Benderson Development representatives emphasize spaces are traffic-calming measure; Pine Shores residents dispute that
(Editor’s note: This article was updated the morning of July 28 to correct two names and a detail about a discussion that Sura Kochman, leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, held with county staff members about traffic-calming.)
It took two votes on the night of July 20, but the second one found all but a solitary member of the Sarasota Planning Commission in opposition to Benderson Development Co.’s proposal for parallel parking spaces along Glencoe and Crestwood avenues in Pine Shores Estates, next to the site of the company’s Siesta Promenade project.
The recommendation will be part of the agenda packet when the County Commission takes up Benderson’s application for modifications of its plans for the mixed-use development. That hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30 at the county Administration Center in downtown Sarasota.
During the July 20 Planning Commission hearing, the company’s representatives characterized the parallel parking spaces as a traffic-calming measure, even though the proposal was not suggested during either of two workshops that agents for Benderson conducted in 2021 in response to County Commission direction in 2018. In approving Siesta Promenade as designed at that time, the County Commission stipulated that Benderson take steps to try to prevent traffic intrusion into Pine Shores, which will be the immediate neighbor of the development.
Moreover, during the hearing last week, county Planner Keaton Osborn pointed out to the Planning Commission that the parallel parking spaces could be found to be inconsistent with Future Land Use Policy 1.2.17 in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. That policy’s title is, “Mitigating potential incompatibilities between land uses due to character proposed.” The county staff report noted that the parking spaces likely would lead to “increased cut-through traffic in a concentrated area.”
The Comprehensive Plan guides growth in the community.
The County Commission approved the original version of Siesta Promenade on Dec. 12, 2018. It was not until August 2019 that a Benderson affiliate finally was able to purchase two single-family home parcels in Pine Shores; they comprise 0.78 acres. The goal was to so include them in the approximately 24-acre Siesta Promenade site.
Philip DiMaria, a certified planner with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, who made the July 20 presentation on Benderson’s behalf, said the parcels “were considered holdouts” when the company was finalizing plans for the development.
Because no extra dwelling units have been proposed on the basis of those extra parcels, DiMaria noted, “We’re effectively lower the density and intensity” of the project.
Their addition has been described as a “smoothing out” of the boundary of Siesta Promenade next to the neighborhood. The inclusion of the extra land also permitted Benderson to realign the placement of the residential buildings planned for Siesta Promenade, so they all are slated to stand on the eastern side of the site, next to Pine Shores; none of them can be taller than 40 feet.
Part of Benderson’s formal request was to rezone the new parcels from a multi-family zoning designation to Commercial General, in keeping with the zoning of the rest of the Siesta Promenade property. The development will have 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space — no change from the breakdown of uses that the County Commission approved in December 2018.
Two other facets of Benderson’s application for the July 20 hearing dealt with planning procedural changes related to the inclusion of the extra property.
None of the 12 people who offered public comments during the hearing opposed the rezoning application or the resulting reconfiguration of the buildings within Siesta Promenade. However, they all made it clear that they oppose the parallel parking spaces, saying they expect those spots would result in far more traffic intrusion in the neighborhood. Speakers also stressed that the spaces would lead to more safety concerns for residents, especially those who walk or use bicycles, and children at play.
“There’s already too much traffic on Glencoe Avenue,” Walt Rodak, who lives on that street, told the planning commissioners. Many drivers use the street as a cut-through to bypass the traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, on their way to Siesta Key, he pointed out. The parallel parking spaces will encourage more people to drive into the neighborhood, he added, “to search for parking. This will just multiply my safety concerns.”
Jay Barbour, who lives on Hazelwood Street, said, “I characterize this neighborhood as kind of a ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ I love it. It’s a wonderful little tucked-away area close to [Siesta] Key, close to everything.”
While he agrees with the need for traffic-calming measures to help protect Pine Shores from traffic associated with Siesta Promenade, he continued, parallel parking never was discussed with the residents as an option, “so I was shocked [to learn of the proposal] … to think of that road suddenly becoming more of sort of an urban traffic zone.”
People would be backing out of residential driveways only about 10 feet from the parallel parking spaces, Barbour noted.
The parallel parking proposal is “not safe for children; it’s not safe for bicyclists; it’s not safe for people walking their dogs,” Dr. James Williams, a Glencoe resident, pointed out. Handicapped patients at a nearby rehab center often walk in the neighborhood, too, he emphasized, accompanied by staff members of the facility.
Reanne Malone, who lives in Southgate, said she came to the hearing to support the Pine Shores residents. “I would really like you guys to force [Benderson] to be a good neighbor,” she told the planning commissioners.
Several speakers also decried Benderson’s plans to relocate a 20-foot landscape buffer that the County Commission approved in 2018 as a means of screening the commercial site from the neighborhood. The new application puts that buffer on the project side, instead of immediately adjacent to Glencoe and Crestwood avenues.
In response to a question from Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper — who ended up casting the sole vote in favor of the parallel parking — DiMaria of Kimley-Horn said the spaces were not necessary to meet the county requirement for a specific number of parking spots based on the planned on-site uses, including restaurants.
Planning Commissioner Colin Pember, who has been on the board since early 2017, asked the project team members to explain how the spaces would serve as a traffic-calming measure.
Christopher Hatton, a registered professional traffic engineer with Kimley-Horn, referenced information from the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE), which states that parallel parking spots are an industry standard for traffic calming. When people drive down a street with such spaces, Hatton continued, they realize that a person might suddenly open a vehicle door. Thus, drivers on streets with the spaces generally proceed with more caution.
These days, Hatton added, people have a tendency to spend time looking at their phones. Further, if they are used to a road, he said, they are more inclined to drive it at a faster rate of speed. With parallel spaces present, he pointed out, “You’re going to pay attention. You’re going to slow down. You’re probably not going to necessarily use that road.”
