The Bendersonville Initiative

Guest Correspondence

SRQ Daily columnist Cathy Antunes serves on the boards of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations and Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government. She blogs on local politics at

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 the Fruitville library with the 300 adjacent acres owned by private landowners. The private landowners agreed. Public workshop attracted hundreds of residents. The collaboration produced a beautiful, walkable residential and commercial mixed-use development plan that harmonizes with the 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. Benderson plans to build a trucking distribution center on the formerly public land. 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. The private landowners agreed. 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 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. 

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 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. It 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.  

SRQ Daily columnist Cathy Antunes serves on the boards of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations and Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government. She blogs on local politics at

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