Complaint cites numerous examples to show application did not ‘meet all applicable regulations’
Nineteen residents of the city of Sarasota have filed a complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, seeking to overturn the Sarasota Planning Board’s approval of an application regarding the redevelopment of the Bath & Racquet Club property, which is located on nearly 13.5 acres divided between two parcels: 2170 and 2104 Robinhood St.
On Nov. 9, 2022, the Planning Board members voted 3-2 to approve the site plan and a minor conditional use to allow the project to include 256 multi-family residential units, with 33 of those to be priced as “attainable,” plus 65,458 square feet of non-residential space. The latter is to include 5,000 square feet of retail space, 23,000 square feet of office space, a 5,000-square-foot restaurant, tennis courts, a public park, a dog park, a playground and 32,000 square feet of indoor recreational space, the city staff report explained.
With a series of votes culminating in July 2021, the City Commission had cleared the way for planning of the project to proceed.
The complaint includes details from the minutes of the November 2022 Planning Board public hearing and sections of the city’s Zoning Code to make its arguments that the minor conditional use and site plan application for the Bath & Racquet Club did not, as required by the city, “meet all applicable land development regulations.” Those included facets of the Engineering Design and Criteria Manual (EDCM) and conditions placed on the property during the 2021 rezoning of the site.
For example, the petition argues that the site plan could not have been approved “because much of it has not been reviewed by the [city’s] Development Review Committee as required by the Zoning Code.”
The Development Review Committee (DRC) comprises city staff members who are involved in land-use development. During that group’s meetings, members routinely suggest tweaks to project plans to ensure they comply with city regulations and long-range planning.
After the DRC signed off on the site plan on Sept. 7, 2022, the petition says, a change to the site plan was made. Although staff informed the committee members of the modifications, the DRC did not review 42 new drawings related to the plan, the complaint contends.
Formally, the 19 residents filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the court, contending that the Planning Board action failed “to meet the essential requirements” of the Sarasota City Code.
The plaintiffs are Ben Cannon, Daniel Shanahan, Margaret Shanahan, Shannon Wight, Caitlin Miller, Luis Tamayo, Khalin Van Raadhorst, Brennan Troyer, James Guttridge, Karen Guttridge, Cheryl Boldin, James Boldin, Mary Brown, Hysen Muhametaj, Garrett R. Shaffer, Glenna Shrock, Ronald Solt, Michael Speth and Jennifer Zak. They all live “within a few hundred feet” from the Bath & Racquet Club, the complaint says.
The attorney for the petitioners is Ralf Brookes, whose firm is located in Cape Coral.
Residents in the surrounding area long have protested aspects of proposals to redevelop the Bath & Racquet Club, including the potential for exacerbation of traffic congestion in a heavily traveled area of the city. The property is behind the Trader Joe’s store on South Tamiami Trail.
Although the petitioners tried to appeal the Planning Board decision to the City Commission on Jan. 3, the complaint notes, they were denied “standing” to do so.
“Standing” is a legal term meaning that an individual will suffer harm or has suffered harm from a specific action and that a court has the ability to redress that harm, as Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains.
The Feb. 8 petition asserts that all of the plaintiffs have standing to seek the 12th Circuit Court’s review of the Planning Board decision.
Attorney Brookes cites the Florida common law standing test resulting from the 1972 Florida Supreme Court decision in Renard v. Dade County. That opinion said, “In determining the sufficiency of the parties’ interest to give standing, factors such as the proximity of [their] property to the property to be zoned or rezoned, the character of the neighborhood, including the existence of common restrictive covenants and setback requirements, and the type of change proposed are
considerations. The fact that a person is among those entitled to receive notice under the zoning ordinance is a factor to be considered on the question of standing to challenge the proposed zoning action. However, since the notice requirements of the many zoning laws throughout the State vary greatly, notice requirements are not controlling on the question of who has standing. Persons having sufficient interest to challenge a zoning ordinance may, or may not, be entitled to receive notice of the proposed action under the zoning ordinances of the community.”
The Bath & Racquet Cub property is owned by Sarasota Springs LLC, which purchased it from Bath & Racquet Club-Sarasota in January 2022 for $14,070,900, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office website shows.
Problems with the Planning Board materials
The complaint includes numerous examples to make its argument that the materials that the Planning Board reviewed late last year did not comply with numerous city requirements.
