Vice mayor urges staff to begin discussions with the county about an interlocal funding agreement set to expire at the end of this year
The director of the City of Sarasota’s Neighborhood and Development Services Department told the city commissioners this week that he hopes to be back before them “within 60 days or less” with proposed language for an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) regarding development of the approximately 13-acre Marian Anderson Place site in north Sarasota.
Tim Litchet also reminded the board members that the city’s interlocal agreement with the Sarasota County Commission — including the county commitment of $500,000 to assist with the remediation and rehabilitation of the site — is set to expire in December 2017. He was hopeful, he added, that the County Commission would be willing to extend that deadline, if necessary.
Litchet further pointed out that, based on his reading of the interlocal agreement, the county commissioners have the right to review the final proposal for the property’s development.
Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie disputed that. “I don’t see this as them micromanaging [that],” but she urged staff to begin discussions with county leaders about an extension of the December deadline.
During their regular meeting on Jan. 3, the city commissioners spent almost an hour discussing their visions for the property, which is a brownfield. City Manager Tom Barwin told them that the “heart of [the draft ITN that staff will prepare] will be the overarching description” of the types of uses the commissioners envision; the details will be worked out later.
Mayor Willie Shaw was insistent that space be left open for a job-training facility. While he said he would prefer it be a local venture, such as a satellite campus of the Sarasota County School Board’s Suncoast Technical College, he agreed to flexibility in the language on that point. “The conversation [in the community] has been very, very much towards jobs creation,” Shaw added, but Newtown residents need training to be able to land those jobs.
Freeland Eddie told her colleagues that, based on the comments she has heard from north Sarasota residents over the past 18 months, she had drafted language for the ITN that called for a mixed-use proposal with a substantial amount of commercial development and opportunities for corporations and entrepreneurs, with an emphasis on local hiring, access to mass transit, quality open spaces and landscaping, and a residential element.
Many of the comments provided during a community workshop staff conducted on Aug. 8, 2016, Litchet said, focused on making sure retail establishments front on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“The wonderful thing about public input is you get public input, and the input is all over the place in terms of what might be nice to have — retail, restaurants, offices, housing, health or educational-related facilities,” among them, Barwin said. “We have a lot of different ideas that have been floated,” but the current zoning is suited for a residential/mixed-use retail project, he added.
Newtown already is seeing a resurgence, Barwin continued, with the new Sarasota Memorial Hospital clinic that will include training for medical students, as well as the soundstage the Ringling College of Art + Design is building. “I’m wondering, strategically, why we would want to begin to replicate that in another whole chunk of the neighborhood when we have the opportunity to really try and create an economic engine for good-paying jobs [for north Sarasota residents].”
Barwin pointed out that he comes from the Midwest, “where [companies] specialized in economic development and making things.” The 13.19-acre Anderson site, he told the board, seems to be ideally suited for a use that could provide what he characterized as “family-sustaining” jobs.
As for a multitude of uses on the property: “Fourteen acres sounds significant,” Barwin pointed out, “but it really isn’t.”
The lone speaker to address the board on Jan. 3 about the ITN — Valerie Buchand, president of the organization Newtown Nation — told the commissioners, “We have high hopes for that area. I believe that the community is equipped to say what should be on [the property].” She added, “For once in this city — for once — let us decide in our community. … I beg you, and I don’t beg.”
When Commissioner Liz Alpert asked Litchet whether the Newtown Nation had submitted a plan to city staff, he replied, “I’m not aware of a specific plan,” though he noted that a business incubator was one proposal that had been mentioned.
“This is for the next generation,” Shaw pointed out to his colleagues. “You can’t just look at what you want for you right now.”
The history of the site
A PowerPoint presentation city staff provided during the Aug. 8, 2016 community workshop — which Litchet made available to the City Commission in advance of the Jan. 3 meeting — explains that the Anderson Place fronts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and is about 300 feet east of U.S. 301. It was the site of buried debris from a former city landfill. After remediation of the site, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued an order in 2014 confirming that that work had been completed, the presentation noted. In March 2011, the City Commission changed the zoning from Government to Commercial Residential District, which would allow “for greater flexibility and increased development opportunities on busier streets without fostering a strip commercial appearance,” the PowerPoint presentation said.
As of Dec. 3, 2015, the city had $685,235 in penny sales tax revenue, $312,000 in tax-increment financing revenue and $432,126 remaining from the Sarasota County grant to use in site development, the presentation showed.
In 2006, Wal-Mart expressed interest in building a store on the property, but it withdrew that proposal following city action dictating the minimum salaries it would have to pay.
An Invitation to Negotiate the city issued in March 2011 did not win any submittals, Litchet pointed out in a memo to the commission. Then in March 2016, the city commissioners again discussed how best to proceed with the property. That resulted in a motion by Freeland Eddie, seconded by then-Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell, to direct staff to draft an ITN.
The Jan. 3 discussion, Litchet explained, was an opportunity for the commissioners to provide more specific recommendations on what the ITN should include.
A residential component?
Barwin told the commissioners he was most concerned about the prospect of residential development on the property, as that use was among those residents had included among their requests. The fact that the site was a brownfield, he said, “sort of carries an aura with it.”
He had trouble envisioning children playing in an area that had “rather significant arsenic issues,” he continued, even though, as he understood it, the site was not “a full-fledged dump …”
Returning to the concept of commercial spaces fronting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Mayor Shaw said he was “very much receptive” to the idea of housing being included on that part of the site, with the interior of the property left open for the job-training center and other uses.
Commissioner Alpert also voiced support for the concept of retail space facing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, with perhaps residential units above the ground floors of the buildings.
Commissioner Susan Chapman concurred with Barwin, however. “I am a little concerned about the residential [aspect].” She cited toxic chemicals and arsenic that had been found on the property, as well as “a lot of buried glass there.”
She wanted to make certain, she said, that none of the site became home to a manufacturing firm that would end up contributing more problems. However, Barwin explained that modern industry is vastly different from her vision of the manufacturing polluters of the past.
Chapman told her colleagues, “We want something that really serves the community,” including development that would be attractive to the students of the nearby Ringling College of Art + Design.
Litchet, the director of the Neighborhood and Development Services Department, then said he felt as Barwin did about the residential component. “I just don’t know that this is the place for affordable housing.”
Litchet added that a proposal for dwelling units could result in the requirement for additional cleanup of the site, which “may make [housing] cost-prohibitive.”
“As long as we get an educational/vocational [facility],” Shaw replied, “I don’t care what you do. … I need a workforce that is trained from this area.”