Benderson Development is moving ahead with a mixed-use proposal for Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, but some neighbors are desperate to block the project.
Siesta Key residents are concerned about the impact of Benderson Development Co.’s proposed Siesta Promenade project, so resident Russell James hatched an ambitious plan: If people want to stop the 24-acre development, they could buy the land themselves.
Benderson purchased the property at the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 for $17.1 million in 2005. The developer wants to build a mixed-use project with 140,000 square feet of retail, 500 multifamily housing units and 150 hotel rooms. The proposal has drawn significant opposition from the surrounding neighborhoods.
As the developer seeks a density increase from the county for the project, James said residents should go further than advocating against Benderson’s requests for building bonuses. He suggested a new tax or private initiative could raise money to purchase the land for public use, turning it into a park and transit station.
“As a developer, at a certain point, you have to say it’s more trouble than it’s worth,” James said. “You recoup your money plus some interest, you pick up your marbles and you take them somewhere else.”
Benderson is continuing to advance its plans for the property through the county review process. At Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, the board voted 4-1 to approve a scope of work for Benderson’s Critical Area Plan proposal. The scope of work outlines the analysis the county will require before it makes a decision on the developer’s appeal for higher density and the right to build stand-alone multifamily housing.
Although James has argued any mixed-use complex is too intense for the land, Benderson says the site’s previous use would be a detriment to the surrounding area. Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, pointed out the company could build a gas station, office buildings and space for more than 300 mobile homes without any input from the commission.
“No one wins if we just continue to sit still or revert to what was previously there,” Mathes said.
James pitched his proposal to a receptive crowd at the Jan. 12 Siesta Key Association meeting. Speakers at Wednesday’s commission meeting suggested the county should investigate the idea.
The SKA board hasn’t met to discuss the idea, but board member Catherine Luckner said it wasn’t particularly realistic. Still, she hoped James’ suggestions — including the creation of parkland — could influence Benderson’s plans.
“I’m pretty much a pragmatist, and since that property’s owned by Benderson, I think we’re going to have to wait and see what they want to do with it,” Luckner said. “I think they’re way far away, still, from a committed plan.”
Despite the significant concerns surrounding the project — which residents and commissioners reiterated Wednesday — Luckner held out hope Benderson would further refine its plans to address the issues neighborhoods have raised.
“The question is, what numbers are the right numbers?” — Todd Mathes
Mathes said Benderson knows the project has to be refined further, and said additional data and discourse with neighbors will inform the final scope.
“We know there’s more changes coming,” he said. “The question is, what numbers are the right numbers? What building height is the right height?”
With the Critical Area Plan scope of work approved, staff will review Benderson’s proposal once it is officially filed and determine whether it is consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. The plans will be discussed in front of the Planning Board and County Commission before officials make a decision regarding the future of Siesta Promenade.
Although Mathes said selling the property is unlikely, James encouraged residents and officials to drive a hard bargain as the developer moves forward.
“Collectively, we have the power — and the commissioners have the power by not granting entitlements,” James said. “They’re in a strong negotiating position.”