Citing changes in the plans, Sarasota vice mayor votes against contract and budget amendments for South Lemon Avenue Streetscape Project

Impervious pavers to be used and trees in Thorpe Park to be replaced instead of relocated

A graphic shows the overall plans for the South Lemon Avenue Streetscape/Paul Thorpe Jr. Park Project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Even though staff and project team members called the changes minor, Sarasota Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw this week refused to approve requested budget amendments for the South Lemon Avenue Streetscape Project.

The undertaking also involves improvements to Paul Thorpe Jr. Park.

As Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown explained the situation, the proposal called for the following differences between the plan the board members approved in September 2018 and the project that will begin in May:

  • Pervious pavers will be replaced with impervious pavers because of concerns that the former would pose challenges over time to people with disabilities and because pervious pavers require annual maintenance.
  • Instead of trees being relocated from Paul Thorpe Park Jr., new canopy trees of approximately the same size as those already there will be planted in the park.
  • The sidewalk in the southeast corner of the park will be widened from 6 feet to 10 feet.
  • More pipeline will be laid for utilities for future projects in the area, to spare the city the expense — and residents and visitors the disruption — of having to tear up new pavement.

Ahearn-Koch pointed to the total project cost of $3,478,634, voicing frustration that she had not seen any detailed drawings showing the exact changes being proposed.

“This is a significant project and it is a significant cost, Ahearn-Koch said. “I would have loved to have seen a copy of the plans.” She added, “I just don’t feel comfortable going forward …”

The project is scheduled to start on May 13 and take about 221 days, according to material provided to the commissioners in advance of their April 1 meeting. A timeline among the documents calls for completion on Jan. 30, 2020.

The first item related to the streetscape and park plans on the April 1 agenda called for approval of a contract amendment with the Guaranteed Maximum price for the project. The City Commission voted in September 2018 to award Jon F. Swift of Sarasota the contract to serve as the construction manager at risk for the initiative. In that capacity, Swift personnel will oversee all facts of the work, ensuring that the project is completed on time and at a price no higher than that approved by the commission.

After the September 2018 vote, according to April 1 backup agenda material, city staff worked with representatives of Jon F. Swift to finalize the Guaranteed Maximum Price.

Questions and answers

A rendering provided to the City Commission in February shows details about the plans for the park as of that time. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In response to Ahearn-Koch’s first question on April 1 — which was about the substitution of impervious pavers for pervious ones — Richard Winder, capital projects coordinator for the city, explained that he was directed to make that change because of cost concerns and worries related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pervious pavers are spaced more widely, he explained. “They’re filled with a very fine stone to allow permeability, so there was a little bit of an ADA concern.”

The city’s Public Works Department staff also cited worries about the maintenance of the pervious pavers, Phil Smith, a landscape architect with David W. Johnston Associates in Sarasota, told Ahearn-Koch. They have to be vacuumed about once a year, and then new material has to be installed in them.

Citing the lack of explanations provided to the board members before the April 1 meeting, Ahearn-Koch responded. “Is it a dollar more? Is it a million dollars more [for the pervious pavers]?”

Likewise, she asked how much more the maintenance would cost.

When the City Commission originally addressed facets of the project, Smith told her, the pervious pavers were proposed as an alternative, depending upon the expense.

Winder added that the difference in cost “is roughly $10,000 …”

City staff has heard complaints from wheelchair users and others with mobility issues involving the pervious pavers installed on Palm Avenue, Winder said.

People have reported a lack of smoothness of the surface, Brown noted.

Her concern, Ahearn-Koch replied, is that, “as a city, we keep trying to go down this path of treating stormwater better and [reducing the amount of] nutrients that get into the bays and the waters … In relationship to the 3-and-a-half million dollars [for the project],” she continued, the commission needed more details about the $10,000 difference in expense for the pervious pavers.

These details about the Guaranteed Maximum Price for the project were provided to the commission in advance of the April 1 meeting. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Then Ahearn-Koch voiced frustrations about the change in plans for the trees in the park.

“We’re replacing canopy trees with canopy trees,” Deputy City Manager Brown responded. If trees had been removed from the park to the area where the liner building originally was proposed next to the State Street parking garage, he pointed out, the city would have no warranty on them. Therefore, if they died, the city would have to pay the full cost of replacing them, he indicated.

Smith, the landscape architect, reminded the commissioners that the original plans for the project called for it to begin in December. “That was the perfect time to move trees,” he said. Therefore, Smith continued, “The risk is much higher” that, after relocation, the trees would not survive.

The new trees — which will be live oaks — will be “almost identical in size,” he added.

After downtown merchants complained about the disruptions businesses — and patrons — would experience during the height of tourist season, if the project began in late 2018 or early 2019, city staff agreed to push back the start date until after Mother’s Day.

“You’re not getting anything different than what we have in the plans [regarding the trees],” Brown stressed to Ahearn-Koch on April 1. “We’re just replacing the trees that are there [in the park]. … I think we’re making the project better.”

When Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asked about the new conduit, or pipeline, planned for the project, Jason Swift, president of Jon F. Swift, explained that the conduit would be installed for future construction along Main Street and Pineapple Avenue, “while we have everything torn up.”

Swift then added that all the revised plans had been uploaded to a website for review.

“This has already been voted on, fully vetted,” Commissioner Hagen Brody finally pointed out. “These aren’t major changes … It’s a fine project.”

He also reminded his colleagues that the project is on a timeline designed not to conflict with the height of tourist season next year.

Brody made a motion to approve the contract amendment staff had requested for Jon F. Swift, and Freeland Eddie seconded it.

Another vote

This is part of the project timeline. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

After the vote passed 3-2, with Alpert joining Brody and Freeland Eddie in the majority, Ahearn-Koch pulled a related item from the board’s April 1 Consent Agenda No. 2. That entailed budget adjustments to account for the higher overall expense of the project.

A Feb. 7 memo from Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat to Deputy City Manager Brown cautioned, “[R]ecent construction pricing has been coming in very high due to continued record construction in the community …”

City Finance Director Kelly Strickland explained in a memo that $2,872,724 was available in the city’s Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) account for the work, leaving a shortfall of $605,910. Therefore, she recommended that $327,000 be taken from another city project that has not been approved at this point, plus $278,910 in local option fuel tax revenue, to cover the gap. (The fuel tax is 5 cents.) The latter money would be taken from an account for city bridge projects, Strickland noted.

Brody also made the motion to approve the budget amendment, and Freeland Eddie seconded it.

When Mayor Alpert asked Commissioner Shaw if he had a comment before the vote, he referenced Ahearn-Koch’s earlier remarks. “I think it’s already been said.”

Then Shaw joined Ahearn-Koch in opposing that motion, as well.