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Benderson Development brings ambiguous land use plan to Laurel Park, residents push back

Written by on Saturday, August 5, 2023

Benderson wants higher density rights to the land the County Administration building sits on before it produces a plan for its project. Skeptical neighbors in Laurel Park argue that they need more details.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: August 4, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: It looks like a Catch-22. Local heavyweight, Benderson Development, suggests it needs the city to grant it higher density rights to part of the land the soon-to-be former County Administration building sits on before it can produce a detailed plan for its project. Skeptical neighbors argue they need more details before the city should even consider an up sell.

WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez was at a crowded public workshop this week to give us the details of yet another big development project.

Host: A community workshop Tuesday night packed Selby Library’s auditorium. 200 or so residents of the historic Laurel Park community in Sarasota were there to learn more about a controversial proposal from Benderson Development. The company seeks an amended future land use designation and a rezone for the eventual redevelopment of the Sarasota County Administration building located on the south side of Ringling Boulevard, west of Osprey Avenue and east of Orange Avenue.

But the change would also affect the adjacent Laurel Park, much to the unhappiness of most homeowners there. With a portion of the planned site located within the Laurel Park neighborhood, residents there are concerned about the redevelopment, and how it could be affected by the new state Live Local Act, which preempts city control over height and density for any project that includes affordable housing.

The audience was told that the company just sought and was granted a two month extension to prepare and submit the amendment and rezoning proposal paperwork to the city. Benderson has provided little information on what it intends to build on the Administration Building site and two adjacent parking lots that spread over 5.3 acres.

But the company says it plans a “mixed use New Urbanism style” project that would allow for a transition between the Laurel Park single family housing neighborhood and the urban frontage that extends along a Ringling Boulevard. Benderson said the functionally obsolete Administration Building with his fortress-like facade will be replaced with a “beautiful first-class mixed-use campus.”

The county government building will be vacated at the end of 2025. Phillip DiMaria, an urban planner and project manager with Kimley-Horn, and Todd Mathes, Benderson’s Development Director, ran the community workshop.

They got an earful from the angry attendees who questioned why a rezoning that affects Laurel Park is needed in the first place.

Phillip DiMaria: The idea there is that we really wanted to provide a meaningful amount of compatibility and a transition between the neighborhood to the south, Laurel Park, as it transitions to downtown. This is an interesting area of downtown where you have neighborhoods to the south, and you transition slowly over time into the traditional downtown. So that’s the intention behind those zoning shifts.

Host: DiMaria explained why Laurel Park needs to be part of the equation.

PD: We think that this could make for a much better project that’s more valuable both to the neighborhood and the city.

Host: Laurel Park homeowners said that explanation wasn’t good enough.

Unnamed Citizen: Why on earth can’t Benderson Development stop being so overreaching and use this property, redevelop this property, based on its existing land use [unintelligible]. [Applause]

Unnamed Citizen #2: I strongly oppose any rezone to this property. Benderson bought it, they knew what the zoning was like everyone in the neighborhood, and everyone mostly buys property. But you’re talking about hikes, you’re not talking about setbacks, you’re not talking about density, you’re not talking about any of those things. I think you’re giving a very general sugarcoated picture of this.

Unnamed Citizen #3: I can’t imagine with my little 1920s house, it’s coming up on 100 years, if I suddenly went to the city and said, “I want to rezone my house, I’d like to build something there. I don’t know what yet. Could be a 7-Eleven, could be a car wash, it could be a hair dressing salon. I don’t know what yet, but I just want to rezone it.” And I was able to pay for attorneys. My neighbors would be furious with me. And I feel like I want you to really ask yourselves if you fully understand our feelings about it.

Host: Dan Lobeck lives near the planned development. He isn’t directly involved in the project as a well-connected real estate lawyer, but as an affected private citizen, he doesn’t want Benderson to get in its way.

Dan Lobeck: This is hugely, hugely important. And it’s not just about Laurel Park, it’s not just about what happens along Ringling Boulevard to the south. This would be an incursion for the very first time into this lovely single family neighborhood with urbanization. And moving the downtown edge from five stories all the way to ten stories, doubling the density from 25 to 50 units per acre north of Laurel Park.

And it’s a question of whether this game can continue: wealthy developers buying their way into things that are bad for all the rest of the people in the city. So I’m going to be not only watching this very closely, but I’ll be very involved.

Host: A rezoning is only the first step in moving ahead with the controversial development, and Benderson can only expect further vocal opposition to the project.

Unnamed Citizen #4: Laurel Park has fought this fight before. We are smart, we are passionate, and we are loud. So factor that in with your plans. [Applause]

Host: This is Ramon Lopez with WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm

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