The Bendersonville Initiative

The Fruitville Initiative began when Sarasota County approached five landowners about working together to plan high value, walkable development at the Fruitiville-Interstate-75 interchange. Rather than standard big box retail, gas stations, fast food or strip malls, the County wanted to coordinate development of the 42 acres of public land next to Fruitville Library with 300 adjacent acres owned by private landowners. The private landowners agreed. Public workshops attracted hundreds of residents. The collaboration produced a beautiful, walkable residential and commercial mixed-use development plan that harmonizes with Audubon’s Celery Fields bird sanctuary. The County paid a national expert $500,000 to put the plan on paper, and passed the Fruitville Initiative in 2010. Today, the County has reneged on the plan, selling the public’s 42 acres to Benderson Development for a bargain-basement price. On October 28th, this Wednesday afternoon, Benderson’s plan to build a trucking distribution center will be presented for a vote to the Sarasota County Commission (to attend and give public input, see details below). The  Browardization of Sarasota County (aka Bendersonville) continues.

The premise of the Fruitville Initiative was simple:  together, we can create development which delivers greater benefits for everyone—property owners, neighbors and residents of Sarasota County. The Fruitville-I-75 interchange could be something different. Sarasota County’s numerous public workshops attracted hundreds who discussed, debated, collaborated.

A vision of walkable, mixed-use development resulted. Sarasota County hired Stefano Polyzoides to put a plan on paper, paying him $500,000. Walkable development standards were embraced by the private landowners, who were not required to work with anyone. They could have sold to McDonald’s and called it a day. The same walkable development standards were embraced by the neighbors. Those living nearby understood the landowners’ development rights, and they saw value in mixed-use, walkable residential and commercial development, which would bring shopping, dining and employment closer to home. Sarasota County residents understood that mixed-use development would reduce traffic, because the new and existing residents would be able to shop and work without hopping on I-75. It was a win for everyone.  Here is what the Fruitville Initiative is supposed to look like:

PolyIVPolyzoidesPolyIIPolyIII              This link will take you to more drawings and information on the Fruitville Initiative plan:      http://www.mparchitects.com/site/projects/fruitville-center

Pretty nice, right?  Well, not anymore.

Sarasota County sold the public’s 42 acres to Benderson Development for $3 million dollars, at least $2 million less than it’s true value. A 2002 appraisal (well before the real estate bubble) valued the public land at up to $5 million.  Real estate prices have recovered and increased since then. The County’s recent $3-million appraisal of the property is a sham. Two commissioners, Patterson and Hines, voted against the sale, citing low price as one reason for their dissent.

The Benderson site plan has been submitted. The County’s recent public workshop attracted three participants, it appears because only those living nearby the 42 acre parcel were notified. The Celery Fields’ birds are the largest “affected party” in the vicinity. None of them showed up, and the rest of us don’t qualify for notification.

Regardless of what Benderson Development calls their site plan, it is in reality a trucking distribution center.

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If approved, Benderson’s truck distribution site plan represents wasted of time and energy that hundreds put into the Fruitville Initiative. It represents wasted taxpayer millions—$500,000 for the Polyzoides plan and over $2 million in a land sale giveaway.

Welcome to Sarasota County, aka Bendersonville.

Update:  The BCC (Board of County Commissioners) voted unanimously to deny Benderson’s petition.  However, they did invite Benderson to reapply with a new plan earlier than a year, virtually promising to waive the one year waiting period.  The community will need to be vigilant.  Condescending comments from one commissioner directed at citizens expressing opposition indicate there hasn’t been a shift in how the BCC views citizen input.  Thanks to all who wrote, called or attended the meeting.  It made all the difference.

Sarasota County Commission meeting, Wednesday October 28th, 1660 Ringling Blvd.  Commission Chamber, Sarasota, FL.   The site plan presentation, public input, Commission discussion and vote will occur in the afternoon (item 10), sometime after 1:30pm (exact time depends on how quickly the Commission will move through other agenda items – see agenda link below).  Because it is a public hearing, citizens who sign up to give input at the meeting will each have 5 minutes to speak.

Agenda for the October 28th meeting, Benderson plan is item 10:

https://sire.scgov.net/sirepub/pubmtgframe.aspx?meetid=649&doctype=agenda

19 Comments on The Bendersonville Initiative

  1. An excellent blog post. I would only add that there was considerable citizen opposition to the Polyzoides plan when it was first made public. Following the charrette, there was an extensive public process, in the course of which the five property owners, the County, and the engaged citizenry crafted a set of guiding principles that were then written into the Comprehensive Plan Amendment. When the planning moved to the next phase of development of a Critical Area Plan, we were able to build on the consensus that had been painstakingly built in the post-charrette process. Benderson Development is asking for a substantial deviation not just from the master plan and code, but from a hard-won agreement with the neighbors, property owners, and all the stakeholders. At the time, it was to the credit of the BCC that they had taken the leadership in facilitating this agreement around an extraordinary public/private partnership intended to produce something other than the business-as-usual development at the I75 interchange. If the BCC now approves this petition, it would also be a sad and ironic reversal of the kind of leadership that enabled the Fruitville Initiative to come about in the first place.

