FDOT awaiting bond from consulting firm representing Benderson Development
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff has completed a review of permit applications for a traffic signal that will be installed at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C, The Sarasota News Leader learned this week.
FDOT Operations Center staff members are awaiting the submittal of the required bond for work that will take place within the state right of way, Brian Rick, FDOT’s District One spokesman, told the News Leader in a Dec. 1 email. The Kimley-Horn consulting firm, which is identified as the engineer of record for the project, is to provide that bond, Rick added.
After the department receives the funds, Rick continued, “[T]he permits will be approved and issued, and construction can then begin.”
Rick also noted, “The timeline for construction will be determined by the contractor for the developer, Benderson Development.”
The News Leader was unable to obtain a copy of the permit applications prior to its deadline for publication this week.
Rick added that Sarasota County Transportation Division staff “will be included on all inspections and [the] final as-built inspection once construction is complete.”
The copy of the unsigned permit Rick provided to the News Leader says, “FDOT will include Sarasota County Public Works Director in any changes. Sarasota County Public Works Director or those assigned will be invited to the preconstruction meeting and final inspection. County representatives can make site visits with FDOT present.”
Spencer Anderson is the director of Public Works.
The traffic signal is a facet of the planned construction of the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development, which will stand on approximately 25 acres in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
During the Nov. 5 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), President Catherine Luckner told the members that she had learned recently that plans were proceeding for the installation of the stoplight. However, she added, “I don’t think [the project is] going to happen really soon.”
Siesta resident James Wallace, who spearheaded the fundraising for a 2019 lawsuit that challenged the County Commission’s approval of the Siesta Promenade proposal, had indicated to her, Luckner continued, that an effort was underway to try to spur a more detailed analysis regarding the development’s effects on traffic congestion on Stickney Point Road and its environs, including Siesta Key.
Wallace has protested multiple times in public about the lack of attention placed on Siesta Key when Kimley-Horn undertook traffic analyses for Benderson Development prior to the Sarasota County public hearings on Benderson’s petitions for the mixed-use project.
Along with more than 400 condominiums/apartments and a 130-room hotel, the plans call for 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space.
As approved by the County Commission on multiple votes on Dec. 12, 2018, Siesta Promenade was to have 414 dwelling units. The hotel rooms count as half a dwelling unit, which added 65 for a total count of 479 units. However, Benderson last year purchased two parcels in the adjoining neighborhood, Pine Shores Estates. The company filed a preliminary application with county staff in June, seeking to increase the number of dwelling units to 495 on the basis of that extra square footage.
No formal application for the necessary rezoning of those Pine Shores lots had been filed as of Dec. 2, the News Leader found in a check of county records. Benderson Development will need County Commission approval to amend its site plan for Siesta Promenade, county staff has told the News Leader.
Todd Dary, the county planner who oversaw the management of the original Siesta Promenade application, wrote the News Leader in a Sept. 10 email, “The next step in the process prior to submitting an application for rezoning is a neighborhood workshop … Residents within 750 [feet] of the site will be notified.”
The traffic light proposal
Materials Benderson Development filed with Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff in June 2017 included a Kimley-Horn traffic analysis for Siesta Promenade. The consulting firm proposed the traffic signal at Avenue B and C, along with the closure of the median opening at Stickney Point road and Glencoe Avenue. The latter action would “accommodate an eastbound left-turn lane,” the report said.
Further, the document noted, Kimley-Horn was proposing an extension of the existing westbound merge lane to create a continuous westbound right-turn lane along Stickney Point Road from U.S. 41 to Avenue B and C.
An analysis was conducted at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, the report noted; data was collected for 12 hours. The results “indicate that a traffic signal is warranted,” the document added.
As the News Leader reported in January 2018, Nathan Kautz, an FDOT traffic services engineer, notified Kimley-Horn staff in a Dec. 19, 2017 email that Kimley-Horn needed to provide details about how Avenue A ”will work with the [traffic queues] at the proposed signal …”
Additionally, in a Nov. 6, 2017 email to Kimley-Horn employees, Kautz noted that some of his colleagues had asked for assurance that the proposed signal at Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C would not cause westbound traffic queues to back up into the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
In a Nov. 17, 2017 letter to Kautz, Christopher Hatton, senior vice president of Kimley-Horn, wrote that the firm’s traffic studies indicated that westbound traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of [Stickney Point Road] & US 41.”
Nonetheless, Siesta Key residents have talked of such traffic backups occurring regularly on days during the height of tourist season, when beachgoers are headed from the mainland to the island via Stickney Point Road. They also have posted photos on Facebook to support their contentions.
During a Dec. 2 Neighborhood Workshop on proposals for a 120-room hotel and a parking garage on south Siesta Key, Wallace, the Siesta Promenade opponent, told the hosts of that event that approval of the traffic signal at Avenue B and C “still is in question,” indicating he was unaware that the initiative is moving forward.
“If that light gets approved,” Wallace predicted, “Twenty percent of the time, the east/west traffic [on Stickney Point Road] will be stopped dead in its tracks.”
When county staff provided its report on Siesta Promenade to the County Commission in advance of the December 2018 public hearing, staff listed several traffic improvements linked to the development. Among them, it cited the plan for the traffic signal at the Avenue B and C/Stickney Point Road intersection, plus the construction of an eastbound to northbound left-turn lane.
In the litigation seeking to overturn the board’s approval of Siesta Promenade, Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes noted that the County Commission predicated its action on FDOT’s approval of the traffic signal at Avenue B and C.
Brookes was representing Sura Kochman, a resident of Pine Shores Estates, who contended that county staff and the commissioners did not follow county regulations and policies in allowing the new development to go forward.
In an appeal to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, after the Circuit Court ruled for the county, Brookes wrote in detail about the fact that the Stickney Point Road drawbridge is one of only two accesses to Siesta Key. Yet, Brookes added, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on days during the height of tourist season, “[T]his segment of Stickney [Point Road] is very frequently ‘stop and go’ with backups in both directions on [U.S.] 41 and on Midnight Pass [Road] North and South of Stickney Point [Road].”
In her Dec. 2, 2019 opinion, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh wrote, “It is not in dispute that installing a traffic light is subject to approval by the Department of Transportation and that construction of [Siesta Promenade] cannot begin until the signal is installed and the intersection completed.”
The stoplight also was one focal point of a December 2019 public hearing that FDOT conducted on its swap of Siesta Key roads — and Stickney Point Road west of U.S. 41 — to the county in exchange for assuming authority over River Road between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 in South County.
During that event, Siesta residents continued to voice concerns about how traffic would flow between the mainland and the southern part of the barrier island, given the traffic pattern changes — and extra vehicles — associated with Siesta Promenade.
Wallace, the Siesta resident who raised funds for Kochman’s legal complaint against the county, told the FDOT representative presiding over the hearing that “the best news” resulting from Judge McHugh’s decision was that she memorialized FDOT’s involvement in the final decision on whether the Avenue B and C stoplight would be erected.