Naples firm no longer under contract to purchase site of proposed Cassia Cay mixed-use development

Binding concept plan approved by the County Commission in 2006 still in effect, county documents indicate

A 2006 binding concept plan for a mixed-use development on U.S. 41 south of Holiday Drive is still in effect, county documents show. However, the maximum number of residential units approved by the County Commission in 2006 was 68. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Nov. 3, the Sarasota County Planning Commission unanimously recommended County Commission approval of a proposed zoning text amendment that would make it possible for developers to pursue mixed-use projects with freestanding structures containing apartments and condominiums, as well as those above commercial units.

The change would apply to the county’s Commercial General (CG) zoning districts; approval of a special exception also would be necessary. At the petitioner’s suggestion, the residential dwelling units would be restricted to 30% of a project.

However, on the morning of Dec. 14 — the day the County Commission was scheduled to hold its first of two required public hearings on the proposed amendment — staff notified the board that the attorney representing the petitioner had asked that the hearing be cancelled.

Matt Osterhoudt, interim director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, forwarded the letter from the attorney — Brenda Patten of the Berlin, Patten & Ebling firm in Sarasota — to the board.

After stating what Osterhoudt had related in his email, Patten added, “I appreciate all the excellent work done by Ms. Donna Thompson on this application and apologize for any inconvenience this withdrawal may cause.”

Thompson is the county’s zoning administrator.

Brenda L. Patten. Photo from the Berlin Patten Ebling website

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question about her action, Patten wrote in a Dec. 21 email, “Zoning Text Amendment No. 109 was originally filed concurrently with Rezone Petition No. 16-05 which would have amended the Development Concept Plan for an 18+ acre parcel of commercial property on US 41. The rezone petition for the 18+ acre commercial parcel was withdrawn because my clients were no longer under contract to purchase it. Therefore, I also withdrew the application for the Zoning Text Amendment since we no longer had a site to which the Zoning Text Amendment would apply.”

During the Nov. 3 Planning Commission meeting, Patten did point out that her client had withdrawn its request for the rezoning of a proposed mixed-use development called Cassia Cay, which would stand on about 18.5 acres on the southwest corner of U.S. 41 and Holiday Drive, at 7914 Tamiami Trail.

In the application Patten filed with the county in February, she said her client, Apogee Realty Advisors of Naples, was seeking changes in the plan for a project the County Commission approved in 2006.

The zoning and stipulations under those 2006 terms allow for 100,000 square feet of office space, 110,000 square feet of retail space, a minimum of 55 dwelling units and 1,172 parking spaces. (In December 2015, members of the new development team cited 152 dwelling units as the maximum that would be allowed, but the County Commission discussion in 2006 made it clear that 68 would be the upper limit; that figure is on the binding concept plan.) No building would be taller than 35 feet. The site plan shows a total of seven structures, five of which would include dwelling units.

The 2006 ordinance approved by the commission says, “No single retail user shall occupy more than 50,000 square feet of gross floor area in a single building.”

Then-Commission Vice Chair Nora Patterson signed the ordinance on Oct. 14, 2006, the February 2016 application shows. The board vote to approve the 2006 rezoning petition was 3-2, with Commissioners Shannon Staub and David Mills joining Patterson in approving it. Commissioners Paul Mercier and Jon Thaxton opposed it.

The development would have been called the Shoppes at Grande Bay.

A graphic shows the triangular site of the proposed mixed-use development. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

Patten’s February application formally called for the original concept plan to remain in place, with the option of the revised plan being developed instead — if it won county approval. The alternative plan — proposed by Core Development of Wichita, Kan. — called for up to 170,000 square feet of commercial space, up to 40,000 square feet of office space and 120 dwelling units. Three of the 16 structures would stand at 49, 47 and 38 feet, to accommodate first-floor retail uses and to have three more stories for the residential units and parking, the application said.

Initial construction of this alternative proposal was to start in the first quarter of 2017 and end a year later. The final units were to be completed in 2020, the application says.

The owner of the property, Patten’s application said, is BMR Funding LLC of Delaware. The application included a sales agreement dated April 2015, showing that Apogee Realty Advisors planned to purchase the property from BMR Funding.

Sarasota attorney Steve Voigt, who represents the owner of the adjacent property on Little Sarasota Bay, told the News Leader that an attorney in New York represents BMR Funding. The News Leader was unable to reach anyone with BMR.

According to Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records, BMR Funding has owned the parcel since 2009, when the firm acquired it through a foreclosure proceeding involving Bayonne Investments LLC. The manager of the latter corporation was Thomas LeFevre of Osprey, Florida Division of Corporation records show. Bayonne Investments had bought the property from Bayonne Development LLC for $16,766,600 in October 2015, county Property Appraiser Office records say. Bayonne Development also owns about 13.3 acres on Little Sarasota Bay, next to the county’s Bayonne Preserve.

On Dec. 14 — the same day Patten asked that the public hearing for the proposed zoning text amendment be cancelled — she won unanimous County Commission approval for an alternative residential development plan for Cassia Cay on the Little Sarasota Bay site owned by Bayonne Development.

Core Development representatives said at the Dec. 15, 2015 workshop that their Cassia Cay mixed-use development would be similar to their project in Naples (above). Images courtesy Sarasota County

Attorney Dan Bailey of Williams Parker in Sarasota explained to the board that Bayonne Development wanted to preserve the right to build the binding concept plan for that project — also approved by the County Commission in 2006 — in the event a planned sale of the 13.3-acre site to Apogee Realty Advisors did not proceed. (See the related story in this issue.)

Transportation concerns

During a December 2015 neighborhood workshop Patten and the Cassia Cay development team hosted, residents who live near the proposed mixed-use site voiced renewed concerns about its potential to exacerbate traffic congestion on U.S. 41 in that area. A number of speakers appeared during the Nov. 3, 2016 Planning Commission meeting to reiterate those worries, not knowing beforehand that the mixed-use development proposal no longer was on the agenda.

The binding concept plan the County Commission approved in 2006 for the mixed-use development calls for only two access points into the property from U.S. 41. The ordinance says the southern access point must be restricted to right-in/right-out, while the northern access point will be limited to “right-in/right-out and left-in only.”

Another four stipulations focus on roadway improvements for which the developer would be responsible; they were designed to ease the flow of traffic expected to be generated by the project.