Planning Commission majority had recommended County Commission eliminate spots
Following a July 20 public hearing, as The Sarasota News Leader has reported, only one member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission voted in support of parallel parking spaces along Glencoe and Crestwood avenues in Pine Shores Estates — a feature that representatives of Benderson Development Co. had proposed for a revised version of the Siesta Promenade project.
Expecting that the County Commission would have the final decision on those spaces, Sura Kochman, the longtime leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance — whose members opposed the intensity of Siesta Promenade — told The Sarasota News Leader late last week that she was surprised to learn that the application no longer included the spaces.
During the July 20 hearing, Planning Commissioner Colin Pember asked Donald DeBerry, the senior transportation manager in the Public Works Department, for comments on the Benderson team’s assertions that the parallel parking spaces would function well for traffic-calming purposes.
DeBerry referenced the federal Crash Modification Factors Clearinghouse standards in explaining that he had found two studies that dealt with adding parallel parking to streets. Both, he said, indicated that such spaces are “less safe than no parallel parking.”
Kochman also stressed to the commissioners that Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, “never suggested [the use of parallel parking spaces]. Kochman provided the Planning Commission members a copy of an email from Wiggins to that effect.
Ultimately, Planning Commissioner Emmalee Legler ended up making the motion to recommend that the County Commission approve the revised Development Concept Plan for Siesta Promenade without the parallel parking spaces.
“I’m not sure parallel parking is a hill we all want to die on,” Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz said in seconding her motion.
Stultz already had voiced his distaste for parallel parking in general.
The County Commission hearing on the new Siesta Promenade plans had been scheduled among the last items on the board’s Aug. 30 agenda. However, because of concern about Hurricane Idalia’s potential effects on Sarasota County, the County Commission meetings set for Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 were cancelled.
Genevieve Judge, public information and community outreach manager for the county, told the News Leader on Aug. 28 that those sessions would be rescheduled, but she had no information at that time about the tentative timeline.
Before the agenda materials were deleted from the County Commission’s meetings and agendas page on the county website, the News Leader was able to download some of the documents.
The Executive Summary for the Aug. 30 hearing stated, “Since the Planning Commission hearing, the Applicant has provided a revised Binding Development Concept Plan showing the removal of the on-street parking along Glencoe and Crestwood Avenues.” As a result, the summary added, staff had removed Stipulation No. 16 in the materials provided to the Planning Commission. That stipulation said that Benderson could not designate the parallel parking spots for private use only; it called for the company to maintain the spaces; and it directed the company to ensure that 20 feet of pavement be maintained for vehicles on the two streets, with any sight distance issues to be addressed during what is called the “Site and Development plan review.” The latter refers to the process through which an entity that receives approval of a project works with county staff members on the exact details of construction, so staff can ensure that each element of the plans complies with county regulations.
The Executive Summary did add, “However, even with the revised [Development Concept Plan], it should be noted that on-street parking is permitted along public [rights of way] unless expressly prohibited through a separate process.”
The county’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) addresses petitions for a variety of measures that residents seek for their neighborhoods — from the inclusion of four-way stop signs to lowered speed limits.
As explained on that advisory board’s webpages, the TAC’s purpose is to “[a]dvise the County Commission and make recommendations on traffic, parking, speed regulations, safety, and the placement of traffic-control devices within unincorporated Sarasota County.”
A copy of an email that the News Leader obtained shows that DeBerry, the senior transportation manager, wrote to Kochman of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance on Aug. 24, in response to Kochman’s inquiry about Benderson’s removal of the parallel parking spaces.
DeBerry noted the following:
- “If you want to restrict parking in the right of way by [installing signs prohibiting it], you would have to go through the TAC process.
- “The [County Commission] has the ultimate authority to regulate parking in the right of way, to allow or prohibit it.
- “Transportation staff has not made a recommendation on this issue.”
The TAC webpages provide a link to an Item Request Form, which calls for the applicant to do the following: “Please explain in detail why you are requesting this change, provide location, attach maps, etc. Any request to restrict on-street parking must show that parking of vehicles on public streets constitutes a hazard to vehicular traffic and impedes the safety of vehicular traffic.”
The form includes details, as well, about the number of signatures necessary to getting an item on a TAC agenda; the count is based on the type of street involved. However, a homeowners association may apply for TAC action if it can produce meeting minutes showing a vote in favor of a proposed measure.
The TAC meets quarterly: March, June, September and December. The next session is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sept. 11.
A dispute over the traffic-calming issue
During the July 20 Planning Commission meeting, both Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, and Philip DiMaria, a certified planner with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota who was representing the company, emphasized that the parallel parking spaces would serve as a traffic-calming measure.
However, Kochman of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance made it clear to the planning commissioners that those spaces were not among a multitude of traffic-calming initiatives that Kimley-Horn staff suggested during two public meetings with neighborhood residents in 2021; both sessions focused on steps that could be taken to lessen the impact of Siesta Promenade-related traffic upon the neighborhood.
In approving the Siesta Promenade plans, the County Commission had stipulated that the company work with Pine Shores residents before the project was constructed.
Every member of the public who addressed the Planning Commission on July 20 decried the plans for the parallel parking spaces, citing concerns about dangers the spots would pose to children at play, pedestrians and bicyclists, especially.
In fact, by count of the News Leader, 18 of the 22 emails about the revised Siesta Promenade plans, included in the County Commission’s agenda packet for the Aug. 30 meeting, expressed opposition to the spaces.
During the planning commissioners’ discussion, they noted the public sentiment. No one had raised an objection to the primary reason Benderson had touted for the revised plans for the development: the proposed inclusion in the site plan of approximately 0.78 acres where two single-family home parcels had stood; the company had been unable to purchase that property prior to its completion of work on its original Siesta Promenade application.
As approved by the County Commission on Dec. 12, 2018, the project would contain 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space.
A couple of years ago, Benderson representatives indicated a desire to expand the residential density of the project, which has been planned on approximately 25 acres in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41. However, when the company late last year formally submitted its application to the county for the new design, it made no request for a change in the density.
Nonetheless, the addition of the former single-family-home parcels allowed Benderson to smooth out a gap on the neighborhood side of the project and realign the residential buildings.