A group of residents in four communities near a Benderson Development Co. commercial development, at the corner of Fruitville and Beneva roads, has banded together to start a petition against the project. Residents from the neighboring communities, including Fairway Oaks, which is closest to the proposed project, Glen Oaks Estates, Glen Oaks Manor and Oakwood Manor started the petition against the project last month.
As of April 5, an estimated 100 residents had signed the petition, said Joyce Burnham, a 19-year resident at Fairway Oaks Condominiums. Each community is made up of about 200 residences. The petition is circulating and will continue to gain signatures. Residents organizing the petition plan to bring the signatures to the City Commission.
“There are a lot of people who are upset about this,” Burnham said.
Burnham’s back door is about 30 feet from the property line of the 11 city-owned acres of park space that would be cleared for Benderson’s development if the City Commission gives final approval.
In August, the City Commission rejected a $3 million offer from Commodore Realty to purchase the highly visible parcel, with three of five commissioners instead approving a
$1.45 million contract with Benderson, which is proposing to build a commercial project on the land. Commissioners Suzanne Atwell, Paul Caragiulo and Terry Turner approved the contract and sales agreement with Benderson.
The contract with Benderson, however, is not final because it is contingent on three changes: a lengthy Comprehensive Plan amendment; a rezone from government zoning to commercial general district; and de-designating the space a city park so it can be developed.
“This is so far from a done deal,” Mayor Suzanne Atwell said at a candidate forum April 8.
The Planning Board is scheduled to vote on the three changes in May or June. A denial of any three of the changes would thwart the development. Because of the timing, the two top vote-getters in the May 14 City Commission runoff would vote on the changes when the issue comes to the City Commission. The Comprehensive Plan change has to be approved by a super-majority City Commission vote.
The City Commission will also hold two public hearings, starting in July, to consider the changes, said City Planner Steve Stancel.
“We definitely plan to participate in those public hearings,” said Renee Gluvna, a Glen Oaks Estates resident who signed the petition against the Benderson project.
Although residents of those communities, in past years and in different situations, have protested separate proposals to build basketball courts on the Bobby Jones executive golf course and a project to construct affordable housing on the same course, the four adjoining communities have not previously
The site is currently comprised of a city park, county firefighter training facility, retention pond and large drainage ditch.
The park is unrefined, with only one bike path through the middle and no other amenities. Although the park is commonly called Fruitville Road Park, there are no signs designating the name, but there is one posted sign warning the park closes at 11 p.m. The park offers live oak trees and greenery. Also, area residents commonly walk their dogs there, and children play in the park.
Burnham wants the city to reject the Benderson project and build a fitness pathway and put in some park benches. For Burnham, the park is an oasis in between two, busy four-lane roads.
“How can a huge shopping center not impact our lives?” Burnham said.
Only two public parks are close by, including the county’s dog park at 4720 17th St. and a small city park with a children’s playground south of Fruitville.
Burnham is also upset that specific details of the Benderson project remain unknown. Even though the city has filed for a rezone, Benderson has not submitted a site plan or preliminary plans yet.
A representative from Benderson is scheduled to meet with city officials April 15.
“I would like to see some kind of plans, and I haven’t seen anything yet,” Burnham said.
In addition to a zoning change, which would require a lengthy Comprehensive Plan amendment, the developer would have to file plans to fill in and reroute a drainage ditch.
The deep-sided drainage ditch currently cuts through the property and feeds into Phillippi Creek and eventually Little Sarasota Bay.
Benderson Development Co. representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.