Benderson [Development Co.] has proposed adding another 600,000 square feet of retail and 100,000 square of office space to the University Town Center, bringing the project’s total footprint to 2.58 million square feet of commercial development. Nearly 1,800 homes also will be built on the site southwest of the University Parkway-Interstate 75 interchange.
[Sarasota County] Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to alter the county’s comprehensive plan, the first step needed to allow the UTC expansion to proceed. Those amendments will now go before the state for review.
Approval of many other aspects of the plan was delayed until May 6.
County officials and Benderson could not agree on how the development would impact preserved forest wetlands and mesic hammocks on the property.
As part of the expansion, Benderson has proposed building on more than 50 acres previously set aside for conservation.
Under the developer’s plan, loss of the majority of those wetlands would be offset by preservation in another area of Manatee County, pending approval from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
But the latest site plans filed by Benderson would bulldoze over 54 percent of the mesic hammocks now growing on the property. County codes protect the unique habitat by only allowing developers to impact up to 25 percent.
An astute observer of growth politics and planning in Sarasota county offered this comment (emphasis added):
Benderson wants to expand... the key word there is "wants". One can understand that...certainly no secret that that is the business Benderson is in. The issue, though, is this: is this expansion needed by the community? Is it in the best interests of the community? Those are the questions that our elected representatives need to deal with first...not the details of the proposal. The sense I get from the article is this: there are a few unseemly wrinkles (wetlands, for example) that would not make good PR for the BCC, so they have given Benderson an indication of what they need to do to make their "story" more palatable... and not cast an ugly shadow on the BCC as they do Benderson's bidding. Interesting that the headline says that the BCC will (not, "may", or "considers") change the growth plan. So here's my question: does the "community's" input matter? Do "we" have any real voice in this? Will the City of Sarasota raise its voice in alarm as Benderson plans to suck more businesses out of downtown? Given that the UTC has sucked Saks, Wiliams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Banana Republic, Dillards, etc. out of Southgate, that is certainly not a hypothetical issue.