City of Sarasota Development Services staff awaiting formal responses from 1260 N. Palm project team to latest list of issues to be addressed in plans

Correspondence sent to city leaders continues to stress opposition to construction of condominium complex

This is the site planned for the tower at 1260 N. Palm Ave., outlined in purple. Bay Plaza is shown adjacent to the parcels. Image courtesy of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

As the City of Sarasota’s Development Services Department awaits the development team’s responses to staff comments provided in May, regarding the most recent plans for the 327-foot-tall condominium complex planned at 1260 N. Palm Ave., The Sarasota News Leader has learned that correspondence has continued to be sent to city leaders, stressing opposition to that project.

Before the City Commission began its summer break over this month, residents had been appearing regularly at meetings to voice their objections to the design of the Palm Avenue building, which also has been known as the Obsidian.

Although a website that features that name can still be found online  —with a 2024 copyright date — the project team apparently is not using that name, and it has not, from the start, based on comments made during the May 15 meeting of the City of Sarasota’s Development Review Committee (DRC).

(The DRC comprises city staff members who deal with land-development issues. They represent the Zoning Division, the Utilities Department and the Building Division, among others.)

“One thing I do want to clarify,” George Scarfe, associate principal of Hoyt Architects in Sarasota, told the DRC members on May 15, is that while the name Obsidian has “been put out in the public quite often,” the original application, filed in 2023, used the same name as the revised, February application: the 1260 N. Palm Residences.

“Understood,” Alison Christie, general manager of the Development Services Department, replied.

Alison Christie. Image from her Facebook page.

Yet another webpage featuring the project also remains available online, the News Leader found on June 12. Michael Saunders & Co. says the 1260 N. Palm Residences will be notable with its “elevated level of luxury and amenities rising 330 feet above the downtown skyline. [The 2023 application called for the tower to stand 342 feet high.] Providing an unparalleled sense of privacy, each of the spacious 14 custom residences occupies an entire floor with substantial flex space and expansive terraces offering panoramic city and bay views,” Michael Saunders & Co. adds.

Each unit will have between three and five bedrooms and between 3.5 and 5.5 bathrooms, the webpage also points out. Every condo would comprise more than 4,500 square feet, up to approximately 6,000 square feet.

As of June 11, the News Leader learned from public records request filed with the City of Sarasota that the project team had not filed its response to written DRC comments issued on May 13 and to DRC comments made during the May 15 review of the latest details of the application.

The June 6 report that the Development Services Department sent to City Manager Marlon Brown, with details about the status of all applications under review, noted that the 1260 N. Palm Residences project team had achieved partial sign-off on its application. “Next step: Waiting for response to technical comments,” that document added, with the emphasis.

Brown receives the department updates each week.

During the May 15 DRC meeting, Development Services General Manager Christie did tell the project team that she wanted to “call out” a couple of “Advisory” comments in a May 13 staff memo sent to the project team.

Before she could do so, however, Scarfe of Hoyt Architects asked her about the timeline for the staff sign-off on the plans.

She reminded Scarfe that the project team has been making changes, in response to staff direction, and others detailed that morning would have to be resolved. The final staff decision, she added, will be based on when the team resubmits the proposal with the required changes.

“Usually,” she added, “it’s about 14 days.”

‘A collaborative discussion’

During the May 15 DRC meeting, In the absence of Noah Fossick, who is acting Development Review chief planner, Christie made her way through comments that Fossick had provided in the May 13 memo, which Fossick had sent to Joel Freedman of Sarasota. Freedman’s eponymous firm filed the new application for the condominium tower.

Near the conclusion of the May 15 exchange with project team members, Christie reminded Scarfe of Hoyt Architects that the requested adjustments to city development design standards for the 1260 N. Palm project “have to be approved prior to final approval of the administrative site plan.”

As the News Leader has reported, “Administrative Site Plan Approval” refers to the fact that, under city regulations, the project would not need a majority vote of either the city Planning Board or the City Commission to be constructed, provided that the DRC members sign off on it and city Development Services Director Lucia Panica finds that the plans comply sufficiently with city policies and regulations.

