Steps to mitigate Siesta Promenade’s impact on traffic flow one primary focus of Planning Commission hearing

County staff and consultants discuss what is and is not feasible at U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection

Census estimates for 2016 are included in a graphic for the areas within one quarter-mile and half-a-mile of the Siesta Promenade site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In 2014, Benderson Development Co. renewed an effort that had stalled in the Great Recession: It unveiled plans for a mixed-use development at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road it called Siesta Promenade.

With a 150-room hotel and 250,000 square feet of retail and office space, the project was of a smaller scale than that the company earlier envisioned for the site, Todd Mathes, the company’s director of development, told members of the Sarasota County Planning Commission on Nov. 15. (See the related story in this issue.)

The 2006 plan had included 575 dwelling units, 250,000 square feet of commercial space and a 220-room hotel.

In 2014, Mathes continued, he arranged to meet with representatives of the Pine Shores Estates, who would be Siesta Promenade’s closest neighbors, so he could show the new plans to them. “I heard a lot of comments and a lot of concern, and I think we’ll hear [that] tonight,” he added during a public hearing on the company’s petitions to build Siesta Promenade. “The traffic concern was echoed constantly, so we went back to the drawing board.”

The plans before the commission that evening included 414 residential units, 130 hotel rooms and only 140,000 total feet of retail and office space, with the majority of the latter part of the project focused on retail tenants, Mathes said.

As a result, Christopher Hatton, a professional engineer and senior vice president with the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm in Sarasota, the number of vehicle trips generated by Siesta Promenade would be down 28%, compared to the number expected to be produced by the 2014 concept; Saturday vehicle counts would be 26% lower.

Those figures were based on the 10th edition of the Institute of Transportation Engineer’s Trip Generation Manual, he noted, whereas county staff members had used the ninth edition to arrive at figures it had included in their reports.

This is the graphic Christopher Hatton of Kimley-Horn showed the Planning Commission on Nov. 15. News Leader photo

Siesta Promenade also will generate one-third less traffic than the nearby Sarasota Pavilion shopping complex, Hatton said.

Still, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, acknowledged during the hearing that the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road — where Siesta Promenade is planned — has among the highest traffic volumes in the entire county. Thus, she indicated, it is reasonable to believe more collisions occur there.

As evidenced by testimony of many of the 47 speakers who appeared before the board on Nov. 15, traffic remains a primary concern about Siesta Promenade. During an Aug. 23 Neighborhood Workshop Sarasota County Planning and Development Services staff required Benderson to hold on the project, traffic was the predominant worry voiced by people who asked questions.

On Nov. 15, members of the Planning Commission pointed to Benderson’s application for a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation for Siesta Promenade to underscore the fact that the company had to take on a larger scope of work — at the County Commission’s behest — in planning for the project than it would have if had to pursue if it simply had sought a rezoning of the approximately 24 acres of the site instead of the CAP.

Siesta Promenade project team members stressed that they had to consider traffic at 19 intersections, for example, instead of eight.

Still, as Wiggins, the Transportation Planning manager, explained, under the guidelines of the Community Planning Act in the Florida Statutes (F.S. 163), local governments cannot require a developer to implement improvements to eradicate deficiencies in transportation systems that will serve their projects.

As a result, the county could ask Benderson to do only so much, Wiggins stressed.

Among those measures, for example, could be traffic calming initiatives in Pine Shores Estates. She conceded, “Traffic calming does not eliminate cut-through traffic, but it is a way to lower the speeds.”

She added later, “Cut-through traffic is happening today.”

The speed limit is 25 mph on all the roads in the neighborhood, she noted.

A June 2018 graphic in an updated Kimley-Horn and Associates traffic analysis for Siesta Promenade shows the project area adjacent to Pine Shores Estates. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county staff report prepared for the Nov. 15 meeting says, “To preserve existing neighborhood environments, their cohesion, and integrity, traffic calming measures shall be evaluated on Glencoe Avenue, Crestwood Avenue, Brentwood Avenue, Beechwood Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard and Constitution Boulevard to deter traffic intrusion into the adjacent neighborhood. Consistent with [county Transportation] Policy 1.6.1, public involvement shall occur with the neighborhood and county staff during the evaluation of traffic calming measures. The process and standards for evaluating and implementing traffic calming measures shall be stipulated with a rezoning application and adopting ordinance.”