Later during the meeting, at the request of the commissioners, Don DeBerry, senior manager in the Transportation Division of the county’s Public Works Department, also addressed the safety concerns speakers had raised.
“I do believe [parallel parking is] a traffic-calming measure,” he told the commissioners. However, he continued, “I do not believe it’s safer than no parking. … I just looked up [the federal Crash Modification Factors Clearinghouse] standards,” he added, finding two studies that dealt with adding parallel parking to streets. Both, he said, indicated that such spaces are “less safe than no parallel parking.”
Two perspectives on the same topic
In response to Planning Commission questions, Todd Mathes, director of Development for Benderson, also addressed the parking issue.
Mathes explained that the County Commission called for Benderson to engage with Pine Shores residents on traffic-calming measures. Yet, he said, “There was not enough interest in the neighborhood to merit any traffic-calming method or improvements,” even though, he added, the exercise cost Benderson money.
Nonetheless, Mathes said, “Some of our neighbors remained very engaged …” As a result, he continued, the company plans to build a mini roundabout at the intersection of Glencoe Avenue with Hazelwood and Birchwood streets, because the Pine Shores residents wanted it. He emphasized that the company will shoulder the expense of that construction.
Parallel parking spaces have been proven to serve as a traffic-calming measure, Mathes noted.
However, when she made her comments during the hearing, Sura Kochman, long-time leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, emphasized that the Benderson narrative about the traffic-calming process was not true.
After Benderson representatives conducted the two workshops on potential measures, she explained, half the ballots that were mailed to houses in the neighborhood went to properties whose owners were absent — it was during a period out of high season — or to houses that are rented through online platforms, such as Airbnb. “The [measures] failed.”
Afterward, she continued, she was able to meet with DeBerry of Public Works; Spencer Anderson, director of Public Works; Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division; and Patrick Lui, the county’s bicycle, pedestrian and trails coordinator. She and DeBerry, she added, came up with the idea of dividing Pine Shores into quadrants and then sending out new ballots with traffic-calming proposals for those quadrants, Kochman said. “This was done.”
She worked to ensure that the residents who received those ballots marked them and returned them. Those measures were approved, Kochman pointed out, as a result of that process.
The results are incorporated into No. 15 among the county-proposed stipulations in regard to the rezoning of the two new parcels:
“Prior to or concurrent with any development of the Siesta Promenade project, the Owner shall provide the following traffic calming measures:
“a. Raised crosswalks located on Crestwood Avenue at the Pine Shores Presbyterian Church.
“b. Three (3) feedback signs at the following locations” — on Hollywood Boulevard between Shelburne Lane and Ridgewood Street; on Beachwood Avenue, between Birchwood Street and Redwood Street; and at the intersection of Upper Glencoe Avenue and Brentwood Avenue
“c. All-way stop control at the intersection of Glencoe Avenue and Crestwood Avenue.
“d. Speed cushions on Beechwood Avenue between 6217 and 6223 Beechwood Avenue …
“e. Intersection control improvement at the convergence of Hazelwood Street, Glencoe Avenue, and Birchwood Street (i.e., an all-way stop control or a mini roundabout).”
Moreover, Kochman stressed, Wiggins of Transportation Planning “never suggested [the use of parallel parking spaces]. Kochman provided the Planning Commission members a copy of an email from Wiggins to that effect.
Additionally, Kochman pointed out, Benderson will have to take 9 feet from its own property to accommodate the creation of the parallel parking spaces, because the county stipulations call for 20 feet of pavement on Glencoe to be maintained.
Further, she noted that the county staff report for the hearing that night included eight different references to the potential incompatibility of the parallel parking spaces with the approval criteria for the action Benderson was seeking from the commissioners.
Later, as part of the rebuttal during the hearing, Mathes of Benderson emphasized, “We’re proposing a less dense project,” thanks to the addition of the extra land where the two Pine Shores homes stood, and the new project design “eliminated a driveway on Glencoe” that would have allowed traffic into and out of Siesta Promenade.
Differences of opinion among the planning commissioners
Planning Commissioner Pember made the initial motion after the hearing, recommending that the County Commission approve Benderson’s application, with the parallel parking spaces.
Noting the comments by the project team members and DeBerry of Public Works, Pember indicated that he felt the parking spaces were a valid tradeoff for Benderson’s proposal to eliminate the access from Glencoe Avenue to Siesta Promenade that was part of the 2018 plans.
That access, he said, “invites more traffic into the neighborhood than does 39 parallel parking spaces.”
Pember added that he believes that the majority of patrons of businesses in Siesta Promenade will choose to park near those businesses within the development than on Glencoe.
Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz, who already had voiced his distaste for parallel parking, said he would support the motion, though he acknowledged, “It’s a coin flip, honestly.” Addressing the speakers in the audience, Stultz added, “You’ve all made very good arguments here this evening, and I think the county commissioners will listen to them very intently.”
Then the newest Planning Commission member, Emmalee Legler, stressed that the board members were not given the outright option of approving the company’s application without the parallel parking spaces. Her comment elicited applause from the audience, prompting Vice Chair Martha Pike — who was presiding that night — to ask everyone to refrain from such displays.
Pember suggested that the Planning Commission could recommend that the County Commission eliminate the parallel parking part of the plans.
Pember’s motion for approval with the spaces then failed on a 3-3 tie, with Stultz joining Legler and Pike in voting “No.”
(Two members of the board were absent that night. One seat is vacant because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointment of Neil Rainford to the County Commission in June.)
Legler ended up making the motion to recommend that the County Commission approve Benderson’s application, but without the parallel parking spots.
“I’m not sure parallel parking is a hill we all want to die on,” Stultz said in seconding her motion. That passed 5-1.