Intensity of proposed D.R. Horton development next to Celery Fields spurs criticism during Neighborhood Workshop

Stormwater runoff another big topic for participants

The number of homes proposed and concerns about potential flooding of neighboring properties proved to be the top issues when members of the team working with the Texas-based D.R. Horton home construction firm hosted a May 23 Neighborhood Workshop regarding plans for a new community adjacent to Sarasota County’s Celery Fields.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, materials filed in early May with the county’s Planning and Development Services Department indicate that up to 171 homes could be constructed. However, Kelley Klepper, vice president and senior planner of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, told the workshop attendees, “What our analysis is leaning towards is 160 single-family, detached homes,” which would have a density of approximately 3.3 dwelling units per acre.

He classified that as “a medium level type of density.”

The land, known as the Smith Properties, is situated along Raymond Road, south of Palmer Boulevard and north of Porter Road. The Celery Fields, a regional county stormwater project, is to the north and northwest, Klepper noted.

Although the site, which comprises six parcels of agricultural land, encompasses about 49 acres, Klepper explained that only approximately 30 acres would be available for construction, given the need for a stormwater pond/lake to comply with county regulations.

Further, he pointed out that the county owns drainage sloughs that border the site on the east and to the south. Those range in width from about 75 feet on up to 120 feet, he said. County regulations also will necessitate a specific type of buffer to protect them, he indicated.

As for the prices of the homes: “We’re still kind of finalizing some of that,” Klepper said. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that none of the houses would be marketed at a level considered to be consistent with affordable or workforce dwellings.

Speakers during the meeting — which was conducted via Zoom —expressed ire that D.R. Horton is seeking rezoning of the property from Open Use Rural (OUR) to Residential Estate-2/Planned Unit Development (RSF-2/PUD).

As the Planetizen website explains, “A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a specific type of plan or development commonly associated with master planned communities and sprawl. The specific definitions of a PUD vary by jurisdiction, but the term generally refers to a flexible approach to the planning of a variety of housing types and land uses on a relatively large portion of land.”

The website adds, “PUDs are intended to create a cohesive development plan for a large tract of land, integrating transportation systems with a variety of housing types and other uses, like park and open space and commercial or retail uses. A key goal of PUD regulations is to allow flexibility in deciding how to integrate these various uses, depending on location, topography, and the market for the development. PUDs thus allow developers a large degree of flexibility in where to locate uses as compared to the strict rules about what can be built in locations subject to most other forms of zoning codes.”

The very first speaker during the workshop, Casey Lawson, talked of her research involving the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations. Lawson pointed out that the RSF-2 zoning calls for a minimum lot size of 9,600 square feet, with a minimum width of 80 feet.

She told Klepper that the D.R. Horton proposal indicates a lot size of approximately 6,000 square feet, with 60% of the lots having a width of 50 feet and the rest with a 40-foot width. That is what is allowed in an RSF-4 zoning district, she added.

“You’re effectively making this area medium-density residential,” Lawson stressed. “It’s required to be Moderate Density Residential,” she said, based on the Future Land Use Map in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the county.

In the preliminary application filed with the county, Klepper did note that the Future Land Use Map shows the site designated for Moderate Density Residential development (MODR).

“These homes will be 10 feet apart,” Lawson also emphasized. “What you’re doing here is masquerading as an RSF-2.” Moreover, she continued, the proposed density “is so extreme, it’s completely inconsistent with our surrounding communities.”

D.R. Horton “could build a really beautiful community,” Lawson pointed out, if it abided by the county’s zoning regulations for RSF-2 districts.

Klepper responded that the traditional RSF-2 zoning differs from the RSF-2/PUD zoning. PUDs, he added, allow for modifications and adjustments of lot sizes. “The tradeoff,” Klepper continued, “is that in a traditional RSF, there’s no formal open space requirement.” However, such a stipulation exists for PUDs, he said. Additional buffering standards apply to PUDs, as well, he noted.

“The density is still the density,” Klepper told Lawson. That is 3.3 dwelling units per acre.

Lawson maintained that the RSF-4 zoning standards should not be allowed in that area of the county.

She told Klepper that she understood why the project team was seeking PUD approval: “You want to cram as many houses as you possibly can into that small area, which allows you to be more profitable. … You’re twisting the purposes of a PUD to maximize your profits.”

Lawson added, “You’re packing things so close together that it’s almost similar to HUD housing.” She was referring to low-income housing constructed under the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Why do you think you should be allowed to build [this]?” she asked Klepper.

“I’m not an idiot,” she continued, explaining that her father is a builder and an architect.

Klepper encouraged her to talk with county Planning Division staff about her concerns.

“I have,” she replied. “I’ve already called.”

The majority of development applications these days use PUDs, Klepper pointed out, which are “an allowable tool.”

Moreover, he said, “You can certainly do an RSF-4 under Moderate Density [zoning].”

The second speaker, Ryan Walker, focused on the density issue, too. “I’m trying to envision how closes these homes are going to be together,” he told Klepper. As Lawson had pointed out, he continued, the layout is “very, very tight. … It’s 160 homes on probably 39 acres or 30 acres.”

He concurred with Lawson that the plan is “totally inconsistent” with the developments in the surrounding area.

“Exactly how much area is involved for building of homesites?” another participant, Robert Schroeder, asked.

About 60% of the property will be allocated to the homes, Klepper replied, with the remaining 40% to be used for general landscape buffers, the stormwater pond and the buffers the county will require around the sloughs.

