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Sarasota denies Selby’s expansion proposal

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

A near litany of pejoratives served as the underpinning for the City of Sarasota’s denial of a plan by Selby Gardens to redevelop its property.

Congestion, traffic, excessive noise, incompatibility. These descriptives became the basis for three commissioners — Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, Willie Shaw and Shelli Freeland Eddie — to vote against the $92 million plan last Tuesday after an eight-hour hearing.

Neighbors in particular objected to a five-story parking garage and a rooftop restaurant that would be open late into the evening.

Selby needed the commission to approve a necessary comprehensive plan and zoning change to allow the restaurant use on the site.

Selby Gardens CEO Jennifer Rominiecki said the redevelopment is necessary because on occasion, Selby turns away visitors in peak season due to a lack of parking. Additionally, the collection of orchids and bromeliads are currently in the flood zone in aging infrastructure that needs to be flood and storm proof.

The issue caused a deep division within the community. Former City Commissioner Ken Shelin said the vote was yet another example of the city commission’s hostile attitude and unsupportive stance towards arts and culture.

Another former Commissioner, Susan Chapman, hailed the vote as a victory that upholds the integrity of zoning and represents a victory for the residential community.

The location of the Selby Gardens in many ways demarcates a transition between the downtown city core to the north and residentially-zoned neighborhoods including Hudson Bayou to the south. Located on 15 acres along Sarasota Bay, the Selby property was a gift to what became the Selby Foundation to serve as public gardens in perpetuity.  The Selby Foundation added to the property and expanded the collection of rare plant specimens, which are scientifically documented.

The Selby Gardens organization was counting on the approval of the expansion and especially the restaurant as a means of diversifying its revenue stream. Commissioner Shaw told Selby representatives at the meeting that he believed a compromise could be worked out between neighbors and Selby, but the proposal on the table was not appropriate.

Selby unveiled its proposal more than two years ago and since then residential neighbors protested the plan at both the Planning Board and Commission level. The neighbors also hired legal representation to argue its case of incompatibility not only with the community, but with the Comprehensive Plan.

Scores of residents spoke both for and against the plan at the public hearing last week. Traffic and the specter of a 75-foot tall parking structure were vilified by neighbors.

The City Commission did not follow the recommendation of city staff in this case. Staff endorsed the future land use comprehensive plan change and argued that the City should approve the application.

Despite the vote of denial, even the opposing commissioners urged Selby to alter its plans to garner community support.

That sentiment was also expressed by Rominiecki who vowed that she and the Selby staff will consider all of its expansion options as the organization revamps its strategy and planning for the future.

 

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