Pine Shores residents object to routing any vehicles along their streets, but county staff indicates that will be necessary
Even before Benderson Development announced its latest plans this spring for its approximately 24-acre site at the northwest corner of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, neighbors were voicing worries about the exacerbation of traffic congestion that would come with any development there.
This week, traffic was one of the primary focuses of the public, the Sarasota County Commission and county staff as the commission held a hearing on Benderson’s boundary for the proposed Siesta Promenade project on that corner. (See the related stories in this issue.)
During the Oct. 11 session, Paula Wiggins, the county’s transportation planning manager, explained that, for a number of years, she has been discussing traffic issues associated with Benderson’s plans with a consultant working with the development company.
“This is unique in some situations,” she pointed out of the proposal for the mixed-use project. Referring to U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, she said, “These are state roads.”
She has been coordinating the county’s overview of the proposal with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Wiggins added, and she and her staff will continue to do that.
In an effort to clear up erroneous comments made earlier during that Oct. 11 hearing, Wiggins further explained that the consultant — Kimley-Horn — undertook a traffic study in March 2015 in conjunction with the planning for Siesta Promenade. That initiative included a 24-hour count of vehicles on a Saturday. Residents have complained that the consulting team members did not examine the situation at peak periods during the height of season, she said, but “they actually did do that.”
She also concurred with county Planning Division Manager Allen Parsons that a Critical Area Plan application — which Benderson has submitted — entails a more extensive review of traffic issues than a rezoning application would necessitate. Traffic circulation, planned transit stops and bicycle and pedestrian improvements would be part of the studies, she continued. In fact, Wiggins noted, staff already has asked Kimley-Horn representatives to expand the review area to include the segment of U.S. 41 and Gateway Avenue.
Traffic calming measures on Glencoe Avenue would be another facet of the traffic analysis, she added.
Referencing a comment made by Sarasota attorney Morgan Bentley of Bentley & Bruning — on behalf of the owners of the Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway hotel on U.S. 41 — Wiggins noted that staff has no objection to the potential use of Brentwood Avenue instead of Crestwood Avenue as an access point from U.S. 41 for Siesta Promenade vehicles. “They both would need to be looked at,” she said of the two streets through the Pine Shores neighborhood.
In his public remarks on Oct. 11, Bentley talked of the “big difference on the impact to the residents” if Brentwood were designated the access point. It is the first street west of U.S. 41 that runs through the neighborhood.
As Bentley explained to The Sarasota News Leader, “Brentwood would be better as it abuts mostly commercial on one side anyway.”
“I think the neighbors would prefer no access at all through the neighborhood,” Bentley wrote in an email to the News Leader. “I think though that [county] Transportation [staff] is going to want some type of access from the houses to the [Siesta Promenade] site so they do not have to go on [U.S.] 41 or Stickney [Point Road].”
In an interview with the News Leader, Sura Kochman, the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance representative who has served as a liaison from the neighborhood to the county and Benderson staff, confirmed Bentley’s points. “The biggest concern is basically that county staff insists that there should be access to the project from the neighborhood. Nobody else wants this access.” She added that it would be “to the detriment of the neighborhood [for the county] to acquiesce to a developer’s desire for something.”
Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, has told Pine Shores residents that he believes the people living in Siesta Promenade will want to be part of their neighborhood, Kochman said. But the only reason she can see for the people in Siesta Promenade wanting to have anything to do with Pine Shores, she continued, is “to get out to the [traffic] light [on U.S. 41].”
During the hearing, Commissioner Christine Robinson told Wiggins she would like to see staff examine the entire triangle encompassing Beechwood Avenue, Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41. “That’s where your traffic circulation is going to happen for this development.”
Furthermore, Robinson said, she has concerns about the impact of the project on residents who live on the south side of Stickney Point Road, including turning movements for people headed into and out of those neighborhoods .If Benderson is successful in getting FDOT to approve a traffic signal at the intersection of Glencoe Avenue and Stickney Point Road, Robinson added, neighborhood cut-through issues will have to be considered.
Wiggins concurred with Robinson about the residential traffic south of Stickney Point Road, especially if FDOT requires median changes.