Based on his calculation, Walker said, that would mean more than five homes per acre. He characterized them as having to be “really small, almost like townhomes. … I have a big problem with that.”

Robert Luckner, a Siesta Key resident who identified himself as a member of the Sarasota Audubon Society, asked how tall the houses would be.

Klepper replied that the zoning permits a height of 35 feet, “or basically two stories.” Klepper added, “I know we’re not exceeding 35 feet.”

Effects on the Celery Fields itself

Yet another speaker was Jeanne Dubi, president of the Sarasota Audubon Society. She pointed out to Klepper that the county “has invested millions of dollars into the Celery Fields for protection of wildlife [and] birds,” adding, “We’re really, really concerned about this development.”

In years past, when commercial development was proposed on the county’s “Quads” parcels next to the Celery Fields, speakers during public hearings emphasized the fact that though the area was created as a regional stormwater project to alleviate decades of flooding in surrounding communities, migratory birds have flocked to the property, leading to its gaining an international reputation as a bird-watching destination.

Given the proposed density, Dubi continued, “We are concerned about the noise levels. We know that birds are affected by noise.”

Dubi also asked about the southern access point to the site. “How is the traffic going to exit out of the southern road?” (A second access point, Klepper said earlier, will be created from Raymond Road, to the north.)

Klepper told Dubi, “We do have to do a traffic impact analysis.” That will take into account “all of the existing and/or proposed developments [in the area],” he added.

Whatever is done,” Dubi stressed, “we must protect the Celery Fields and the wetlands.”

Another county resident, Tom Matrullo, pointed out that “the county has taken a great deal of trouble to try to protect [the Celery Fields,” even to the point of stipulating lighting restrictions along Palmer Boulevard, so the birds are not disturbed.

The development will have to comply with county lighting regulations, Klepper said.

Matrullo added that he would have liked to have heard more from the project team members about how they plan to construct “this really intense development without impacting, in a very negative way, what we already have …”

“I’m not going to try to downplay your comments and concerns,” Klepper responded, adding that the team still is in the very early stages of planning for the project.

Stormwater worries

Dubi also voiced concern about potential stormwater runoff from the development site into the Celery Fields’ wetlands.

However, Bill Conerly, vice president and senior project manager for Kimley-Horn, explained that county regulations specify that a new community must be designed so its stormwater runoff does not affect neighboring areas.

Both a county environmental scientist and the staff of the Southwest Florida Water Management District will be involved in reviews of the plans for the property, he added.

Referring to the lake in the center of the site, Conerly continued, “There’s a reason why [it is] so large … We have to hold — mitigate — the stormwater that’s going to be generated from the site. We have to hold it on the site.”

Dubi asked whether representatives of Sarasota Audubon could meet with the environmental scientists on the property to discuss the stormwater issue, to learn how the nonprofit’s concerns will be addressed. She explained that they did not want to have to go to the county Planning Commission hearing on the D.R. Horton proposal — and, subsequently, the County Commission hearing — without really having an understanding of the stormwater details.

“You’re free to talk to staff” at both the District and with the county, Conerly replied. “Our intent is to meet the [rules] and regulations that are in place. There may be an opportunity for partnership, but that’s not an obligation of this application,” he added.

“OK. Understood,” Dubi responded.

Another speaker, Luigi Costello, told the project team members that he believes the county should “offer [the owners of the development site] the same amount of money” that D.R. Horton has offered them, “and incorporate [the land] into the Celery Fields.”

As the News Leader has reported, five of the six parcels belong to the Cindy L. Smith Revocable Living Trust; the sixth is owned by Matthew J. and Cindy Smith, as shown in the records of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.

Klepper told the workshop attendees that D.R. Horton has a contract to purchase the parcels, provided it wins approval for the development.

Costello added, “I guarantee you there are thousands of people in the community that feel the same way as I. … The Smith family gets their money, and we have the parcels protected.”

Walker, who earlier talked about the residential density of the plan, expressed concerns, too, about stormwater runoff. He said he wanted to be certain that county staff is aware of the fact that the slough on the eastern boundary of the site “often fills to within a foot or two of the rim” during heavy rain events. It is “extremely important,” he emphasized, that all of the stormwater be captured on the homesite and not be allowed to flow into that slough.

Conerly of Kimley-Horn explained that the development will have to be elevated out of the floodplain. He then reiterated his earlier comment: “The requirement is that you don’t have an adverse impact on a neighbor.” That slough, he said, would be a significant focal point as the project plans are refined.

Walker stressed that county staff needs to analyze how the slough functions. Over the past 40 years, Walker added, in spite of all the new developments constructed in the area, “The ditch hasn’t changed.”

A Sylvan Lea homeowner, Michelle Sizler, pointed out that even a “typical storm” will raise the level of water in the slough almost above the rim. Thus, she said, she, too, is worried about the potential for flooding in her neighborhood. “I want to make sure that that’s noted.”

“Absolutely, Michelle,” Klepper told her.

Altogether, Klepper reported that 69 people participated in the workshop.

1 thought on “Intensity of proposed D.R. Horton development next to Celery Fields spurs criticism during Neighborhood Workshop”

  1. D.R Horton seems to have the same method of operating in trying to rezone and increase housing density. We fought hard against Horton in Longwood Run with many of the same arguments. We put up a strong campaign and the county commissioners were unswayed despite little to no defense from Horton for their expansion. It was obvious to us that money paid to commissioners was the deciding factor. Even former commissioner Ray Pilon spoke against the increase – to no avail.

Comments are closed.