As the News Leader also has explained, the new application is seeking four administrative adjustments.

This chart describes changes from the original application to the new one. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

First, the project team has requested the reduction of the façade coverage on the ground floor, parallel to Palm Avenue, from 133.34 feet to 106.81 feet. That is necessary, consultant Freedman pointed out in the February application, to provide Florida Power & Light Co. transformer access and to allow for a driveway and utility access.

A second adjustment would be needed to reduce the habitable space on the ground floor from 106.81 feet to 100.9 feet, “to provide pedestrian access to the parking garage directly from a frontage line,” as required by the city Zoning Code.

Further, the team is seeking an adjustment of 7.4% for habitable space on the second floor — from 146.65 feet to 135.83 feet, “to provide a fire command center in a location approved by the Fire [Marshal].”

Finally, the application asked for a 9.3% adjustment in the retail, service or office frontage on the ground level, from 106.81 feet to 96.9 feet, “to accommodate required stairs to the second level and required garage entrance.”

Last year, in regard to the original application, city Development Services Director Panica denied one requested adjustment and told the project team that a second one would have to be considered by the city Planning Board.

During a Jan. 10 hearing, the Planning Board members denied the request to modify the façade of the building. Instead of filing an appeal with the City Commission, as consultant Freedman explained in the February application, the decision to file a new site plan “has given [the developer, Michael Kihnke, president of MK Equity] the opportunity to complete the staff review previously cut short [by the hearing] and to carefully consider all the comments received during the hearing.”

Freedman added, “The result is a much improved site plan and reduced adjustments,” he pointed out, “all of which may now be approved administratively under the Zoning Code.”

During the May 15 DRC meeting, Christie noted that the first “Advisory” note in Fossick’s May 13 memo said,

“Please explore additional methods to further activate the 2nd Floor Retail and Resident Access Lobby on the first floor.”

It added, “Though retail spaces, they could be further activated than currently proposed, which could negatively affect the request for a reduction in retail frontage.”

“I think we’ll need to get some clarification and bounce some ideas off,” Scarfe told her.

Christie pointed out that the plans already submitted to the city show a window on the first floor. Therefore, she continued, with retail space also planned on the second floor, staff had discussed the possibility that that window could be used to display items that would be sold on the second floor of the structure.

After rustling through papers in front of him, Scarfe told her, “I think it’s something … we can absolutely … as mentioned, explore.”

“It’s not our job to design your projects,” Christie replied, “but we’re just trying to offer —”

He interrupted her, saying, “Didn’t ask you to,” before acknowledging, “It’s a collaborative discussion.”

The second “Advisory” comment from which she read said, “The width of the access from N. Palm Avenue could be further reduced, which would lessen the requested adjustments to [the] parallel façade coverage, habitable space, and required retail frontage. Please explore further reduction in the width of the parking entry/exit.”

“That one, I think … we have to explore,” Scarfe replied. Thus far, he continued, the team had not been able to resolve the issue through one approach it had pursued. “But if there’s another idea we can collaborative explore, we will.”

Additional resolutions requested

Among other issues left unresolved, Christie noted, is the fact that

Section. VII-1401(c)(7) of the City Code requires that solid waste “be placed on the premises for removal,” as Fossick had written in his Zoning Division comments. “To request removal of solid waste outside the premises due to a hardship, you must submit a request in writing to the city manager and explain the basis for the request,” Fossick had added.

“We’re working on that now,” Scarfe told her.

Further, Christie continued — reading from Fossick’s written comments — “The trash room[s] located on the first and second floors [do] not meet the definition of habitable space. [The project team] indicated in [its] Response to [staff] Comments that the trash room areas would be added to the adjustment requests.” Fossick had asked the team to please add that formal request “for the depth of habitable space related to the trash room” to its list of adjustment requests.

Yet, Scarfe told Christie that both trash rooms are habitable spaces. “We can explain it further,” he added.

