Revised building layout for Siesta Promenade necessitates new Planning Commission and County Commission hearings

65-foot-tall residential towers would loom over single-family homes in Pine Shores Estates

A reconfiguration of the layout of the Siesta Promenade mixed-use project near Siesta Key will necessitate new public hearings before the Sarasota County Planning Commission and the County Commission, The Sarasota News Leaderhas learned.

A revised Binding Development Concept Plan submitted to county Planning and Development Services Department staff on March 9 shows all five of the proposed residential structures — plus a 50-foot-tall building planned to contain a restaurant, as well as retail and office space — in a line bordering the adjacent Pine Shores Estates neighborhood, the News Leader learned through a public records request.

Moreover, three of the five residential structures would stand 65 feet in height, based on the Building Legend that accompanies the Binding Development Concept Plan.

The Binding Development Concept Plan that the County Commission approved on Dec. 12, 2018, showed only three of the residential buildings on the border of the neighborhood. None of them was to exceed 40 feet in height. The 50-foot-tall commercial building with the restaurant and retail and office space appeared to be separated from Pine Shores homes by a wider stretch of landscape buffering, as well.

During the 2018 public hearing, then-Commissioner Charles Hines questioned Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, about the height of the buildings planned next to the neighborhood. Hines said he was struggling with the idea that even the three-story buildings would be compatible with the adjacent single-family homes.

“If I wake up in the morning and get the newspaper [outside], what is the feel of that height [when I look up]?” Hines continued.

The buildings closest to Pine Shores will stand 40 feet, Mathes replied during the hearing. The goal, Mathes explained, was to transition from the residential buildings closer to the neighborhood to the commercial structures adjacent to U.S. 41.

The new plan, as of March 9, also includes parallel parking spaces along Glencoe Avenue, on the perimeter of the development. Glencoe is a primary street in Pine Shores Estates. Those spaces were not featured in the 2018 plan, either.

The revised plans further reflect the fact that two single-family home parcels in Pine Shores, which a Benderson affiliate purchased in 2019, will be made part of the development site.

In response to News Leader questions this week, county Planning and Development staff wrote, “Addition of parcels and incorporation into the Siesta Promenade development requires a rezoning and amendment to the binding development concept plan and a Critical Area Plan amendment.”

When the County Commission approved the Siesta Promenade layout and building details in December 2018, it also approved a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation for the project. Though a CAP typically encompasses the area around a development site, in an effort to provide coordinated planning for that area, Siesta Promenade is the only element of that 2018 CAP.

In response to a News Leader question about when staff would anticipate the new Planning and County commission hearings to be conducted on the proposal, Planning and Development staff wrote, “Application is currently in Formal review with no public hearings scheduled. Once we have a [Neighborhood Workshop] date and Formal review is complete, the public hearings can be scheduled. Planning Commission would be a minimum of two weeks after [the Neighborhood Workshop].”

County regulations require a developer to host such a workshop for residents and property owners within 750 square feet of a project site, so those individuals can be informed of the plans and have an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers to those questions.

A stop-and-start process

In September 2020, the News Leader reported, Benderson Development Co. — whose affiliate Siesta 41 Associates LLP formally is the developer of Siesta Promenade — submitted an application to county Planning and Development staff, seeking the rezoning of the two single-family parcels it had purchased in Pine Shore Estates so the company could add them to the approximately 24-acre Siesta Promenade site.

Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that, in August 2019, Siesta 41 Associates LLP paid $825,000 for the parcel at 6331 Glencoe Ave. The company purchased the adjacent parcel, located at 6339 Glencoe Ave., on the same day — Aug. 14, 2019 — and paid the same amount of money for it, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say.

As of June 2020, according to materials that Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, provided county staff, Benderson was seeking to increase the number of residential units in the Siesta Promenade site plan from 479 to 495. In approving the December 2018 site plan, the County Commission agreed to 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space. Each hotel room counted then as two residential units.

A county Development Review Committee (DRC) document, completed on the basis of a July 16, 2020 review of the preliminary Siesta 41 Associates application, noted that adding the 0.78 acres encompassed by the two new parcels would necessitate applications reflecting a revised Development Concept Plan and revised stipulations for Siesta Promenade.

The DRC comprises representatives of each county department that is involved in land development. Those individuals provide recommendations to applicants about proposals and, routinely, seek more information on specific facets of building plans, to ensure a project will comply with county regulations.

Further, that 2020 DRC document said that Siesta 41 Associates would be required to undertake another traffic impact analysis, to reflect the addition of the two Pine Shores parcels.

