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Siesta Promenade
Siesta Key Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 11 months ago

Siesta Promenade plans under review

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The County Commission is set to consider a proposed 24-acre mixed-use development on Stickney Point Road later this year.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

For more than four years, Benderson Development has been working to gain county approval for a commercial, residential and hotel project at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Later this year, the developer may finally learn whether officials will offer their approval. In July, the county deemed Benderson’s application material was sufficient for formal review, beginning a 45-day window for staff to evaluate the project. After the staff review is complete, the plans will go to the Planning Commission and County Commission for a vote on the proposal.

The project, named Siesta Promenade, continues to be a source of controversy, with residents near the development site voicing opposition to the scope of the plans. Benderson hopes to build up to 140,000 square feet of retail space, 501 multifamily residential units and a 150-room hotel on the 24-acre property.

The proposal includes 13 buildings on the site, ranging in height from 35 feet to 80 feet. The planned density is just more than 20 units per acre — higher than the typical permitted density of 13 units per acre under the proposed zoning designation of commercial general.

The county may permit increased density because Benderson is submitting an application for a Critical Area Plan. The Critical Area Plan, or CAP, is a development tool designed to manage large swaths of land in accordance with the county’s comprehensive plan. In its application, Benderson argues the proposed mixed-use CAP development would have a less significant effect on the surrounding areas than a potential development built under the standards permitted on properties zoned commercial general.

Although Benderson states the project would be in keeping with its surroundings, residents are still skeptical. Sura Kochman, president of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance and an outspoken critic of the Siesta Promenade plans, doesn’t think there’s a reason to give the developer increased density considering the overall scope of the project.

“Our big concern is the density and the intensity of the use,” Kochman said. “Just because they bought the property does not entitle them to the highest use. It should only entitle them to reasonable use.”

A community workshop on the project is preliminarily scheduled for Aug. 23. Looking forward to the public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and County Commission, Kochman was already expressing concern about citizens’ ability to fully vet the entirety of Benderson’s proposal. In order to build Siesta Promenade, Benderson is seeking approval of a CAP, a rezone and a street vacation.

County staff said the boards generally consider the proposals involved with one development as a package, giving members of the public a single opportunity to speak about the project as a whole. But Kochman argued each individual application Benderson was submitting warranted review on its own merit. If citizens weren’t given time to speak to each portion of the proposal, she worried it would limit public input.

“Why should the public suffer and not be able to express their whole opinion because Benderson wanted to push this through all at once?” Kochman said.

County planner Steve Kirk said the Planning Commission and County Commission have the discretion to hear the proposals together or individually. He said the decision to consider the application as one item is usually a practical decision.

“It’s hard to divide up and separate the testimony on these things,” Kirk said.

Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, did not respond to a request for comment. Mathes has previously expressed a belief that the proposal addresses the feedback neighboring residents have shared.

“We’ve put a lot of time and energy into the plan to protect and buffer the neighborhood, but also to achieve a project that we think complements Sarasota County and Siesta Key,” Mathes said in a previous interview with the Sarasota Observer.

Kochman said she does not believe the plans provide an adequate buffer or transition into the surrounding residential areas. She said neighbors understand the developer is entitled to build on the land, but she doesn’t think there’s a justification for going beyond the standard zoning allowances.

As the development review process proceeds, she expressed optimism county officials would feel the same way.

“It’s not the commission’s job to ensure that Benderson makes the highest profit,” Kochman said.

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