The mixed-use project continues to prove controversial
By Roger Drouin
Development Project #2
What kind of mixed-use project can rise up at a large, key parcel of vacant land that was once a mobile home park? And what will the impacts be on bordering properties and neighbors? That was again the topic of another public meeting on a project proposed by Benderson Development Co., which owns 24 acres at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road and plans to construct a mixed-use lifestyle center.
The neighborhood workshop, held by Benderson Development, on Dec. 19 asked area residents what feasibility studies or other issues they would like to see studied for Benderson’s planned development. Those items would then be addressed as part of application requirements for a Critical Area Plan that, if ultimately approved by the County Commission, would allow increased density at the site.
The public workshop was designed so Benderson Development and Sarasota County could collect public input about what would be included in the scope of work for the mixed-use project that's expected to break ground as soon as spring or summer of 2017. More than a 100 people attended the workshop.
At the workshop, residents said they wanted to see the impacts of construction trucks on nearby infrastructure, a review into any potential protected wildlife species on the site, and the details of buffering between the project and neighborhood. But the key discussion points were traffic and density. “If you’re not willing to reduce density, you’re going to have a fight,” said resident Dave Driscoll.
“I think it is just going to be unbearable,” a Siesta condo resident said, of concerns about traffic in Siesta’s gateway area that will follow more development. Sura Kochman, a resident and organizer for the nearby Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, asked that several intersections be added to the traffic study. John Huber, who lives off of Midnight Pass Road, said it is important that many more traffic studies are conducted during peak season.
Although no speakers voiced support for currently-proposed plans, not all were downright opposed to development on the site. “The plus [to this project] is that anything would look better than what is there,” one resident said. “The minus is there are times now that [U.S.] 41 is backed up or [Stickney Point] is backed up for two miles” going onto the Key.
Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, said the company plans to try to build a project in line with what the site and surrounding neighborhoods can handle. Most recently, in October, Benderson Development again modified plans for its large scale, mixed-use Siesta Promenade project. That alternative plan comprised of fewer overall residential units, shorter buildings bordering the adjacent residential neighborhood, and two smaller hotels instead of one, taller hotel. The plan shrunk overall residential units from 586 to about 400, Todd Mathes, director of development at Benderson, told Siesta Sand in September.
At the Dec. 19 workshop, Mathes emphasized that the meeting was held to discuss the parameters of a study the developer must conduct before the county can grant a density increase for the Siesta Promenade property. “Tonight is for us to hear from you,” Mathes said.
Mathes said the developer needs to complete a scope of work outline, detailing studies that will look into the project’s impact on things such as traffic and county utilities, and present that to the county, before further refining it’s specific plans.
The 24-acre property that was originally home to a mobile home park was slated, more than a decade ago, for initial redevelopment as “Siesta Point,” but that proposal fell victim to the Great Recession.
Benderson is expected to seek an exception from the county to build a maximum of 25-residential units per acre, which is nearly double the 13 units allowed at the site.
More worries about Siesta Promenade
The Bay Island Siesta Association has joined the Siesta Key Association (SKA) in writing to the County Commission to express concerns about the potential for Siesta Promenade to produce significantly more traffic problems for the island.
Writing on Nov. 7, Bay Island Siesta Association President Gary Q. Yee pointed out that his organization represents “290 property owners on Bay Island and that portion of Siesta Key that lies within the city limits of Sarasota.”
He added, “Our members access our neighborhood via the second Gateway to Siesta Key, Siesta Drive. As you are aware our Gateway (Siesta Drive) has seen a tremendous increase in traffic and experienced gridlock at times especially with the Siesta Key Bridge raising and lowering. What was once a seasonal issue has grown to be an almost [year-round] challenge to get to and leave our neighborhood safely.”
Yet, if Siesta Promenade is built as proposed, Yee continued, Bay Island residents expect Siesta Drive will see even more traffic, as people avoid Stickney Point Road.
He pointed out that Siesta has only two means of vehicular access: Siesta Drive and Stickney Point Road. He then asked whether the commissioners “have taken the increased traffic across the Siesta Drive Gateway into consideration in their discussions with Benderson on the Siesta Promenade project.”
In concluding his letter, Yee wrote, “I can appreciate the commissioners’ role of balancing growth and livability in what has become a major tourist destination and also a great community [in which to reside]. I trust the commissioners will make the right decisions for our community.”
In its letter earlier this fall, the SKA asked the County Commission for a comprehensive access management plan related to Siesta Promenade, if the County Commission agrees to allow the project to go forward as proposed.
That plan, the SKA directors said in their Oct. 6 letter, should include provisions to ensure Siesta Key residents and property owners have access to the barrier island without having to contend with an overburdened Stickney Point Road.