For example, no right of way dedication is shown on the site plan where it is necessary for the improvement of Glengary Street, which was a requirement of the rezoning ordinance the City Commission approved.
The complaint points out that the rezoning ordinance called for the one-way portion of Glengary Street to be turned into a two-way street: It was to have a 4-foot-wide, raised traffic separator to block left turns onto Olentary Street from eastbound traffic, providing a right-in/right-out only option at the intersection of Glengary Street and Olentary Street, the petition explains.
Further, the petition continues, “The existing 15-foot right-of-way is insufficient for two-way traffic because the City’s Engineering Design Criteria Manual requires that rights-of-way for local roads with parking shall not be less than 60 feet wide,” the complaint points out. Moreover, the petition says, “The additional right-of-way must be dedicated because the [city’s] Comprehensive Plan requires the dedication of right-of-way when there is a change in land use and a proposed street cross section illustrates the need for such additional right-of-way.”
Moreover, the petition says that the site plan application violates both a condition in the rezoning ordinance and the city Zoning Code, because the sizes of the attainable housing units “are inferior to Market-rate Unit Sizes.”
Section VII-1201(a(4)33 of the Zoning Code defines attainable housing as “Housing units [that] are affordable to households earning from 60 to 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton MSA [Metropolitan Statistical Area].”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the AMI each year for every MSA in the United States. In 2022, for North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, the AMI for a family of four was $90,400; the 2023 figures have not been released yet.
The site plan, the complaint points out, calls for the one-bedroom, one-bath attainable units to range from 700 square fee to 800 square feet. However, the complaint continues, the site plan’s 223 market-rate housing units will range from 700 square feet to 2,200 square feet. Based on their size, those units would have a range from one bedroom with one or 1.5 bathrooms up to three bedrooms and three or 3.5 bathrooms.
Thus, the complaint contends, the market-rate housing provided in the site plan “is much larger than the proposed attainable unit sizes.”
In explaining its argument that the site plan does not meet city Zoning Code standards for on-site parking, the petition says that “the proposed parking credits for tree preservation are improperly applied, and … spaces have not been provided for all the proposed uses on the site.”
Additionally, the complaint says, the application did not have the required landscape buffers in two places — along the eastern segment of the northern property boundary and along the southern portion of the eastern boundary. The first is a requirement of the city’s Zoning Code, the petition points out, while the second one is a requirement of the rezoning ordinance that the City Commission approved.
The petition also makes the following assertions:
- The landscaping buffers are configured improperly in four places.
- The building coverage exceeds the maximum allowed by the Zoning Code. The petition contends that the developer’s tabulation of the total building area was not supported by evidence and that it “is materially less than the building area shown on the Site Plan.”
- Fewer on-site parking spaces are shown on the site plan than the number the Zoning Code requires.
Spaces have not been provided “for every proposed use present on the site,” the complaint argues. The site contains 129,600 square feet of outdoor recreation space for which an extra 130 parking spaces must be constructed, it says. “The site also contains 560 stadium seats that require an additional 140 spaces,” the complaint adds.
City staff erred in its interpretation of the Zoning Code parking requirements in regard to private clubs as opposed to country clubs, the complaint contends. Staff said that the extra spaces were not necessary for the outdoor recreation facilities on the site because the rezoning ordinance called for the applicants to seek “a Minor Conditional Use approval for a Private Club which is a different use than a Country Club.”
Yet, the complaint argues, the rezoning ordinance “does not specify that the Minor Conditional Use Application be for a ‘Private Club.’ ” Nonetheless, the petition adds, “the Zoning Code defines a ‘Country Club’ to be a type of Private Club. Furthermore, it is well established that one cannot interpret a zoning regulation in a way that leads to absurd or unreasonable results, which would occur if Staff’s reading were accepted.”
Additionally, the complaint contends that the site plan is insufficient in general. Again, citing a section of the Zoning Code, the petition says, with emphasis, “A ‘Site plan’ is defined to specifically include ‘A graphic portrayal of a proposed development describing both existing and proposed conditions of the zoning lot(s), including, but not limited to, use, location and bulk of buildings and structures, density of development, public facilities, means of ingress and egress, landscaping, signs, drainage and lighting.’ ”
Nonetheless, the site plan the Planning Board approved had no lighting plan and no drainage plan.