New Cassia Cay residential concept wins County Commission approval

Board learns the ultimate plan for the development on Little Sarasota Bay will be pegged to sale of the property

An aerial view shows the site of the Cassia Cay residential development, outlined in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With Sarasota County’s Planning Services manager having explained the unusual path leading to that point, the County Commission agreed unanimously on Dec. 14 to approve a residential plan with less density on about 13.3 acres fronting Little Sarasota Bay. The project is called Cassia Cay.

Instead of the 152 condominium units allowed under a concept the board authorized in 2006, the latest proposal calls for 98. The building heights would be a mix of 45, 56 and 68 feet, with in-structure parking, according to the application.

The height of the buildings in the 2006 plan would be a maximum of 55 feet, the county staff report showed.

In making the Dec. 14 motion to endorse the 2016 concept, Commissioner Charles Hines said, “I just like this version of the plan better. … I think it’s a better product for the area.”

In response to a question from Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo, attorney Brenda Patten of the Sarasota firm Berlin, Patten & Ebling — representing the developer — pointed out that someone could submit a site and development plan to county staff for the original 152-unit proposal and then construct it, with “no further approval from the [county] Planning Commission or the Board of County Commissioners. … We’re coming in with an alternate plan that reduces the units to 98, so we’re shrinking the impact of the traffic, everything …”

Option B calls for reduced density. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The project site is south of Siesta Key and immediately adjacent to the Holiday Harbor community on Holiday Drive.

At the outset of the public hearing, county Planning Manager Tate Taylor explained that the applicant was seeking approval of the new concept plan while maintaining the option of pursuing the 2006 version. “The applicant will decide which one it wants to go forward with.”

The Office of the County Attorney “affirmed that this was a lawful process,” Taylor added. Still, this has been the first time he has seen this type of approach in his 30-plus years with the county, he said. “Processing it was a bit of a challenge for staff.”

Taylor also told the board that, unless it provided guidance for the same type of initiative to be pursued with a future project, staff would not allow other applicants to follow this pattern.

Dan Bailey, an attorney with the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota — acting as a representative of the current owner of the property, Bayonne Development LLC — explained that Bayonne has contracted to sell the land to Apogee Realty Advisors, based in Naples. Bayonne’s multiple owners had planned to construct the project as detailed in the 2006 concept plan, Bailey continued, “and they still like it. Intervening was a recession. … It caused a 10-year gap here.”

“In the event there’s some snafu in the closing [on the land],” Bailey pointed out, his clients “don’t want to do someone else’s plan.”

He apologized for the complexity of the situation, but he pointed out that Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy had included language in the application to make it clear that if the County Commission did not approve the new site plan, the petitioner would have to withdraw it. “I would hope you would see your county attorney has fully protected you with this language,” Bailey said.

“It is different,” Chair Alan Maio responded. “I thought I’d seen it all.”

Maio did ask for clarification that if Bayonne successfully sells the property to Apogee, “the original plan, the entitlements, are extinguished?”

“They go away,” Bailey replied, as soon as the new site plan has been submitted to county staff. “That’s in the ordinance Alan [Roddy] put together.”

Option A calls for 152 dwelling units. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Maio thanked him for the explanation.

Although Apogee Realty Advisors plans to purchase the property, the application shows, the developer would be Kevin Daves of Core Development Inc. of Wichita, Kan. Daves was also on the team that developed the Ritz-Carlton project in downtown Sarasota and The Concession golf club community.

Neighbors’ worries

In spite of the reduced density, four speakers during the public hearing cited an array of concerns. They said that not only will the project lead to further traffic congestion along U.S. 41, but that it also has the potential to destroy Native American burial mounds that might be on the site. Yet another concern was that the construction will disrupt bald eagles, which have an established nest in the county’s 11.2-acre Bayonne Preserve adjacent to the property.

In regard to traffic: County Planner Adriana Trujillo-Villa pointed out that two of eight stipulations attached to the site plan specifically regard improvements that must be made to ease access to and from U.S. 41:

  • No. 3: “Prior to or concurrent with development of the subject parcel, the developer shall extend the existing southbound to eastbound left turn lane on U.S. 41 at Lake Pointe Boulevard/Springfield Drive.”
  • No. 4. “Prior to or concurrent with development of the subject parcel, the developer shall construct a northbound to westbound directional left turn lane … at the proposed project driveway and U.S. 41 intersection.”

Ruth Brandwein, who lives in the nearby Pelican Cove community, told the board she had 250 signatures on petitions opposed to Cassia Cay. She pointed out that the property “is the last undeveloped parcel on [Little Sarasota] Bay.” The land is a flyway for birds traveling through the area to and from Historic Spanish Point and Oscar Scherer State Park, she added.

Ruth Brandwein. File photo

In response to the comments about the eagles, Ray Loraine, senior consultant with the Sarasota office of the environmental consulting firm Cardno, explained that he has been working on potential development of the Cassia Cay site since 2001. The developer has a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said, to allow the project to proceed.

A report included with the 2016 application to the county says Cardno applied for and obtained a bald eagle “take permit” in March 2010, in connection with plans for the previous development, Grande Bay. That permit has not expired, the report adds, so Core Development will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), as required, to ensure the firm complies with “current state and federal management guidelines for bald eagles,” the report notes.

An FWS letter, dated Sept. 14, 2006 — included in the application — explains that “take” can refer to “harm and harassment as a result of noise and disturbance generated from the work site, construction of homes and infrastructure, and increased human activities after the project has been constructed.” Among the potential direct effects, the letter notes, could be abandonment of the nest while eggs are in it or abandonment of the nest after chicks have hatched.

Nonetheless, the letter continues, the FWS agreed that the project was “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of bald eagles.” If the nest were lost, the letter continued, that would “not appreciably affect the overall survival and recovery of the bald eagle in Florida.”

And even though archaeological surveys of the site by a private firm and the county found no Native American burial mounds, Brandwein said, the county expert with whom she spoke told her that 75% of the property is covered with material left over from the dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway. He explained, she continued, that “it would take extensive large machinery to dig below that [to conduct a thorough search].”

If any burial remains are found during construction, Brandwein pointed out, the project will have to be stopped, and further investigation will have to be conducted every 25 meters as the digging proceeds.

She raised that concern during the Nov. 3 Planning Commission hearing on the new Cassia Cay residential proposal, she added, but Patten “only repeated the fact that nothing was found” during the private and county surveys of the site.

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

In her Dec. 14 rebuttal, Patten said, “There are no Indian middens on this site.” She also affirmed that the county’s land development regulations would halt construction if any remains were found, “so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

Final words

During her rebuttal, Patten also referenced a concern Pelican Cove residents had raised about the proximity of the residential structures to the bay. Patten explained that because of setbacks required by the County Code, no building would stand closer to the shoreline than 130 feet.

In regard to worries about traffic, Patten pointed to the lowered residential density in the concept filed this year, which means “a reduction in the traffic impact.”

She told the county commissioners that she believed the speakers were confusing the proposal before them with a plan for a mixed-use development along U.S. 41, which originally was designed to border the residential community. Such confusion was evidenced at the Planning Commission hearing, Patten added. However, the application for that mixed-use project has been withdrawn, she noted.