Siesta Promenade opponents arguing that one public hearing on four facets of application would not allow sufficient time for speakers to address concerns

Benderson Development seeking to hold required Neighborhood Workshop on Aug. 23

Editor’s note: This article was changed on the afternoon of Aug. 10 to provide the correct address for Pine Shores Presbyterian Church. The News Leader had been given the wrong address.

A 2005 aerial map shows the Pine Shores Trailer Park on the site where Benderson Development proposes to build Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Later this month, it appears, all interested members of the public will have their first opportunity to ask questions of Benderson Development Co. representatives since Sarasota County staff — in July — began its formal review of the firm’s application for the proposed Siesta Promenade project.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, county Planner Steve Kirk, who has oversight of the project application, wrote in an Aug. 9 email that Benderson Development has filed notice with the county that it would like to hold its required Neighborhood Workshop on Aug. 23. The firm will need to follow through with appropriate notification of people in the surrounding area and with the formal advertisement of the event, Kirk added.

The workshop will begin at 6 p.m. in the sanctuary of Pine Shores Presbyterian Church, which is located at 6135 Beechwood Ave. in Sarasota.

In the meantime, adjoining neighbors continue to voice opposition to the density of the project.

Additionally, Sura Kochman, a leader of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, has begun to emphasize a new issue of concern: Based on her discussions with county Planning and Development Services Department staff, she says, each person who wishes to speak during public hearings on the project will have just the traditional 5 minutes to cover the array of facets related to the project. Not only is Benderson Development seeking the rezoning of the approximately 23-acre site at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, but it also is seeking a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation for Siesta Promenade. The latter would allow the firm density up to 25 dwelling units per acre, instead of the 13 per acre allowed in county property with Commercial zoning.

Benderson’s most recent revisions of its proposal for Siesta Promenade call for a 130-room hotel, 140,000 square feet of retail/office space and 414 multifamily residential units. A county fact sheet issued on July 18 noted that, based on the hotel and residences planned for the project, the proposed density would be 20.8 units per acre. The 130 hotel rooms count as half units, county staff has explained.

This graphic shows the original notification area for property owners near the Siesta Promenade site, after Benderson Development filed its application in August 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Third, the county’s Planning Commission and the County Commission must determine the final CAP boundary for Siesta Promenade. While Benderson has sought to keep a circle drawn just around its property, Kochman — who has years of planning expertise — has pointed out that CAP boundaries typically encompass surrounding parcels. An extension of the boundaries for Siesta Promenade, she has explained, would give other stakeholders the right to express their views about the final design of the project.

Finally, residents of Pine Shores Estates — who would be the closest neighbors of Siesta Promenade — have been focused on Benderson’s proposed street vacations for the development, which would affect their community. “Benderson wants to take parts of neighborhood/county streets to use for ingress/egress,” Kochman wrote in a recent update for people who have been following the progress of the proposed development.

Kochman emphasized in that update that Planning and Development Services has determined that even though Benderson’s application covers four separate issues, “THIS project is being considered as one unified project and all items will be combined in 1 report for the [Planning and County commissions’] consideration. Public testimony is now ONLY one, 5-minute opportunity. Also, because of the potential for a large number of speakers, the [boards] may reduce this time to ONLY 3 minutes for each person to cover ALL FOUR items.”

She added, “In my opinion, this is a violation of due process and is limiting the public’s opportunity to express their concerns about four distinct issues [her emphasis].”

This rendering shows one of the proposed residential structures. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During an Aug. 6 telephone interview with the News Leader, Kochman asked, “How does [the Planning Division] decide how much people should be able to say?” referring to the plans for the public hearings. “The audacity to determine that the public doesn’t have the full right to speak … is absolutely mind-blowing!” she said.

In response to other News Leader questions this week, county Planner Kirk wrote in an Aug. 7 email that all facets of the Siesta Promenade application “will be scheduled for public hearing at the same date and time. I believe the Planning Commission and the [County Commission] have the option of opening one hearing and taking public comment on all applications, or opening separate hearings for each application. Historically,” he continued, “both the Planning Commission and BCC have taken public comment on multiple applications at the same time when the applications are interrelated.”

The issue of combining a number of petitions during a single public hearing came up earlier this year, as the County Commission was considering Neal Communities’ proposal for its Grand Lakes development east of Interstate 75 and south of Clark Road. One resident concerned about the density of that project — which won board approval in July for up to 1,097 homes — sent a March 6 email to Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy.

“The BCC [Board of County Commissioners] Rules of Procedure affords individuals the opportunity to speak for five minutes on the hearing subject at public hearings (unless modified by the BCC),” R.N. Collins pointed out. “Standard board procedure at simultaneous hearings, however, has been to limit each speaker to a total of five minutes,” he continued.

In the Grand Lakes case — which involved three petitions — Collins suggested three consecutive public hearings.

When Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff announced in the latter half of July that it had begun the formal review of the Siesta Promenade application, it explained that the process would take about 45 days. Then, the first public hearing would be scheduled before the Planning Commission — likely 30 days after the completion of the formal review. The final hearing, before the County Commission, would be expected to follow within about 45 days, staff added.

Kirk also told the News Leader in the Aug. 7 email, “No public hearing dates have been scheduled.”

The height issue

A graphic shows the proposed heights of blocks in Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet another concern has bubbled up again for Pine Shores residents, as Benderson Development seeks final approval of Siesta Promenade.

In reviewing the latest county staff compilation of Benderson’s applications for Siesta Promenade, Kochman told the News Leader, she found a document — dated April 17 — that showed the planned heights of buildings on the site. The hotel would have a maximum of 80 feet, for example, while one residential block next to Pine Shores Estates has been marked up to 40 feet in height and the block adjacent to it is listed at a maximum of 65 feet.

Further, a commercial block across one street from part of Pine Shores Estates would stand up to 50 feet tall.

In her recent update to interested persons, she wrote, with emphasis in some sections, “There are three, 40-foot apartment buildings; two, 65-foot apartment buildings; one, 50-foot retail-office-restaurant building as well as one, 80-foot hotel/restaurant/retail [structure]; plus six, 35-foot additional retail/restaurant/office buildings being proposed. A total of 13 buildings. Buildings of these heights would be towering over single-family dwellings in the neighborhood,” she stressed.

A September 2017 graphic included in the materials available for review on the county website shows three-story condominium/apartment buildings separated by landscaping and Glencoe Avenue from the single-family homes in Pine Shores Estates. It also illustrates how a landscaped pedestrian path would separate the five-story structure from three-story buildings.

A graphic in materials dated September 2017 shows how Pine Shores homes and Siesta Promenade buildings would be separated by a street, landscaping and a pedestrian walkway. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Other opposition

Pine Shores residents are not the only neighbors concerned about the density and intensity of the proposed project. Siesta Key property owners also have voiced alarm about the potential for traffic generated by Siesta Promenade to exacerbate congestion on Stickney Point Road — especially during the height of tourist season.

The Siesta Key Condominium Council is among the organizations that have been sharing Kochman’s updates with its members. The Condominium Council represents 90 of the 100 condominium associations on Siesta Key — about 7,000 of the 10,000 units, as President Frank Jurenka has noted.

The proposed development also was the focus of comments at the Aug. 2 Siesta Key Association meeting. Officers of that nonprofit have provided updates to their members, as well.