    • Thanks for commenting David. Yes, the BCC was doing the right thing, creating a walkable development plan in collaboration with neighbors and Sarasota citizens. They created a sound policy and are now looking to undo it, much like they did with our 2050 plan. It is a terrible reversal, but sadly consistent with actions like hiring Donna Arduin to advise them on changing our 2050 development plan.

      As for the opposition to the Polyzoides plan from citizens, there was a component of opposition which had no objection to the Polyzoides plan itself. The Board of County Commissioners utilized the EDC (Economic Development Corporation) to hire Mr. Polyzoides so they could bypass the County’s procurement (bidding) process. The County was sued over this and other issues regarding transparency and the EDC. As far as I know that lawsuit is still in process.

  2. We moved “Out East” to get away from the hectic traffic. We do not need a bunch of semi’s pulling out onto Fruitville. They have been creating the celery fields for almost 10 years now and they are beautiful. Lets not ruin all the hard and great work. Put the trucks somewhere else!!!!! Stephanie

    • It may be a done deal Jakob. There are quite a few people who are against this, though. Please attend tomorrow’s commission meeting if you can. If you can’t attend, you can e-mail the commissioners at commissioners@scgov.net. Be prepared for double-talk, especially from our Argus Commissioner https://thedetail.net/2015/03/16/a-county-commissioner-cannot-serve-two-masters/

      The Commission and Benderson’s attorneys will obfuscate and minimize all negative aspects of this deal, while they tell the public that they will be responsible, build so there is minimal disruption to wildlife, blah, blah, blah. But remember this: the County planned some wonderful development on this parcel, development which would have enhanced your quality of life and the value of your family’s real estate and business. Now they are bowing to Benderson and selling out the interests of your family and the rest of the public.

      In the end, we need Commissioners who truly represent us.

  3. Commissioners don’t give a flip about what they are doing to Sarasota. They just want the tax base. Money, money, money! Benderson has somebody in his back pocket.

    • Thanks for commenting Jan. Actually, Benderson’s plan for a trucking distribution center is far less valuable to the tax base than a mixed use development would be. They are weakening the tax base with this project, along with all the other negatives.

  4. Certain things cannot be changed; the sale of the property to Benderson is done; yes the County proves time and again that they are not good stewards of our property.
    The item that you might have a chance to change would be the vote that will be taken after the public hearing Wed. If enough citizens contact each of the county Commissioners and object to any approval of change of use for this property you may be able to curb what is intended…. Site work has already started…. ask if this change of use is already predetermined??? and the hearing etc a sham???
    Bill Kleiber

  5. What gets me is that the county paid some jackass with a sketch pad and a box of colored pencils a half a million dollars to draw some pictures of some imaginary buildings and things. Christ you can get a Picasso for less that that.

    • Hi George – The plan includes much more than sketches. The firm the County hired has a national reputation for excellence in creating mixed-use, walkable, high quality development plans. I don’t know if the County overpaid, but I believe the plan itself is way above average. How the County worked to pay this firm (outside the procurement process) is a whole ‘nother blog post. But the County’s maneuvering is no reflection on the firm, which is known for high standards. Certainly it is fair to question the value of a high ticket item, but in this case the price may be quite justified.

  6. We need to throw all of these commissioners out. Clearly someone is getting benefits to allow Sarasota one awful development after the other. Beautiful property at the end of Simmons Ave. and 10th Street was supposed to be a wetland and couldn’t be developed. Guess what, most of the beautiful old live oaks have been ripped out and 36 town homes are going in with absolutely NO notice to the surrounding neighbors! I hope somehow they will reap what they sow.

  7. Haven’t liked anything that Benderson has done in Sarasota. Rowing park! Hah…ugly thing next to the interstate. Maybe more ugliness and traffic going on 41 and Stickney Point. Saw there was an office or something near the new Sports Authority. Also saw one somewhere else. We need some other people with some sense of aesthetics or maybe just leave things alone. Thanksnfor Hines and Patterson anyway…at least some people were thinking.

  8. This is a recurring theme on the gulf coast : developers come to town with enough money ,and local leaders bend over.

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