This section of an engineering drawing in the new application shows ‘Habitable Space’ areas on the second floor. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

A third Zoning Division-related request was for a clarification about “the signage located at the garage entrance. How is the signage affixed to the structure?”

“We’ll have that [signage] removed,” Scarfe said.

This is a section of one of the engineering drawings showing the ‘Signage’ indicators on the facade. Image courtesy City of Sarasota


Then Fossick had written, “As the assigned non-residential parking is shown within garages, please clarify how non-residential clients and the public will access these spaces.”

“Those will be reserved for the tenants or owners of the retail space, and they will have access control,” Scarfe explained.

“I don’t see how that meets the requirements for public parking,” Christie responded.

“There’s no request for public parking,” Scarfe told her, based on city regulations regarding the size of the space.

“We’ll see what Noah has to say about it,” Christie said.

“Understood,” Scarfe replied.


In response to its public records request this week, the News Leader received copies of 280 pages of emails that had been sent to City Manager Marlon Brown, Development Services Director Panica, the city commissioners and Christie and Fossick of the Development Review Committee. The correspondence dated back to March 23 and continued through late May.

Among the comments the News Leader found were the following:

  • “Allowing the construction of this building would set a regrettable precedent for future downtown skyscrapers. We must consider the long-term implications for the cityscape and community.”

The same resident added, “The construction process, likely to span over two years, poses serious health, safety, and well-being risks to construction workers, nearby residents, pedestrians, and employees of neighboring businesses.”

  • “The ‘improvements’ to the original plan for 1260 N. Palm Avenue still do not bring the plan into compliance with the city’s Zoning Code. The developer is still requesting exceptions to the requirements for retail frontage, habitable space and facade coverage. AND the minimal height adjustment to the design still disregards compatibility with neighboring buildings. … [T]his building is so wrong for this neighborhood in our wonderful city. Please deny the developer’s application exceptions to your rules and guidelines.”
  • “[T]he developer proposes to make a mockery of the 18 floor [height restriction in its zoning district, Downtown Bayfront,] by including 55 feet (5 stories worth) of interstitial space, and has never justified this unprecedented space. Of course it is there only to increase his profit by elevating units above the neighboring buildings. The developer arrogantly has even touted plans for a 19th floor. He wants to build 87 feet taller than the Epoch and more than 100 feet taller than the DeMarcay and the Jewel. [Those names refer to other downtown Sarasota condominium structures.] “If you allow him to build this monstrosity you will immediately signal that you want a downtown filled with skyscrapers — and his would accommodate only 14 ultra-rich part-time residents.”
  • “I moved to Sarasota in 1986, when the tallest building downtown was only a few stories high. The more development that has been allowed downtown, the more the city has become like the canyons of the larger cities that we escaped from. It has saddened me to see this change.”
  • “When I first started renting on Longboat Key in 2002, eventually purchasing a condo on the Gulf of Mexico [on Longboat] in 2007, Sarasota was a sleepy little town. This made Sarasota incredibly attractive when we went into Sarasota for dining or just to walk around. Now everywhere one looks in Sarasota there is a new development mid construction ongoing. I remember when ‘The Mark’ [condominium complex] was constructed [on Pineapple Avenue]. When opened it changed the feel of that [Pineapple] and [State Street] area, no more sunlight, new wind patterns and most of all this monolith hangs over the neighborhood abutting the Mark. Like the Mark, the proposed building at 1260 N. Palm Ave. would be] a very high pencil thin building.”
  • “Please do not support the 1260 N. Palm proposal. It is an insult to your intelligence that they should rename and resubmit [the] same project to which they have already been told NO. It is offensive to our skyline in height. It is offensive to the displacement of our local businesses. It is offensive to our rational use of downtown space.”
  • Please take a ride to Marina [Jack]. As you return from that circle please take note of the skyline and picture a narrow piece of glass sticking up above Bay Plaza and think to yourself….. If I approve this project that is not in line with the mission of keeping downtown a pedestrian retail street I am doing so in order for 5 or maybe 6 part time residents are able to see the water!!!”

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