Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates raises Terrace Building parking concerns again during her annual budget presentation to County Commission
Well before her office had to begin handling all state driver’s license services in Sarasota County, as a result of a statewide mandate, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates was warning the County Commission about one big problem she could foresee.
More people would be coming to the Terrace Building in downtown Sarasota, she said, and that would mean more parking headaches.
During a County Commission budget workshop in June 2015, Ford-Coates pointed out that her office in the Terrace Building already had seen an 8% uptick in the number of customers since her staff took over all the driver’s license work on May 26 of that year.
Anything the commissioners could do to create more parking spaces in the Adams Lane/Ringling Boulevard/Washington Boulevard area, Ford-Coates said, would be most welcome.
Each subsequent year, when Ford-Coates has returned to the Third Floor Think Tank in the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota for her annual budget presentation, she has renewed her pleas.
On June 18, she told the commissioners, “I will reiterate my continuing concern: parking at the Terrace Building.”
Late this year, she finally may see some progress, based on information the City of Sarasota has provided The Sarasota News Leader.
Since the Mid-County Tax Collector’s Office opened on Sawyer Loop Road on April 30, 2018, all road tests have been scheduled at that location, Ford-Coates pointed out to the County Commission on June 18. She and her staff closed the Pompano Avenue facility in Sarasota, where the tests had been given, she noted.
With the public no longer able to get assistance with licenses on Pompano Avenue, she continued, parking needs at the Terrace Building are up 15%. Many times, she said, people simply cannot find an open spot.
Add in periods of early voting and other special events in that downtown area, Ford-Coates pointed out, and the situation is even worse.
“I know your staff is trying to work on this, mainly with the City [of Sarasota],” she added. “We hope that it continues to be a priority, please.”
She did extend her appreciation for action of county staff that resulted in the addition of 12 spaces for the public out of what was referred to as the “Government Lot.”
Any further help would be much appreciated, Ford-Coates said.
Commissioner Nancy Detert responded with an anecdote about received a city parking ticket one day near the Terrace Building. As she also was close to the Sarasota Police Department — which is located between Adams Lane and Ringling Boulevard — Detert said she went ahead and paid the ticket.
Detert told Ford-Coates, “I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than 15 minutes” to be helped in the Tax Collector’s Office in the Terrace Building or in the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice. “Since your office is so efficient … people come and go really fast.”
If people would just circle the Terrace Building a couple of times, Detert indicated with a laugh, they should be able to find a space.
Then, on a more serious note, Detert told Ford-Coates that Karen Rushing, the Sarasota County clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, “petitioned us heavily,” as well, about the parking situation near the Judicial Center, which is in the same general area as the Terrace Building.
Later that day, as the commissioners were wrapping up their agenda, Chair Charles Hines raised the parking issue with County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. Hines referenced the board’s settlement earlier this year with the City of Sarasota over a final payment city staff alleged the county owed into the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund. One facet of the agreement called for the county to help pay for a new parking lot on the Ringling Boulevard site of the former Sarasota Police Department headquarters. The city is to reimburse the county out of revenue collected by users of the spaces there.
“I’d like to know where we are on that,” Hines told Lewis, adding that he is aware that the situation “is not in our control.”
Nonetheless, Hines continued, when he drove by the property that morning, he saw that “it looks pretty much like it did six months ago.”
“It looks exactly like it did six months ago,” Lewis replied.
“So, what’s the deal?” Hines asked. “That’s the simplest dadgum thing to do …”
“They did remember to ask us for the [money],” Lewis said.
The agreement called for the county to pay up to $200,000 for the project, which city staff estimated would cost $400,000.
Lewis promised to look into the situation and report back to the board.
A formal step in early July
Following the discussion, theNews Leadercontacted city staff for information about the status of the parking lot project.
Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the city, responded in a June 19 email that the proposal is scheduled to be considered by the city’s Development Review Committee (DRC) on July 3. The members of that group are leaders of the various city departments that play a role in new construction. DRC discussions usually allow applicants to learn about potential issues they will need to address before their plans can proceed to hearings before the Planning Board and City Commission.
In both the City and County of Sarasota, in-house development plans also undergo DRC review.
Along with the information, Thornburg provided the News Leader a copy of the project narrative.
“The proposed Judicial Parking Lot … will provide additional parking accommodations for the adjacent government buildings, and generate parking revenue for the City of Sarasota,” the narrative says.
The lot will be constructed on a 0.65-acre parcel that is located approximately 300 feet west of the intersection of Ringling Boulevard and East Avenue, the narrative continues. Plans call for 48 spaces, including two that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and one that will have electric vehicle charging equipment, the narrative adds.
Two pay stations and two bicycle racks also are proposed on the lot, the narrative notes.
A landscaping buffer, plantings and irrigation have been included in the design, “per City requirements,” the document says. “Every effort was made to create as much greenspace as possible while maximizing the number of parking spaces.”
“Vehicular ingress and egress are provided via a single entrance and exit on the western side of the parcel,” the narrative continues. Those access points, it adds, will “connect to existing streets/alleys without modification to traffic patterns. Signage [will be] provided to identify the lot and to direct traffic.”
A stormwater retention pond on the site will be capable of handling up to 23.8 feet of water “and will accommodate a treatment storage volume of 1,262 cubic feet,” the narrative notes.
City of Sarasota DRC meetings usually are held at City Hall, which is located at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota. The chair of the group is Lucia Panica, the city’s chief planner.
A city calendar indicates that if the DRC signs off on the project on July 3, the city Planning Board tentatively would address the proposal on Sept. 11, with the City Commission to consider the plans no earlier than late October.