Despite criticism from neighbors and concerns of the Florida Department of Transportation, Benderson Development is moving forward with its plans for the mixed-use Siesta Promenade project.
On Aug. 22, Benderson filed an application to rezone the 24-acre parcel on the corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 to commercial general. The developer’s plans include 506 residential units, a 150-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of commercial space.
Benderson is also applying for a critical area plan that, if approved, would entitle it to 25 units per acre, as opposed to the 13 units per acre typically permitted under commercial general zoning.
The rezone petition has not been scheduled for discussion, but the County Commission is slated to vote on the proposed density increase Oct. 11.
The Pine Shores neighborhood, located directly behind the proposed development, has been vocal in its opposition.
Critics say the density of the development is unsustainable and incompatible with the surrounding area, which is mostly single-family homes.
“They are entitled to develop their property,” said Sura Kochman, of the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance. “We’re not asking that they not develop it and put a park there, but they need to ... be sensitive. You can’t have eight- to nine-story buildings with the balconies overlooking the entire neighborhood, where all the privacy is gone for those who live there.”
Many fears center on what the development would mean for traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.
FDOT is among the concerned parties. In late July, the agency wrote a letter to the county highlighting potential safety issues at the intersection.
According to the letter, crashes at the intersection increased 175% between 2010 and 2014— an increase FDOT called “astonishing.” The letter describes lengthy traffic backups during peak hours along Stickney Point and says efforts to coordinate the signals have failed to alleviate the congestion.
As a result, FDOT encourages the county to give careful consideration to the future of the Benderson-owned parcel.
“Significant increases in traffic for eastbound or westbound will only cause additional delay and congestion,” the letter said.
Although FDOT has expressed concerns, spokesman Robin Stublen said the agency will not be officially involved with the project until after the county takes action on the rezone issue.
“There will be more vetting of their traffic study once Sarasota County has made a decision on the zoning,” Stublen said.
Benderson Director of Development Todd Mathes has attempted to curb concerns that the addition will negatively affect traffic.
“You’ll never know the difference with our project in place,” Mathes told the Sarasota Observer in a June interview.
Traffic projections included in Benderson’s application estimate the development will increase traffic between 4% and 6% at the Stickney Point and U.S. 41 intersection.
Kochman, like many surrounding residents, is not convinced.
“The traffic study they’re presenting doesn’t show the whole picture,” she said.
If the county approves the critical area plan, Benderson will be required to hold more neighborhood meetings before the commission will decide on the proposed rezone.
Following earlier community meetings, Benderson amended its original plans for the development, which included 250,000 square feet of retail space and two hotels, when residents voiced concerns regarding the proximity of the commercial space to their homes.
Benderson presented the 506 dwelling units as a buffer between the commercial properties and neighboring residents — which prompted new concerns about density and traffic.
Although there is no formal ongoing dialogue between Benderson and residents, Kochman has been active in keeping her neighborhood network up to date.
“I wouldn’t say our interest is waning ... Everyone is extremely engaged,” she said.
And as the Oct. 11 vote nears, Kochman believes that residents will soon begin to speak out en masse.
“I would anticipate probably after Labor Day is when there is going to be a whole lot of emailing going on to commissioners to state our case,” Kochman said. “People are very passionate.”