However, almost exactly a year later — on July 29, 2021 — a representative of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota, which has worked with Benderson Development on Siesta Promenade plans for years, reported during a Neighborhood Workshop that the company no longer was seeking an increase in the number of residential units within Siesta Promenade.

Philip DiMaria, a project manager in planning, stressed that fact a number of times during the workshop, which was conducted with residents living near the Siesta Promenade site — including many in Pine Shores Estates — so they could discuss potential traffic-calming measures, as the County Commission had required during its December 2018 public hearing.

“There are no [proposed] amendments to increase densities or intensities on the project site” or to modify the development plans the County Commission approved, or the 16 stipulations that were part of those plans, DiMaria told the approximately 10 workshop participants.

“In fact,” he continued, by adding the two new parcels to the site plan, “This essentially decreased the development intensity and density.” The extra lots will allow for “additional open space for the overall project development,” DiMaria said.

Moreover, he pointed out, “I can say that there would not be any additional encroachment of height anticipated along Glencoe Avenue.” He reminded workshop participants that the Binding Development Concept Plan the county commissioners approved called for extra setback space between Siesta Promenade and the Pine Shores homes “along that corridor,” referring to Glencoe Avenue.

“Obviously, you’re not going to build anything higher,” Sura Kochman responded. “That would really not make much sense.”

Kochman is the Pine Shores Estates resident who, for years, led public opposition to the intensity of development that the Siesta Promenade plans posed. She has told the News Leader that, prior to the 2018 County Commission public hearing on Siesta Promenade, she talked on many occasions with Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, to try to persuade company leaders to plan a smaller project on the property.

Following that 2021 Neighborhood Workshop, the News Leader asked Mathes about the change in stance on the use of the extra acreage. Mathes replied in an Aug. 17, 2021 email: “[W]e are not looking to add any density to the project just the land. Everything else will be the same.”

Indeed, the March 9 configuration shows no increase in that density — just the inclusion of the two former single-family home parcels in the site plan and the changes in the placement of buildings next to Pine Shores Estates.

A zoning request

Then, in September 2022, Mathes sent a letter to Donna Thompson, the county’s zoning director, telling her that the company was requesting “confirmation that a planned modification to buildings 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 of Siesta Promenade is minor and may be authorized administratively.” All of those buildings had been planned for commercial uses, as shown on the Building Legend that the County Commission approved, and each of them was to be a single story, except for Building 9, which would contain two floors.

They would be on the eastern side of the property, close to U.S. 41.

He added the following “[h]ighlights of the modified binding Development Concept Plan”:

  • “No change to stipulation or conditions;
  • “No additional building area or height, and no new building reconfiguration within 100 feet of the project boundary (N, S, E or W);
  • “No modifications to the perimeter of the property;
  • “No net increase in total building area (total [square footage]);
  • “No net decrease of open space or buffer areas;
  • “No change in access.”

In a Sept. 20. 2022 letter to Mathes, Zoning Director Thompson concurred that the plans represented only a “minor modification.” Therefore, she added, the new site plan would “become the binding development concept plan associated with [County Commission’s 2018 vote].”

The October 2022 workshop

Subsequently, last year, DiMaria of Kimley-Horn submitted an application to county Planning staff, explaining plans for an Oct. 4, 2022 Neighborhood Workshop regarding the addition of the two single-family home parcels to the Siesta Promenade site.

The event would be conducted via Zoom, the application said.

That workshop was a required county step in Benderson’s plans to rezone the parcels from Medium Density Residential to Commercial Center, as indicated in the application. The goal of that rezoning, the application continued, was “to provide a consistency of zoning designations between the subject properties and the adjacent properties under the same ownership and within the Siesta Promenade CAP.”

The application for that Neighborhood Workshop made no mention of the reconfiguration of buildings as depicted in the March 9 Binding Development Site Plan.

In its questions this week for the county Planning and Development Services staff, the News Leader also asked whether a new Neighborhood Workshop would be necessary, in light of the information contained in the application for the Oct. 4, 2022 event. Staff replied, “Planning Services is requiring a new neighborhood workshop prior to public hearings. Revised Binding Development Concept plan is required to be shown and discussed.”

5 thoughts on “Revised building layout for Siesta Promenade necessitates new Planning Commission and County Commission hearings”

  1. 65 feet tall??!! Across the narrow 2 lane street from houses that have been there for years? That is ludicrous to go from 40 ft to 65 ft! Of course all the workshops and meetings are again planned for “off season” when a lot of people are not here to protest so Benderson will probably get his way once again.