Mathes of Benderson talked of the company’s willingness to work with Pine Shores residents on measures to reduce the impact of traffic on their streets, including the construction of traffic calming devices and sidewalks. “[We are] wide open to ideas.”

Other ideas

In response to a question from Planning Commissioner Ron Cutsinger, Wiggins also talked of Benderson’s offer to add another traffic signal to the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, so a signal would appear above each lane.

However, Wiggins explained, the poles at that intersection have to be evaluated to determine whether they can hold the weight of extra signal heads. County staff will collaborate with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in that effort, she said, to learn what would be necessary to effect the change.

Yet another measure planned for the intersection that will ameliorate problems will be the elimination of free-flow right turns, Hatton of Kimley-Horn pointed out.

A Kimley-Horn graphic shows FDOT plans to install signals for right-turn traffic at the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection. News Leader photo

“Nearly 70% of all the crashes [at that intersection] were rear-end [collisions],” he said, based on FDOT data Kimley-Horn researched. In 2020, FDOT will install traffic signals for the right turns, he continued, which will help reduce the number of such crashes.

‘That’s great to hear,” Planning Commissioner Robert Morris said during a later discussion of that plan. Such crashes continue to happen at that intersection, Morris added. “There’s obviously something going on with visibility or optics or something.”

Hatton did note that, based on Kimley-Horn’s research, that a number of the collisions linked to the intersection actually took place in parking lots or in driveways of adjacent businesses. Often, he said, a law enforcement officer will just name the closest intersection as the scene of an accident when writing a report on the investigation.

Another FDOT step that will assist with traffic flow, Hatton pointed out, will be the lengthening of the northbound dual left-turn lanes on U.S. 41, for traffic heading west toward Siesta Key. However, he added, “The southbound lane going into Gulf Gate will notbe reduced.”

In his 27 years as an engineer working on projects, Hatton told the Planning Commission, the studies associated with Siesta Promenade have been the most intensive of all those with which he has been involved.

Paula Wiggins answers questions during the Nov. 15 public hearing. News Leader photo

Yet, Wiggins of Transportation Planning pointed out that some of the suggestions Kimley-Horn has made on behalf of Benderson either cannot be pursued or could not take place in the short term to ameliorate the effects of Siesta Promenade.

For example, she said, the consultants proposed that FDOT re-time the traffic signals on the U.S. 41 corridor. The state does re-time signals on corridors periodically, she added, but the state will not initiate a project just because a developer proposes it.

Further, she said, Kimley-Horn suggested the addition of a third left-turn lane for all approaches at the intersection. However, insufficient right of way exists to make those feasible.

Hatton also noted his firm’s advocacy for a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C, saying it would protect drivers’ turning movements and facilitate pedestrian safety. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that FDOT would have to agree to the signal.

District One FDOT representatives have indicated that they would make a decision on the signal after the construction of Siesta Promenade and studies of the resulting traffic flow changes.

One other FDOT plan, Wiggins noted, is the intent to install a special type of plate behind each of the traffic signals at the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection to help motorists see the lights better in the glare of the sun.

Wiggins also pointed out that the county has stipulated that Benderson must construct sidewalks along all the boundaries of Siesta Promenade and complete a sidewalk connection to Phillippi Estate Park, a county property north of the project site.

Regardless of the proposals for improvements to facilitate traffic flow and public safety at the intersection, speakers during the public hearing maintained their opposition to Siesta Promenade.

Joyce Kouba, a director of the Siesta Key Association, spoke on behalf of a committee of the Bay Island Siesta Association, Make Siesta Drive Safer. That committee was organized 20 months ago, she explained, in an effort “to control the high number of crashes and fatalities on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue.” The members of Make Siesta Drive safer, Kouba said, “question the rationale of adding more traffic” to the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. They have pointed out, she added, that both the north and south accesses to the barrier island have drawbridges. Moreover, Kouba noted, “Any additional traffic on either end affects the other.”

If Siesta Promenade is constructed as proposed, Edgar Lawrence, a representative of the Landings Management Association, told the Planning Commission, “the intersection [of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road] will really be crippled in season.”