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Benderson Development representatives say the company is waiting for more information before it finalizes a plan for the northwest corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, but nearby residents are already uniting against the mixed-use project.
The county is asking Benderson for more information on its plans for Siesta Promenade before allowing the developer to proceed with the project.
A preliminary proposal for the 24-acre project, called Siesta Promenade, includes up to 140,000 square feet of retail space, 501 multifamily dwelling units and 150 hotel rooms. Before it can start building, the developer must get county approval to increase the maximum density on the land from 13 to 25 units per acre.
On Monday, Benderson held a workshop to get public input on a county-mandated study regarding the impact of the proposed development. Instead, many residents offered input on the specifics of the project itself — and urged the developer to scale back its plans for the property.
“If you’re not willing to reduce density, you’re going to have a fight,” Coral Cove resident Dave Driscoll said.
Change of plans?
Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, said the company intends to build a project in line with what the property and surrounding neighborhoods can handle.
He largely avoided getting into a back-and-forth with residents Monday. He repeatedly stressed that the workshop was held to discuss the parameters of a study the developer must conduct before the county can grant a density increase for the Siesta Promenade property (see sidebar).
Mathes said Benderson is waiting for the results of the study before making any adjustments to its plans. Although he did not address many of the concerns raised Monday, he said the developer intends to have a substantive dialog with residents — including another public workshop — before the county makes a decision on the project.
“It’s incredibly important to us when we build and redevelop properties, we come up with the right mix and the right density and intensity for a project,” Mathes said.
But since 2014, when Benderson first discussed plans for Siesta Promenade, the project has been a source of concern for residents worried about its effect on neighboring residential areas.
Sura Kochman, a member of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, has been a leading opponent of the development. During the course of the year, Benderson has modified its plans for Siesta Promenade, but Kochman said those changes have failed to substantively address the concerns of residents.
Kochman, like many of the speakers at Monday’s workshop, said residents are primarily concerned about the project’s density and impact on traffic. Based on how the developer has responded to the past two years of input, she was skeptical Benderson was as amenable to change as Mathes said.
“We’ve had neighborhood workshops; we’ve had private meetings,” Kochman said. “The concern has been consistent — that it should be less dense, less intense uses. And yet, when Benderson filed, they made no changes.”
Bridget Coughlin, who lives south of Stickney Point near the project site, was one of a handful of people at Monday’s meeting to express optimism that a mutually agreeable plan for Benderson and neighboring residents could be struck.
“You people don’t want to develop something where you raise a lot of problems, I wouldn’t think,” she said.
She wasn’t trying to be funny, but Coughlin’s remark inspired laughter from the audience gathered at Pine Shores Presbyterian Church. Despite the seemingly united front against the Siesta Promenade plans — no speakers offered support for the development as-is — Mathes remained confident the project would benefit residents if approved.
“There’s always going to be a level of skepticism, and you’re never going to win everyone’s support,” Mathes said. “But if we can have a very positive effect on a neighborhood — stronger property values, neighborhood pride in our projects — that’s our long-term goal.”
After the meeting, Coughlin was less optimistic that Benderson would tailor its plans to the whims of the public.
“That’s sort of my gut feeling, that they’re going to get what they want,” Coughlin said.
Kochman, on the other hand, hoped mounting opposition would inspire county officials to carefully scrutinize Benderson’s proposal during the development review process.
“There are so many people in a two-mile radius that are very concerned the spillover from this will impact their neighborhoods,” Kochman said. “The scope has grown. Interest has grown.”
Mathes fought against the perception that Benderson was unwilling to listen to public concerns, but added resident anxiety alone will not determine the direction of the Siesta Promenade project.
“We take into consideration the neighborhood’s input, the results of the studies, the county’s viewpoint of the project,” Mathes said. “We also want a project that’s going to be vibrant and successful for the long-term.”