  2. A plan that continues to increase development which violates legal and good faith agreements made with involvement of neighborhoods most impacted.
    The final blow was the apparent permission to remove truly grand trees that were in the ROW required for the neighborhood. Why? There is no longer trust of “binding concept” plan. This might not have been known without diligence by those who most impacted .
    We ask the Planners and Commissioners to maintain a binding concept plan, well developed with thoughtful input for more than 4 years – a good faith agreement, which also means no egress from the neighborhood roadways.
    There are now drawings of parallel parking spots indicated along a neighborhood road, which would not be not permitted. The Binding plan setbacks have sidewalk with trees and vegetative buffer to the roadway in the neighborhoods.
    No commercial parking is allowed on such a street.
    While all of us appreciate many good things from founder Nathan Benderson, we also know he worked to develop with minimal impact to communities.
    We have seen this in other southwest FL Benderson projects of earlier times. We were shown these as examples of their work – to mitigate our concerns prior to the existing plan.
    SKA filed an Amicus brief re this development which was denied.
    Impact to Siesta Key business and residential communities is without doubt.

  3. Money taking commissioners will do anything the developers propose and will get more funds by being good liitle boys !

  4. Thank you for the update on the gross error to approve this project made by the Board of County Commissioners, when they ignored 99% of the speakers at the initial hearing, and a summary of the past commitments that they are already reneging on. This continues to worsen as time goes by.

    My best hope is that they select another firm other than Alan Maio’s Kimley-Horn to do the traffic study. Anyone who drives through the US-41 and Stickney Pt Rd intersection daily knows that K-H only obeys Benderson’s request that they show there is not already a big traffic problem at the intersection. This would become worse as the development continues.

  5. In the wake of authoritarian Board actions with regard to LWR and Benderson proposals, the Neighborhood Workshop format has become a desiccated shadow of its former self. Instead of an actual meeting with live human beings, a recent workshop about the expansion of Lakewood Ranch – a proposal that threatens the very existence of Old Miakka, a rural community older than the county itself – we were treated to a glitchy, unresponsive meeting via Microsoft Teams. There was no help for residents seeking to get into the Teams meeting – by accident we discovered that “anonymous” worked – nor was there clarity of sound or visual. I sent the Stantec presenter an email after the workshop – I received no response. This was a new low for the act of meeting a neighborhood to talk about a vast and dangerous developer’s proposal. Is this how Sarasota County is going to push through its illegal approvals of absurdly overambitious plans? The unanswered email to Stantec’s Katie Labarr is below:

    Hi Ms. Labarr,

    You invited us to offer further comments after last evening’s “workshop” regarding the Lakewood Ranch East Plan. I have attended many neighborhood workshops over the years – most were lively in-person presentations, with clear visuals, audible speakers, and valuable give-and-take.

    I believe a great deal is lost when such meetings are moved online, especially when captured through somewhat dysfunctional software like Microsoft “Teams.”

    There were problems with Teams last night meeting – these are detailed in the comment I posted online, and leave below.

    More importantly, even if that app had worked well, the loss of the dimension of live interaction with people in the same room was a real deficit. The significance of a live workshop is that the public sector matters; the input of residents that goes beyond just specific questions. With a live give and take, people can look closely at the images, hear each other, and develop a sense of whether a plan can be fashioned to take into account the realities of the community impacted by the developer’s plan.

    For years our Commission has shrunk from asserting the rights and values of the public sector, and holding up the Comp Plan values and framework that was fashioned through a challenging process of compromise. To subject the small chance a community has of meaningfully interacting with the County and developers using the detached, remote, glitchy and ineffective software of “Teams” is yet another layer of alienation.

    Below is my comment regarding specific difficulties:

    Tom Matrullo
    Citizens for Sarasota County

    An entirely new workshop should take place in East County at a location where real people show up, are seen and heard, and questions can be asked, with follow-ups, so that actual information is exchanged.
    This online meeting had serious communications issues. E.g.

    1 – those unfamiliar with Microsoft Teams might have been foiled at the outset – the meeting was set up so that unless Stantec – the planning business that ran the meeting – recognized your email, it would not admit you. However, if you chose to be “anonymous,” it would let you in – but no one would know who was there.

    2. The “Teams” software proved glitchy as hell – the only two voices on the meeting – the host and the person reading questions – dropped out often – leaving us to wonder what answers they had offered to questions that were read out, or what questions they were answering.

    3. Some images shown through the Teams software were blurry – so their value as illustrating the details of the development was virtually nil. See sample below. In brief, aside from the two Stantec people we heard no voices of any people in attendance, we saw nothing but the images presented, we had no visual or aural contact with the attendees to the meeting, and the entire presentation took only a few minutes. This is not how Neighborhood workshops used to be conducted, and given the failings of the software, this “workshop” was, for this attendee, pretty useless.

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