Benderson expected to submit a revised plan for its 42-acre parcel inside the Fruitville Initiative area
As the Sarasota County commissioners turned down Benderson Development's request to amend the Fruitville Initiative's PED Code, master development plan and interconnectivity plan 5-0 on Oct. 28, they also issued somewhat of an apology.
Like Commissioner Carolyn Mason, who said she was "reluctantly" denying Benderson's request, all the commissioners had nice comments about the developer and its work in the area.
The commissioners' consensus was that Benderson's desire to seek larger lots at a 42-acre parcel south of Fruitville and east of Coburn roads went against the master plan set down by the Fruitville Invitiative, but they also said they would be open to approving a revised plan which included some changes, and encouraged Benderson to do so.
Benderson is not technically allowed to file another request for an amendment to the plan for a year, but it could ask for a waiver of that rule and the commissioners made it clear they would welcome another chance to get the Fruitville Initiative rolling.
It appears that Benderson will have to come up with a plan that doesn't include the two large, light industrial buildings and the 176 loading docks that those buildings would house.
Allen Parsons, the Sarasota County planning division manager, said he expects that Benderson will return with a tweaked plan soon.
"There are contractual obligations," Parsons said. "There are timing components."
Benderson closed on the property it bought from the county in March and its contract stipulates that a "Certificate of Completion" for the project is due 18 months after breaking ground. A $1 million penalty looms for not meeting that deadline.
Representatives from Benderson did not return repeated calls and emails seeking comment about the future of the project.
Benderson's development is part of the 420-acre Fruitville Initiative and was supposed to jump start the project after years of planning.
"The Fruitville Initiative has all the ingredients lined up to be successful," Parsons said.
When Benderson sought bigger lots to build the larger industrial buildings, area residents became alarmed. More than 30 residents showed up at a public hearing to voice their displeasure about the request for amendments. They told commissioners that the larger buildings would attract tractor-trailer traffic that would increase noise and pollution and make the area unsafe for pedestrians.
"There has been a lot of history of people putting together a vision for the Fruitville Initiative," Parsons said.
Is he worried about the future of Benderson's project?
"I guess you would say that 'worried' is in the eye of the beholder," Parsons said. "I'm not. All the private property owners are actively working on developing plans. Benderson likely will come up with another plan in the not-too-distant future."
Stephen Suau, who said the Fruitville Initiative was his "brainchild" in 2002, was happy the commissioners turned down Benderson's request. "If Benderson had stayed in accordance with the plan, they wouldn't have had to come back here (to a public hearing). They could have started building and moving forward."
Those loading docks and the expected tractor-trailer traffic raised a red flag at the public hearing.
"Is this an area people will walk to use, or will they be fighting tractor-trailer traffic?" asked Commissioner Charles Hines.
Todd Mathes, the director of development for Benderson Deveelopment, repeated several times, "This is not going to be a truck stop.
"We are not proposing a change in the use (of the land). What was adopted doesn't exactly work. This plan is consistent with what was intended for the Fruitville Initiative."
Mathes said Benderson had gone "above and beyond" in designing main and primary streets in the parcel that would be user friendly to the general public. He said the idea of the construction of the two larger buildings was to bring new business into the community and create jobs. "There will be people in these buildings who, hopefully, will live nearby," Mathes said.
Most of the residents who spoke at the public hearing were not convinced.
John Krotec, who worked with the Fruitville Community Alliance group, was passionate, as were most of the speakers.
"We wanted a safe and walkable neighborhood," he said. "This is supposed to be the main gateway into our beautiful community. That vision is being compromised. If (the commissioners) approved this, it would be disrespectful of the citizens' process."
In denying the amendment, Commissioner Paul Caragiulo scolded some of those who portrayed Benderson as some kind of enemy.
"This is not the same community that I moved into," Caragiulo said. "There are more people coming and we all are going to have to deal with the new normal."
Hines added, "Thank goodness Benderson has done what it has done. They have risked their capital and brought us their knowledge."
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