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Sarasota approves rezone for more commercialized Selby plan with 5 story building; neighbors fear traffic

MELISSA REID
Associate Publisher
mreid@lbknews.com

To make expand within the confines of the City takes time, preparation and planning — especially when dealing with possible traffic.

In an effort to change Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ zoning district for redevelopment, City Planning Manager David Smith and Selby Gardens’ consultant Chris Cianfaglione with Kimley-Horn and Associates, both spoke before the city of Sarasota Commission to request it be changed from its current zoning of Community Office/Institutional to Metropolitan-Regional. Originally, city staff had proposed changing the zoning to Urban Edge instead of Metropolitan-Regional, but after speaking with the neighboring communities, Cianfaglione told the commission it was not the correct fit.

“One of the biggest objections by neighboring communities was the classification of ‘Urban Edge’ which could allow an 80-foot building on that property if it were ever sold in the future. We really did feel that going to Metropolitan-Regional use is appropriate,” said Cianfaglione.

“I think the neighbors are concerned that Selby could sell the property if it’s zoned Urban Edge, and you could have all types of commercial and other uses,” said Smith.

Both Smith and Cianfaglione have met with neighboring communities around the Gardens, to gather input and thoughts on the planned redevelopment.

According to Cianfaglione, he said it was clear residents who live near the Gardens were mostly in favor of the proposed plan, but wanted to prevent any intense development next to them if the property were ever sold in the future.

“From the zoning perspective, Selby is unique; they really don’t fall into a category that currently exists. So we thought we would need to create a Marie Selby Gardens specific zoning district. The idea is that we would model the site district similar to the Sarasota Memorial Hospital district, which is specific to that site. We are providing for the same ingress and egress space, but wanted to provide the most protection for the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Cianfaglione.

After some questioning from Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie regarding why the city couldn’t just attach conditional uses to the Urban Edge district, Cianfaglione said that “introducing all of those major conditional uses was not feasible under the guidelines that we can do it under.”

Smith added that an Urban Edge zoning classification for the Gardens would open up the potential for “a whole slew of commercial and other types of uses there. A Metropolitan-Regional district is more specific.”

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch also pointed out that the Urban Edge zoning district requires staff approval for developments whereas the Metropolitan-Regional district requires public hearings regarding any proposed projects.

“What we’ve heard from the neighbors is that they want the most tight restrictions possible, and this does that the best way,” said Cianfaglione.

Cianfaglione also addressed Ahearn-Koch’s concerns about the 25 dwelling units allowed in the Metropolitan-Regionnal district, to which he assured there are no proposed dwelling units in the Selby Gardens plan.

Additionally, Cianfaglione assured the commission that his consulting company is looking into traffic considerations for the neighboring communities as well.

“As far as traffic is concerned, Selby is safeguarding it for the future and providing it as a cohesive destination. We are planning a traffic study and plan to make adjustments to the ingress and egress. We’re getting the data now. We’ve heard from neighbors and are looking into traffic calming projects and working on places we can install those. We are also looking into the proposed roundabouts on U.S. 41 and how those will impact that area,” said Cianfaglione.

Included in the redevelopment plan for the Gardens are a public restaurant and a parking garage. The City Commission voted 5-0 to change Marie Selby’s zoning to Metropolitan-Regional.

The Sarasota City Commission unanimously approved last October allowing city staff to process a change to the city’s comprehensive plan that will allow increased commercial activity at the 14.73-acre Marie Selby Garden site in downtown Sarasota.

Marie Selby Gardens in its recently completed master plan wishes to undertake a $67 million redevelopment of its site and expansion of several uses.

Currently, the residential zoning does not allow for a parking garage, which is proposed in the master plan. Another, perhaps more significant change, is the desire for a stand-alone restaurant that would serve not only visitors, but the public as well.

Selby Gardens has stated that the parking garage would house more than 450 vehicles and the restaurant would be located on top of the garage, which would afford waterfront views and views across the existing residential neighborhood.

Selby Gardens CEO and President Jennifer Rominiecki has told the commission that more than 200,000 visitors came to the Gardens last year. She added that some of the events were so popular that they ran out of parking and guests were turned away.

Part of the rationale for the master plan is to rebuild the facilities including those that hold the extensive orchid collection out of the flood zone and in elevated structures that meet Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

Rominiecki spoke of the ever-increasing economic impact Marie Selby Gardens has on the community and how the expansion would add to its cachet.

The Selby Gardens master plan, if permitted by the city, will be built in phases. The first phase includes the rooftop restaurant, parking garage, as well as new administrative offices and a library.

The second phase includes the new conservatories, the learning pavilion, central garden as well as a botany research center and spirit lab. The master plan also includes restoring the historic buildings.

The plan will take about 10 years to consummate and Selby Gardens intends to remain open throughout the process.  The master plan will be financed through ongoing fundraising efforts.

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