Updated traffic analyses submitted were undertaken during the evening peak drive time on a weekday and early on a Saturday afternoon
Benderson Development Co. has revised its plans for its proposed mixed-use Siesta Promenade project to encompass 415 residential dwelling units, a hotel with 130 rooms and 140,000 square feet of retail and office space, as outlined in materials submitted to Sarasota County’s Planning and Development Department this week.
The application Benderson filed with the county in August 2016 called for 506 dwelling units and a 150-room hotel, with 140,000 square feet of retail/office space.
In January, the County Commission voted 4-1 to allow Benderson to proceed with specific studies in accord with the company’s petition for a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation for the approximately 24 acre-site at the northwest intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. If ultimately approved, the CAP designation would allow Benderson a density up to 25 units per acre, instead of the 13 permitted for the county’s Commercial General zoning districts. That also would enable the company to construct buildings as tall as 85 feet, which it is continuing to plan on, as evidenced by documentation in the materials it filed on June 28.
The firm is seeking county approval to rezone the property, too. As Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, explains in the newly submitted material, the firm “purchased the Pine Shores mobile home park and adjacent parcels that are components of the Stickney Point Road project in 2005. The property was used as a mobile home park starting in the mid-1950s.”
However, Mathes continues, the county’s Future Land Use designation of the site recently was changed to Commercial Center and Commercial Corridor. “Accordingly,” Mathes points out, “our company has studied a number of different potential commercial uses for the project, ranging from a mix of residential, hospitality and commercial uses that were dense and intense in form, to lifestyle and town center projects that evoke new urbanism concepts.” Therefore, he adds, “What we are presenting to the County for consideration is a mixed use, open air retail/small lifestyle center … The proposed layout will significantly enhance the streetscape of the Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 intersection [by constructing a series of buildings] along the perimeter of the property.”
In the original site plan Benderson developed for the property — in 2014 — the project “would have transitioned quickly from commercial to single family residential,” Mathes continues. “The mixed use project provides a residential buffer, stepping down to a three story, multi-family [building] before transitioning to the single family neighborhood [of Pine Shores Estates].”
“It’s also smart math,” he notes. “The commercial project had a substantial amount of surface parking, resulting in less real property tax revenue per acre than the alternative mixed use plan,” he adds. Furthermore, the commercial project would have generated more traffic than the mixed-use development will, he points out. However, because of a state law that was approved in 2011, he continues, Benderson would have been “less accountable for potential offsite improvements” to ameliorate the impacts of the additional traffic.
That law, known as the Community Planning Act, has been cited by county staff numerous times over recent years because it changed how local governments could require developers of new projects to help pay for transportation improvements needed as a result of the projects. Among the changes, the law allows developers to pay a proportionate share of the costs of infrastructure to ease “transportation deficiencies,” as noted in an analysis by the Holland & Knight law firm.
Facets of the traffic studies
The documentation submitted this week includes an updated traffic analysis, as required under the scope of work the County Commission authorized in January. The report by Kimley-Horn and Associates carries an April 2017 date.
While noting that the “final access configuration of project driveways must be approved by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT),” the report says the analysis the consulting firm undertook included these considerations:
- That the project driveway along U.S. 41 allow only right turns in and out of the site. “In addition,” the analysis notes, “this intersection location was located as far north as possible to provide as much distance between this driveway and the U.S. 41 & SR 72/Stickney Point Road intersection, as requested by FDOT.”
- That the westernmost driveway along Stickney Point Road would be aligned with Avenue B and C as a full-access, signalized driveway. Because of that, the document says, the analysis included the assumption that the existing median opening at Stickney Point Road and Glencoe Avenue would be closed.
- That the central driveway for Siesta Promenade along Stickney Point Road would allow only right turns into and out of the development.
- That the easternmost driveway along Stickney Point Road would allow only right turns into the property.
The Kimley-Horn report also points out that the Five-Year Work Program for Sarasota County and FDOT’s District One does not include any funding for roadway capacity projects within the vicinity of the site within the next five years. However, the report adds, FDOT has planned a “safety improvement project” at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road that is scheduled to go out for bids in July 2019. “The right-turn lanes are proposed to be modified to operate under signalized control as opposed to the existing channelized right-turn lanes which will provide a safety enhancement to both pedestrians and bicyclists,” the report says.
As The Sarasota News Leader interprets that, vehicles no longer would be able to turn right on red from U.S. 41 onto Stickney Point Road or from Stickney Point Road onto U.S. 41.
Because the County Commission called for the Siesta Promenade traffic studies to be undertaken during high tourist season, Kimley-Horn conducted motor vehicle counts at the specified intersections on Feb. 15 and Feb. 25, the report points out. The periods it analyzed were 4 to 6 p.m. on a weekday and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, the report notes.
Residents of that immediate areas have pointed out, however, that those are not peak beach-going times. Yet, the residents maintain that the high number of motor vehicles headed to and from the beach at the height of tourist season needs to be incorporated into traffic analyses for the Siesta Promenade proposal.
Kimley-Horn also undertook three days of counts at the five local roadways specified in the scope of work the commission approved, the report says. Those were done from Tuesday, Feb. 14, through Thursday, Feb. 17.
Looking to the future with the traffic
As part of its analysis, the report continues, Kimley-Horn made several assumptions regarding traffic conditions in 2024 — which is the year Siesta Promenade is expected to be completed. Among those were improvements based on the traffic concurrency elements of the state Community Planning Act:
- The westbound approach at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Constitution Avenue was assumed to be modified from a shared left-turn/through and right-turn lane to an exclusive left-turn lane and a shared through/right-turn lane.
- At U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, “an additional westbound left-turn lane and northbound left-turn lane, and minor adjustments of signal timing splits were assumed.”
- At the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road, “minor adjustments of the signal timing splits were assumed to improve the operating efficiency of the intersection.”
The report notes that because of those anticipated improvements, the study segments would be expected to operate at an acceptable level of service (LOS) “during the p.m. peak-hour and Saturday peak-hour.”
For example, a table included in the report shows the level of service for the intersection of U.S. 41 and Constitution Avenue would improve from D to an A. However, the level of service for the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road would remain a D.
(The level of service reflects drivers’ perception of traffic congestion, with A being the least problematic.)