Benderson still proposing traffic pattern changes, including signal at Stickney Point Road/Avenue B and C
The application for the proposed Siesta Promenade project on the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road has been deemed sufficient, Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff has announced.
The formal review process of the request for a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation and a rezoning began on July 17, a county fact sheet explained. That review is expected to take about 45 days, it noted.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for information in May, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester reported, “The CAP regulations require the applicant to hold a neighborhood workshop after the CAP is deemed complete for review.”
As of the News Leader’s publication deadline this week, no workshop had been scheduled, according to the county’s webpage for such events.
The first public hearing on Siesta Promenade is anticipated about 30 days after the end of the formal review, the fact sheet explained. That would be conducted during a county Planning Commission meeting. Then, approximately 45 days later, the County Commission public hearing would be scheduled, the fact sheet said.
Benderson Development Co. has sought the CAP designation so it can pursue residential density up to 25 units per acre on the approximately 23.04-acre project site. Benderson’s most recent proposal calls for 479 residential units, encompassing 414 condominiums and 130 hotel rooms. Thus, the proposed density is 20.8 units per acre, the fact sheet said.
The proposed project also calls for up to 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space, the fact sheet pointed out.
Benderson Development first filed its formal application with the county in August 2016, after the firm’s director of Development, Todd Mathes, unveiled the proposal to members and guests of the Siesta Key Association in June of that year.
Benderson originally planned a mixed-use development with about 600 dwelling units, a 150-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of retail and office space. However, its initial county application lowered the residential figure to 501.
The multi-family units, Mathes said during the June 2016 Siesta Key Association meeting, would be primarily one-bedroom rental apartments and condominiums. The company also hoped to anchor the retail space with a “mid-size” box, as Mathes put it — a grocery store such as a Whole Foods or a Fresh Market. Since then, Whole Foods has opened a second Sarasota store at 5298 University Parkway. Additionally, a Lucky’s Market has opened in the Westfield Siesta Key shopping center on Siesta Drive in Sarasota.
Since June 2016, residents and business owners in the vicinity of the project site have voiced strong opposition to the plans, citing not only the intensity of the project but also its potential to exacerbate traffic congestion. During the height of tourist season, residents this year posted numerous photos on Facebook, showing long lines of traffic backed up at the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection as people headed to Siesta Public Beach.
Among facets of the Benderson Development proposals that the public has decried is Benderson’s call for a new traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road (State Road 72) and Avenue B and C.
In May, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) sought a number of clarifications from the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm in Sarasota, which has been working with Benderson Development on traffic planning related to Siesta Promenade.
The News Leader reviewed a copy of a June 15 letter to Nathan Kautz, access management engineer with FDOT’s District One office, and Paula Wiggins, Sarasota County’s Transportation Planning Division manager, from Christopher Hatton, senior vice president, and Kelly Fearon, a transportation analyst, with Kimley-Horn. They pointed out that after FDOT issued follow-up comments on June 12, Kimley-Horn provided further responses, as detailed in the letter.
Among FDOT comments in May was the statement that Benderson Development could not count on new traffic signal timings in an effort to reduce congestion at the Stickney Point Road/U.S 41 intersection and in its vicinity.
On June 12, FDOT provided the comment, “Is the applicant proposing to retime the entire system that includes this intersection? Without knowing what retiming could bring, future timings CANNOT be assumed [FDOT’s emphasis].” The comment continued, “In the clear majority of cases, increased traffic causes signal cycle lengths to increase, not decrease.”
Kimley-Horn responded, “Acknowledged. Based upon discussions with FDOT, the Applicant, in conjunction with their ROW [right of way] Use Permit and traffic signal construction at [Stickney Point Road] & Avenue B & C, shall be required by either the FDOT or Sarasota County to analyze and propose traffic signal timings as part of a sub-corridor re-timing project for U.S. 41.”
Further, Kimley-Horn pointed out that Siesta Promenade is not expected to be completed until 2024. “Therefore, it was assumed signal retiming may occur within five years for the entire corridor.”
In May, FDOT also questioned whether Kimley-Horn had allowed enough time for pedestrians or bicyclists to cross U.S. 41. “Please note that this is assuming the proposed signal [at Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C] is synched with the U.S. 41 and [Stickney Point Road] signal,” FDOT continued. “If a pedestrian crosses US 41 and throws the signal out, the Ave B/C queues will no longer be optimized and it is not known how far traffic would back up,” FDOT wrote.
“FDOT recommends that the proposed signal at Ave B/C be synched (not coordinated) with the signal at US 41 and [Stickney Point Road],” FDOT added.
On May 21, Kimley-Horn responded, “The signals will be designed to be clustered to ensure they are synched as opposed to operating in coordination.”
In regard to another issue, FDOT staff wrote, “Our modeling shows that the northbound lefts from US 41 onto [Stickney Point Road] westbound will back out into the through lanes during peak hour.” The comment noted that a Kimley-Horn table in the May transportation analysis “seems to indicate that the northbound left turn lane needs 506 [feet] of queue per lane. There is an average of 400’ per lane in the existing turn lanes. This essentially eliminates a through lane on US 41, effectively going from 3 to 2 lanes.”
FDOT added, “Adjusting the taper at the end of the turn lane to the standard 50’ per lane (100’ total) would provide some slight additional capacity.”
FDOT also noted, “As traffic from the development increases, so do the frequency of these backups.”
Kimley Horn responded on May 21, “As requested, the taper of the back-to-back left-turn lanes at the intersections of US 41 & SR 72/Stickney Point Road and US 41 & Gulf Gate Drive will be modified to meet current criteria to allow extra capacity on US 41.”
FDOT offered no further comments on June 12.
Yet another FDOT comment noted that its “cursory review regarding crashes involving [Avenue] A’s median opening shows at least 19 correctable crashes over the last 5 years … Please review your data.”
Kimley-Horn replied that it had used information from 2010 to 2014, which was the most current certified data available when it undertook its original analysis in 2016.
FDOT responded on June 12, “We have contracted [with] another consultant to perform a safety study of this intersection. The results will be provided when the study is done.”
Neighborhood traffic concerns
Other traffic issues have been raised regarding the Pine Shores Estates neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Siesta Promenade site.
For example, the June 15 Kimley-Horn letter notes that county planning and zoning staff agreed “with the [proposal for the] construction of the eastbound left turn lane at [Avenue B and C] and the closure of the median opening at Glencoe Ave.”
A related comment refers to Kimley-Horn’s earlier analysis assuming redistribution of traffic at Glencoe Avenue if the median is closed, as a result of installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C. “Where was the traffic redistributed to? Elmwood Ave. or the signal?” FDOT asked.
Kimley-Horn responded in May that it figured on 50% of the southbound, left-turning vehicles at the Stickney Point Road/Glencoe intersection would use the Stickney Point Road/Elmwood Avenue intersection. It expected the other 50% to make a southbound right turn at the Stickney Point Road/Glencoe intersection and then a westbound U-turn at the Stickney Point Road/Avenue D intersection.
On June 12, FDOT commented, “Where were the vehicles historically making eastbound lefts distributed to? Additionally, if we are assuming redistributed traffic will be making U-turns at the next median opening, a left turn lane will be need to be added to the opening at Elmwood.”
Kimley-Horn replied, “As requested, due to the existing landscape in the existing median, a reduced left-turn lane for U-turns will be added to the opening at Elmwood Avenue …”
In a July 13 email to Hatton of Kimley-Horn, Kautz of FDOT wrote, “The Department has no further comments on the traffic study at this time. Please keep in mind that as the process continues, and when you submit for a permit, the study will have to be reviewed again and additional comments may be made.”