Lido Pool and Pavilion plan takes a final dive in City Hall

Lido Key resident Sylvia Babineau the morning after the vote. She and thousands of residents fought the plan.

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The much-decried plan to redevelop the Lido Pool & Pavilion into a 250-seat restaurant and bar is officially dead in the water.

The Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1 this week to pay the applicants for the project, Troy Syprett and Gavin Meshad, $206,224 for expenses incurred and their agreement to terminate the lease agreement.

The vote did not come before numerous residents chastised the commission and more directly, city staff, for the situation that unfolded over the past three years.

“For months I asked for documents regarding this lease agreement and nothing came forward. Then suddenly we had an executed agreement. It was very Machiavellian and done in secrecy. We need to get out of this and be done with it,” said City resident Charlie Wells.

Former Commission candidate and resident Martin Hyde, laid the blame most directly on City Manager Tom Barwin who had excused himself temporarily from the meeting.

“I am glad the City Manager excused himself. He screwed this up totally. I’m glad he left the room and I hope he’s hanging his head in shame. I agree the lessee got absolutely hosed here by the overstepping of the staff and the city manager. I would offer the applicant one hundred grand and send them on their way,” said Hyde.

City resident Cathy Antunes said that the “generous” offer from hotel and resort owner Mark Walsh to donate $175,000 to refurbish the pavilion helped soften the blow incurred by paying the applicants to withdraw the plan.

“We live in an imperfect world; we need to learn from what went wrong here,” said Antunes.

Sarasota attorney Dan Loebeck said if he was on the commission, he would not pay a penny to the applicants. He summed up the entire dilemma by saying that the City had staff making policy, lining up the votes, and then bringing issues to the commission when they are sure they will pass.

“The city commission needs to grab a hold of policy making,” said Loebeck.

City attorney Robert Fournier recommended to the commission that it approve the payment to terminate the plan, arguing that the city would incur liability if the plan went forward under any scenario or outcome. The plan was found by the City Planning Board to not be in compliance with the criteria for major conditional use and the board enumerated concerns that it did not meet Federal Emergency Management Association, and Comprehensive Plan requirements.

Ironically, on the other side of the argument was not only the applicant, but city staff. City staff strenuously maintained the project did conform to city codes and regulations and recommended approval.

It was in a January meeting of this year that the plan was destined to come to a final vote by the City Commission on the question of whether it met the critieria of a Major Conditional Use. Instead of a vote, the applicant asked the city to continue the hearing and said it wanted to withdraw the proposal, but it would be seeking out-of-pocket expenses. It was at that same meeting that the attorney for Walsh said that Walsh would donate $175,000 if the city agreed to terminate the plan and instead built or renovated the pavilion in a manner that had community support was compatible with the neighborhood and was not leased to a private entity.

Fournier told the commission last week that if the commission thought it benefited the community to make the project go away, “it is your decision.”

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said there needs to be a process that the community and applicant can rely on. She added that the commission was not addressing the bigger issue, just stopping this particular process.

Commissioner Hagen Brody made clear he would be voting in favor of the settlement.

“The settlement is the only way to quash this today. Denying this puts it back on the table for this to continue. I have thought of how much expense on the applicant’s side, and how much exposure to the City. I feel there is a lot of exposure and liability on the City’s behalf,” said Brody.

Mayor Liz Alpert said the applicants had come in with a site plan that mirrored what the Lido Key Residents’ Association wanted in 2012. She then expressed empathy for the applicants adjusting to numerous changes that were requested.

“This is a good way to put a halt to this and go back to the drawing board,” said Alpert.

When the vote was called, Mayor Alpert, Vice Mayor Ahearn-Koch, Commissioners Brody and Freeland Eddie voted to pay the applicants and end the agreement. Commissioner Willie Shaw voted against the measure.

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