City Commission approves zoning waivers for St. Armands parking garage and gets update on design

Project will have 476 spaces, plus restrooms and parking management office

A rendering shows the design of the St. Armands parking garage. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

They were addressing a formal staff request for zoning district waivers necessary for construction of the St. Armands parking garage. Nonetheless, the Sarasota City Commission had the opportunity last week to learn about the most recent design facets of the project.

And they did give unanimous approval to the waivers during their regular meeting on Sept. 18.

The 476-space, four-story structure will include two unisex restrooms — as St. Armands merchants had requested — along with a parking management office, Mark Lyons, manager of the city’s Parking Division, explained. The facility will be built on the property used for a surface lot that is bordered by Madison Drive and North Adams Lane.

Earlier this year, staff said the timeline still called for construction to begin in January 2018.

It will be open 24 hours a day, according to the staff memo provided to the board in advance of the Sept. 18 meeting.

Another existing 19 on-street parking spaces will remain in that vicinity, a city graphic shows.

Additionally, the project entails the burying of power lines along John Ringling Causeway, primarily for safety reasons in the event of a storm strike but also to make the entrance to the Circle more attractive, Lyons noted.

A feasibility study the city undertook showed that the project was not just about creating more parking, he pointed out. “It was also about how to improve the ambiance of the entire [shopping] district.”

Another element of the plan will be gateway signage for motorists heading to St. Armands from the east and from Longboat Key.

“We started this project really back in 2013,” Lyons pointed out, with St. Armands business leaders having asked for a city determination of how many extra parking spaces would be feasible for the Circle.

A graphic provides details about the site plan. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Kimley-Horn and Associates, working as a consultant on the project, completed the feasibility study in 2014, Lyons continued. “Ultimately, the study proved that there was a shortage [of approximately 300 spaces].”

City staff then began working with members of the St. Armands Business Improvement District and the merchants’ organization, the St. Armands Circle Association he said. “It was not an easy sell at first,” he added, in regard to a paid-parking program to help finance the garage.

Then staff “worked very closely with the residents, who had a large stake in this concern.” Ultimately, Lyons told the commissioners, the decision was made to erect the structure on the North Adams lot.

As the design was developed, Lyons continued, staff held three public workshops. “They were very effective.” Residents of Lido and Longboat keys attended, as well as many from St. Armands and even some from the mainland, he added.

One big concern residents voiced, Lyons said, was about noise. As a result, “we moved the ramp to the interior of the garage.”

Vehicles will enter and exit the structure “right across from the church,” he said, referring to the St. Armands Key Lutheran Church, located at 40 N. Adams Drive.

The secondary access will be from the alley to the rear, the staff memo notes.

Further, he continued, “We felt it was important that there be an improved turning capability off of John Ringling Boulevard.” Therefore, the right-hand lane onto North Adams has been incorporated into the plan as means of moving other traffic more readily into the Circle, he said.

Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said her concern was people who would want to turn east off North Adams Lane, to head back toward the city of Sarasota. “It’s already really hard to turn left there,” she told Lyons.

A graphic shows details about the floor plans for the St. Armands parking garage

A traffic study showed that the garage should have a minimal impact on the number of vehicles on the road, he replied. Moreover, he said, directional signage will help ensure motorists are in the correct lanes for where they want to go.

Alpert told him she believes most of the people parking in the garage will want to head east off North Adams.

“[Traffic] doesn’t dump out all at once,” he responded, as shown in the study.

With almost 500 spaces in the garage, Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie said, “there’s no way that this could not have an impact from a traffic standpoint.”

Because of the impacts of Hurricane Irma, Lyons said, the traffic engineer who handled the study was unable to be present that evening to answer such questions more thoroughly. “But I do know that technically in the engineering world, parking facilities don’t create more traffic; they just park the traffic.”

Commissioner Hagen Brody pointed out that when he watched the city Planning Board meeting on the waivers request, he learned that the study showed that 40% of the motorists on the Circle at any given time are trying to find places to park.

That situation is true of 30% to 40% of vehicles in any business district, traffic studies have shown, Lyons replied. The goal is for those motorists to find spaces as soon as possible.

A rendering shows the type of signage that will greet visitors to St. Armands Key. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Even with special events in downtown Sarasota, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown explained, motorists who park in the Palm Avenue garage do not seem to have any difficulty making their way onto the travel routes they need.

“I think we have three or four different arteries downtown,” Freeland Eddie told Brown. “I think it’s a different thing.”

Regarding the expense of the new garage, Lyons noted that the previous City Commission approved metered parking on St. Armands; about 75% of the proceeds will be used to pay off the bond the city plans to issue for the construction of the garage.

In response to a question from Brody, Lyons added that people also will pay to park in the garage.

Design elements

Among other design changes resulting from the workshops, he noted, were locating the elevators at two different places in the garage instead of just at the core; adjusting the floor-lighting plans to reduce the potential for disturbing the nearby residents; and widening the sidewalks to 9 feet on North Adams Drive and Madison Drive, so passengers being dropped off from vehicles would not have to step on grass.

The elevators will have glass facades, to increase the safety factor, staff explained. Yet another feature, Lyons said, will be the installation of lighting so a person going up or down the stairs will have a good view of anyone else entering the stairwell.

A graphic shows details of the facade for the garage. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Further, the design of the facade will make the garage look much less “commercial-oriented,” Lyons said, and the façade itself will be easy to clean. “I actually reached out” to representatives of the Cities of Boston and Atlanta, he added, where such facades are in use. “They’ve been very happy with this product on the garages.”

Yet one other feature of the garage will be the incorporation of technology to tell motorists where spaces are open, so people will not have to keep driving from level to level. Signage at the entrance will offer that information, he pointed out.

Thus, if the garage is full, the sign will say that, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch responded.

The waivers

A chart explains the waivers sought for the project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Because the property is zoned Government, city regulations called for the project to comply with the most restrictive adjacent zoning district, Residential Single Family-2 (RSF-2). Therefore, staff sought waivers of setbacks, as well as the amount of allowable building coverage of the property and percentage of impervious coverage.

The zoning normally would allow a maximum of 75% of impervious surface coverage, for example; however, the waiver sought for that aspect of the project was for 88.1%, Gretchen Schneider, general manager of the city’s Neighborhood and Development Services Department, explained to the board.

Further, while RSF-2 zoning permits a structure to cover up to 35% of the land on which it stands, the waiver sought for the garage was 70%.

However, she pointed out, in the Commercial Tourist District — the zoning that encompasses St. Armands Circle — no restriction is imposed regarding how much space a building takes up on a parcel.

Schneider also noted that stormwater vaults will be used. “It’s a much better situation,” she said, because in heavy rains, sheets of water just flow out from the surface lot into the streets and into the stormwater drains.