Sarasota County staff recommends preserving wetlands at the proposed University Station site.
A planned development that would bring Whole Foods Market and Wawa businesses to the corner of University Parkway and Honore Avenue could result in the loss of nearly 4.5 acres of protected wetlands.
A report prepared by Sarasota County noted the resulting impact to wetlands would violate the county’s comprehensive plan, which guides land use and development in Sarasota County. The county report recommended its planning commission, which meets Thursday, Dec. 17, require preservation of those areas.
The planning commission is scheduled to consider a request from University Honore, LLC, to remove protected wetlands on the eight-acre parcel to make way for University Station, which would include a 41,000-square-foot grocery store, a 6,100-square-foot convenience store and approximately 11,800-square-feet of retail, including an unnamed restaurant.
According to the county report, the majority of the impact would be located in a 3.3-acre native habitat preserve area, created as part of the 2004 site plan for the University Parkway Business Park. Those site plans are considered binding and require Sarasota County commissioners’ approval to change.
Jeff Garrison, a partner at Atlanta-based SJ Collins, said that in return for the right to develop the parcel, University Honore has purchased an estimated $1.5 million worth of property connected to the 145-acre Rye Preserve in Manatee County that will be protected in perpetuity. That property is approximately six miles from the proposed development site, though water collected at both sites drains into the same watershed area.
The county report said the wetlands’ removal is inconsistent with parts of the comprehensive plan that require wetlands be preserved except in cases where they no longer fulfill their ecological functions or no reasonable alternative exists. The report also states isolated habitats such as this one, within urban environments, are becoming increasingly important to wildlife. According to the staff report, the applicant and county staff both agree the wetlands “exhibit good functionality."
According to the staff report, the applicant stated “there is no reasonable alternative that would avoid or sustainably preserve any portion of the on-site wetlands while accommodating a much needed grocery anchor for (this site).”
Garrison said wetlands on the parcel are degenerating quickly because of how development and the expansion of University Parkway and Honore Avenue have encroached on them.
“Every time development happens, the ecological benefits of (those) wetlands (are) degraded,” Garrison said. “The ecological benefit is near zero.”
Garrison said the project has the support of Southwest Florida Water Management District and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and that he expects those agencies will issue permits soon.
“They agree this is an environmental positive,” he said. “This is in the same watershed. Functionally it’s the same.”
Garrison also noted what he said was overwhelming community support.
“We’ve been working with the community for year and a half,” he said. “A lot of the people who’ve had trouble with the project, we met with them probably a dozen times. They are vocal supporters now.”
Brightwork principal Henry Hilsman, who is listed as the applicant on the rezone petition and who Garrison said is his company’s contact for Wawa’s project, declined to comment.
The item is scheduled to go before county commissioners Jan. 26.
This story has been updated to clarify the location of the property purchased by the developer and the drainage of that property.