Project designed to transform hotel into a Four Points by Sheraton property adjacent to Arlington Park neighborhood
Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch this week initially called for a public hearing on the proposed site plan and requested major conditional use for the remodeling of the Baymont Inn & Suites at 1425 S. Tamiami Trail.
However, after hearing assurances about certain aspects of the project, she joined her colleagues on March 19 in unanimous approval of the petitions.
The 2.26-acre site of the Baymont Inn is to the east of South Tamiami Trial and south of Prospect Street, according to the backup agenda material provided to the commission. The applicant sought the major conditional use approval for new meeting space as well as for the expansion of accessory uses at the hotel, including a spa, game room and gym. The plan calls for the new hotel to be a Four Points by Sheraton facility.
The city’s Planning Board and the planning staff had recommended approval of the project.
Ronald M. Edenfield, the agent for Daus Investments LLC of Woodland Hills, Calif., told the commissioners that Daus is working on similar redevelopments of old hotels in close proximity to medical centers in other communities.
The Baymont Inn building dates to 1967, the backup City Commission agenda material notes. “This is a 50-year-old hotel that’s time is long past,” Edenfield said.
“We’re looking forward to moving the project forward,” he added, noting that the plan is to modernize the “somewhat dilapidated facility … and bring it to the point where it’s a showcase for the community.”
Daus’ goal, Edenfield said, is to provide a “quality facility with a reasonable price” for family members of patients at the nearby Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
“With the new cancer center that’s coming [at Sarasota Memorial], that’s a significant need,” Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie responded.
A restaurant, meeting space and landscape buffering
In pulling the item from the City Commission’s March 19 Consent Agenda No. 1 of routine business items, Ahearn-Koch noted that the City Commission had three options: approve the Planning Board recommendation to let the redevelopment go forward, deny the recommendation or call for a public hearing on the petitions.
“It’s a pretty serious project,” she told her colleagues. One mandatory neighborhood workshop had been held on it, she continued, and two other voluntary sessions had been conducted with residents in the adjacent Arlington Park community. “I thought this was important enough and impactful enough that this should have a public hearing.”
However, when Ahearn-Koch made a motion to hold the hearing, it died for lack of a second.
Then Ahearn-Koch pointed out, “There are a number of concerns that the neighbors had that I’m not sure were adequately addressed …”
First, she asked whether the restaurant planned for the redeveloped hotel would be just for guests. If it were open to the public, she noted, that would lead to more traffic in the immediate area.
Lucia Panica, the city’s chief planner, replied that the restaurant would be for guests only, and it would serve breakfast “and maybe light lunch items and things like that.”
Panica and Edenfield both pointed out that details on the site plan make it clear the restaurant will be for internal use only.
“We’ve stated that over and over again,” Edenfield said.
Then Ahearn-Koch asked about the fact that the site plan includes new meeting space.
That area potentially could be used by the public, Panica explained, though it will not be large enough for anything but a “mini conference. … There is adequate parking for that additional meeting space, [which] was proposed from Day 1.”
Edenfield told the commissioners, “We’ve worked very closely with the neighborhood.” In fact, he continued, during a recent meeting of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association, the project team made a presentation. “We got unanimous approval from the community.”
One change residents had sought, he noted, was a switch to opaque glass in the design of the new northern wing. The plan is to allow light to enter the hallway of that structure on the eastern end of the property, he said, but the modification residents requested would make it impossible for someone to stand in front of the glass “and stare at the neighborhood.”
However, he cautioned, “we do have to … run these issues by the Sheraton.”
Then Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said she believed all the commissioners had received a letter that day from a resident in the affected area who is concerned about whether sufficient landscape buffering will separate the 10 additional parking spaces on the site from the neighborhood.
To comply with city standards, Edenfield responded, the site plan had to add the 10 parking spaces, which will face onto East Avenue. “We do have a greatly enhanced landscape buffer from what exists there currently,” he added. “It will meet all the city standards,” he pointed out, and it will be within the boundaries of the private property instead of on the city right of way, which is the present situation.
City Manager Tom Barwin also noted the inclusion of sidewalks in the project, which will be “a very nice pedestrian enhancement to that neighborhood.”
The backup agenda material says, “A continuous sidewalk is being provided by crossing over at Floyd Street [and] connecting to the existing sidewalk on the east side of [South] East [Avenue]. The purpose of this sidewalk is to save the three Live Oaks on the [northern] half of the northeastern portion of the site, as requested by the neighborhood and supported by City staff.”
Ahearn-Koch next asked about the planned conversion of one three-story structure to five stories. She read from minutes of the Feb. 14 Planning Board meeting, when a member of that group questioned those plans.
The backup agenda material explains that the number of hotel rooms will be reduced form 99 to 96. The three-story building on the western part of the property would be raised from three to five stories, it adds, and another floor would be added to the northern building, making it three stories tall.
“What if, once you get in there … you’re not able to do that?” she asked Edenfield about the proposal for increasing the height from three to five stories. “That sounds like it’s going to be a pretty challenging project.”
A report on that plan, prepared by a structural engineer, says the developer’s proposal “is well within the realm of technical capability,” he responded.
When Ahearn-Koch again asked what would happen if problems arose, Barwin told her, “The [building] permit won’t be issued.”
“If the developer can’t pass muster through the structural review,” Edenfield added, he believes Daus would “opt to go in a different direction or get a different structural engineer.”
After the discussion, Commissioner Hagen Brody made the motion to approve the major conditional use and site plan; Alpert seconded the motion.
Ahearn-Koch then asked if they would accept a friendly amendment specifying that the restaurant could not be open to the public.
City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed out that the commission could not add such a clause to the Planning Board resolution approving the project. However, the commission could send a formal letter to Daus, advising the company that the March 19 vote affirmed the plan for the restaurant to serve guests only.
Ahearn-Koch said she would withdraw her request for the friendly amendment because it was not necessary.
The motion then passed unanimously.