Contrary to Facebook post, construction did not begin in early September
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Facebook users who were keeping a check on Benderson Development’s Siesta Promenade posts were a bit taken aback in early September, SNL learned.
On Sept. 5, the Shop Dine Live Siesta page — which identifies itself with Benderson Development Co., the firm planning the mixed-use project — reported, “A vision years in the making, Siesta Promenade is on its way to becoming a reality with active construction scheduled to start early next week.”
The Post added, “Now with preparatory site work complete and the previous soil and groundwater contamination all remediated, our work can really begin. Stay tuned for more updates as we revitalize the gateway to Siesta Key!”
Given the information about construction getting underway, SNL contacted county staff to ask whether Benderson had obtained the approval of Site and Development plans necessary to start erecting buildings. Those plans essentially are civil engineering drawings, which provide all the project details.
After conferring with Planning and Development Services Department staff, county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant reported that the plans had not been filed with the county as of Sept. 9.
To answer a follow-up question, Grant conferred with Mark Loveridge, manager of the Planning and Zoning Division in the county’s Land Development Services office. Grant wrote in a Sept. 10 email that, after the plans have been submitted, “The Site and Development review process takes approximately six months depending upon both the project and the developer’s response time for additional information.”
On Dec. 12, 2018, the County Commission approved the Benderson application for construction of 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel designed to stand 80 feet tall, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space. The board approved the rezoning of most of the approximately 24-acre site, as well as the boundaries of a Critical Area Plan (CAP) for Siesta Promenade. Benderson sought the latter designation because it allows residential density up to 25 units per acre, instead of the standard 13 permitted in Commercial General zoning districts. Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, pointed out during public meetings that the actual project density would be about 20.5 units per acre.
On Sept. 12, SNL called Benderson Development’s offices on Cooper Creek Boulevard to ask about the Sept. 5 Facebook post, in light of the information from county staff.
When told of staff’s confirmation that Site and Development plans had not even been submitted for Siesta Promenade, Julie Fanning, senior marketing manager for Benderson Development, said of the Facebook post, “Clearly, I think we’re following all the protocols. I know that land clearing has begun.”
Then Fanning said she would send SNL a formal statement.
SNL also reached Mathes, the director of development, to ask about the timeline for providing the Site and Development plans to the county. Mathes replied that he could not comment. He directed SNL to attorney Robert Lincoln, whose eponymous firm is located in Sarasota.
Subsequently, Fanning emailed SNL, saying she had spoken with Mathes. “[W]e’d like to direct you to speak with Robert Lincoln,” she added.
Lincoln is representing Benderson Development and Siesta 41 Associates in a case filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in early January, challenging the County Commission’s approval of Siesta Promenade.
Sura Kochman, a resident of Pine Shores Estates, filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, asking the court to rule that the County Commission did not follow applicable Comprehensive Plan policies or county guidelines for the CAP process in giving Benderson and Siesta 41 Associates the go-ahead to construct Siesta Promenade.
Siesta 41 Associates LLP is the Benderson affiliate actually overseeing the project.
Pine Shores Estates is immediately adjacent to the Siesta Promenade site.
Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh had set an Oct. 10 hearing on a motion Kochman filed this summer, seeking oral arguments.
In that July 31 motion, Kochman — through her attorney, Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral — pointed to the complexities of the case. She added, “The court would benefit from the presentation of oral argument … and the opportunity to ask questions and [seek] clarification …”
The judge ruled that each side would have 20 minutes during the Oct. 10 hearing.
On April 17, McHugh had issued a “show cause” order, writing that she found Kochman’s petition “demonstrates a preliminary basis for relief …”
Both Lincoln and the Office of the County Attorney have filed responses to Kochman’s arguments.
Lincoln was able to respond to SNL in an email on Sept. 13. He wrote, “Benderson Development has received a land clearing and earthmoving permit for the site from the County. That is the ‘construction in progress’ referenced in Benderson’s Facebook post. Benderson’s engineers are working on site and development plan applications for the project, as well as the necessary SWFWMD [Southwest Florida Water Management District] and FDOT [Florida Department of Transportation] applications.”
He added, “Some of the comments on Benderson’s Facebook post (or Ms. Kochman’s) seem to question why Benderson would be permitted to go forward with site work while Ms. Kochman’s certiorari challenge is pending. Under Florida law, the County Commission approvals remain in place and effective during that challenge absent a stay. Ms. Kochman has not requested a stay, nor would she be likely to receive one under the facts.”
Site work underway as litigation continues
In August, Siesta 41 Associates received the second Sarasota County permit it needed so it could begin clearing the Siesta Promenade site.
The first permit, issued on July 11, gave the company permission for minor earthmoving work related to the removal of septic tanks, concrete pads and asphalt roads that are remnants of the Pine Shores Trailer Park. Mobile homes stood for many years on the property, which is in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.
Then, on Aug. 15, the county issued a permit so Benderson/Siesta 41 Associates could begin removing trees that were not wanted on the site.
The tree permit application submitted to the county said the trees to be removed were as follows: four maples, 31 oaks, 88 palms, 51 pines and 21 trees of unknown species.
The trees to be protected, the application continued, are two Grand Pines and “various others shown on plan that were identified by County Staff.”
In providing information about the tree permit to the News Leader, at its request, Media Relations Specialist Grant wrote in an Aug. 23 email, “The issued permit will be amended (with necessary fees and required documents) as further development phases are reviewed and approved through [the county’s Site and Development and the Land Development Regulations divisions].”