While the project developer rolls out a marketing campaign, critics are raising concerns about improper procedure.
For more than four years, Benderson Development has been working to redevelop a 23.4-acre property at the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
This winter, county officials are set to finally pass judgment on the project. The plans have undergone some changes, but the latest proposal continues to generate outspoken resident opposition.
Benderson’s Siesta Promenade project calls for the construction of 414 residences, a 130-room hotel and up to 140,000 square feet of commercial space. The plans are scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on Nov. 15 and the County Commission on Dec. 12.
Sensing lingering community concern about the proposal, Benderson has set up a website and Facebook page designed to promote the project.
The website, shopdinelivesiesta.com, attempts to address questions regarding things such as the ongoing development review process and the effects Siesta Promenade will have on traffic in the area. It also encourages visitors to write to county officials showing support for the project.
Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, said this is something the company does not usually do. But he acknowledged the public continues to have questions about the proposal, and he hoped the site would help convince them the project is not objectionable.
Although the project would include a higher residential density than what is typically allowed in the proposed zoning district, Benderson is making the argument the proposal is less intense than what could be built by right on the land.
The developer says the plan is not for a regional shopping destination, but a commercial complex that is largely used by people already in the area. Benderson’s website features statistics that show Siesta Promenade is projected to generate less traffic than what a larger commercial project would generate.
“We think there’s a give-and-take going on,” Mathes said. “That’s what we’re trying to communicate to the community.”
Leading opponents of the project are unconvinced. Sura Kochman, president of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, said Benderson’s efforts to downplay the scope of the development haven’t swayed neighboring residents.
“We’re unhappy about the height, and we’re very unhappy about the traffic leaving the site and going through the neighborhood,” Kochman said.
She believes it’s disingenuous to suggest the scope of the project is beneficial for residents, considering the density increase Benderson is seeking. As the county prepares to consider the development, Kochman believes officials have no reason to grant Benderson any development rights above what would be permitted in the proposed zoning district.
“They should not be allowed to get one unit higher than what they would normally be allowed,” Kochman said.
Ahead of the public hearings, those near the project site are also raising concerns about the county’s review procedures. Benderson has filed a Critical Area Plan with the county as part of the effort to get the project approved. 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 September, attorney Morgan Bentley sent two letters to the county on behalf of the Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway Hotel at 6600 S. Tamiami Trail. In the letters, Bentley questions the county's decision to consider the CAP application at the same time as other parts of the proposal, suggesting the CAP should first be reviewed on its own merits.
He also objects to the possibility members of the public would have three minutes to discuss the totality of the proposal at the forthcoming hearings. He argued it would even be difficult for the applicant to go over the entire application in the 20-minute window allotted.
“And it seems really unfair to force the commission to try and sift through this mountain of information in one sitting,” Bentley wrote. “It will be like trying to drink from a fire hose.”
The county did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the procedures at the public hearings.
While the project’s critics prepare to make their case before county officials, Benderson is hoping its new message will connect with the public. Despite the objections of some neighbors, Mathes said the developer tried to address the issues residents raised before submitting a plan.
“We really did as much as we thought we could do and still have a successful project,” Mathes said.