Residents worried about noise and hours of operation
It took the addition of some last-minute stipulations, but the Sarasota County Commission has given unanimous approval to plans for a 9,260-square-foot community center in the Amish and Mennonite area just east of the city of Sarasota known as Pinecraft.
The project is planned for the property on the northwest corner of Beneva Road and Hacienda Street, county Planner James Ehrmann explained to the commission on Jan. 16.
Because the county’s zoning regulations require that a community center should be located on a parcel that is no smaller than 2 acres, approval of a Special Exception was necessary for the facility to be built, he added. The site at one time was larger than 2 acres, he pointed out, but some of that square footage was taken for a road-widening project.
One Pinecraft resident, Evelyn Gray, told the commissioners during the Jan. 16 public hearing that she had several concerns about the proposal, and she was representing not only herself, but also 12 family members, seven of whom live in the neighborhood near the site. “So we’re all affected by this.”
(Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records say Gray’s property is located on Teate Drive in Pinecraft.)
Showing the board members a map, Gray explained that the parcel slated for the Pinecraft Community Center “is on the corner of Beneva Road and Phillippi Creek Bridge. … Phillippi Creek works as a megaphone to enhance all noise.” Even someone kayaking down the creek sounds louder than one would expect, she indicated.
First, Gray voiced concern about the binding development concept plan for the Pinecraft Community Center, which showed the new construction covering most of the site. Next, she continued, the proposal calls for the removal of three large oaks, although one grand oak will be preserved on the southern portion of the parcel. (County Planner Ehrmann had confirmed the latter plan for the commissioners.)
Then Gray told the board members, “There are a lot of people that live very close [to the community center site]. All the noise coming from this property will affect everyone in the neighborhood,” she added, which was why she was interested in learning how the center would be used. She had heard that weddings, funerals and events with meal preparation would be among the activities there. Yet, she pointed out, within three-quarters of a mile of the site, three churches exist, “and they have very large buildings there that are actually rented out. … It’s not a lack of availability for a community building.”
Further, she said, “I’m wondering if their intent is to make this a church, ever … And who owns this property? Is it [a limited liability company]? Is it individuals?”
Moreover, Gray continued, “There’s never enough [parking in Pinecraft]. … I’ve lived in the area for 73 years, and believe me, there is not.”
Gray asked that any activities at the center be confined to the interior. “That will not disturb the peace of current or future residents.” Additionally, she asked that the commissioners prohibit competitive sports and contests or any commercial use of the site. And “Absolutely no amplification,” not for singers, musical instruments or speakers, she told the board members. “Nothing.”
She also sought commission agreement that no event could begin on the site before 9:30 a.m., and any gathering would have to conclude by 9:30 p.m.
Answers and explanations
Chair Charles Hines then asked the applicant, Glen Mast of Sarasota, to respond to Gray’s remarks.
“The Pinecraft community has various amenities to it,” Mast pointed out — restaurants, a hotel, churches and a county park, among them. “One thing it doesn’t have is a community center.”
The property at Beneva Road and Hacienda Street, Mast said, “is the only privately owned, open parcel that is close to Pinecraft” and suitable for a community center.
As for potential uses of the facility: Mast explained, “There is a possibility of a wedding happening there,” although he characterized the potential as “not too likely.” One room has been dedicated for quilting, he continued. What would be more likely, he continued, “would be a funeral.”
Church services also could be held in the center, he noted.
Regarding parking: According to the provisions of the Pinecraft Overlay District that the commissioners approved last year, Mast continued, 50% of the parking spaces will be for vehicles, while the other 50% will be for bicycles, which, he noted are “very much a normal way of transportation [in Pinecraft].”
The owner of the property, Mast explained, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. (His application names the Pinecraft Community Center Inc.; an owner affidavit was signed by John A. Yoder, a member of the corporation’s board, who lives in Sarasota. Florida Division of Corporations records show that nonprofit was organized in February 2016. Its principal address is 1099 Graber Ave., which is in Pinecraft.)
“As far as the noise,” Mast continued, “there’s not enough room on the outside other than the parking area to actually hold anything.” The rear of the property has been set aside for stormwater retention, he added, as required by county regulations to filter runoff before it enters the creeks and, ultimately, Sarasota Bay.
Meetings would be held inside the facility, Mast said, but amplification would be necessary. “If you have a large building,” he pointed out, “you have to have some kind of amplification.”
Regarding the hours for the facility: Mast told the board, “I think 9:30 is too early, I think 11 o’clock would be a much more reasonable time [at night].”
He further explained that he had worked with county staff on the site plan to make it adhere to requirements for buffers and setbacks. “We would have loved to have kept the tree on the north end,” he added, but that proved impossible. The structure, he noted, “is basically shoehorned in [on the site plan].”
During exchanges with the commissioners, Mast said, “I have no problem with no amplification on the outside.”
When Commissioner Michael Moran asked Mast about a stipulation calling for all activities to end at 10 p.m., Mast replied, “I still think 11 o’clock will be more reasonable for stopping any meetings.”
Ten p.m., Commissioner Nancy Detert told him, would be better. “People go to bed at that hour and have to get up for work.”
After looking toward the audience, Mast turned back to Detert and responded, “I’ve been given the go-ahead with that 10 p.m. and [the request for] indoor gatherings only.”
Finally, after more tinkering with the proposed stipulations, Detert made a motion that requires all activity to take place inside the community center; the hours events can be held will be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and the facility will be constructed in one phase, not two, as originally planned.
Before the vote, the board members also consulted with Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, who explained that events at the community center “would be governed by the [county’s] noise ordinance.” That requires that the maximum noise level drop at 10 p.m., she said, “so if there is a violation, they would be held accountable …”
Any outdoor recreation on the site, Thompson continued, would necessitate another request for a Special Exception, because of the Pinecraft Overlay District zoning regulations.
As a result of Thompson’s remarks, Detert then amended the motion to stipulate that only indoor amplification would be allowed.
Commissioner Moran seconded the motion.
Before the vote, Chair Hines pointed out, “This is a Special Exception [application]” involving an area with residences on three of the four sides of the property. Yet, neither staff nor the county Planning Commission — which voted unanimously on Nov. 1, 2018, to recommend the County Commission approve the request — called for any of the stipulations the County Commission had discussed. Referring to the measures in Detert’s motion, Hines added, “Those just seem like normal things that should have been discussed at the Planning Commission, and probably should have been proffered by our staff.”
As for the plans for the facility itself, Hines continued, “This is somewhat vague. I don’t know that you’re doing quilting at 11 o’clock at night. If you are, God bless you.”
Then the motion passed on a 5-0 vote.