stonebridge Community Association, one other resident did speak in favor of the proposal.
“I thought the project was compatible” from a zoning standpoint, Doug Means told the board. “This is an infill project. … People have grown accustomed to somebody else’s property being vacant, and I think every property owner has a right to do something on their property.”