Protests about pier and parking among issues aired at City Commission meeting
Environmental permitting realities have precipitated significant changes in the design of Phase 1 of The Bay Park planned on the City of Sarasota’s waterfront, representatives of the Bay Park Conservancy (BPC) told the City Commission on July 15.
And those changes have precipitated a barrage of criticism from residents of Condo by the Bay, which stands on Sarasota Bay to the south of the Phase 1 site.
After spending “tens of thousands of dollars” to have surveys undertaken of the seagrass and mangroves in the Phase 1 area, BPC Implementation Officer Bill Waddill explained to the commissioners this week, the BPC learned that it would be almost impossible to get permits for the two public piers envisioned in the master plan for The Bay unveiled last year.
“That led us to a pier design that avoids the mangroves,” he continued, and it should not have any negative effect on the seagrass in Sarasota Bay.
“The seagrass has been declining in our bay at an alarming rate,” Waddill pointed out. Because seagrass has to have sunlight to thrive, Waddill said measures would be taken to ensure sufficient sunlight could reach the seagrass in the areas where the pier would extend over it.
Referencing that redesign, which has a swirl effect, Condo on the Bay resident Donna Moffitt drew laughter when she told the commissioners, “The new Kim Kardashian Pier, I like to call it. It’s very exciting; it’s sizzle; it’s sexy. But would you want to live with her? Think about it.”
As the original master plan also called for food and beverage services and restrooms on the larger of the two piers, Waddill continued, the decision was made to move those features about 600 feet to the east. With that modification, he explained, services could be provided in a single-story structure, whereas a two-story building would have been necessary on the larger of the two piers.
Further, instead of retaining almost 100 parking spaces in a linear east-west design as depicted in the master plan, Waddill said, the number of spaces would be reduced to 50 or 60.
“We have 1,300 spaces on this site within a 5-minute walk,” he pointed out. Many of them are within a 3- to 4-minute walk of the Phase 1 area, he added. Therefore, the goal will be to encourage people to walk to the new amenities.
Nonetheless, he noted, places where people can drop off passengers will be incorporated into the design. Those should be dispersed, he added, as not all visitors will come from the same direction.
Given the fact that the Quay Sarasota project is underway next to The Bay site, and the owners of the Hyatt are working on a condominium project called Auteur, BPC Founding CEO A.G. Lafley pointed out, “There will be more activity on Boulevard of the Arts.” Still, he said, “I’ll be very surprised if the park is a significant contributor to that traffic.
Waddill also explained that two new bridges across the bayou to the Phase 1 site would be eliminated, leaving the solitary structure already in place.
In conjunction with the pier redesign, he said, “We believe there should be no motorized boat access in this first phase. … This should be a pedestrian pier only,” with people able to use kayaks and paddleboards on the bayou.
On Boulevard of the Arts, Waddill continued, the latest plan calls for the trees in the median to be relocated. That change was prompted by concerns about the potential of the median to prevent a vehicle from turning around and, therefore, blocking traffic flow.
The trees would be moved to the north along the sidewalk, he added, where they would provide shade for pedestrians. That would leave two undivided lanes on Boulevard of the Arts, he noted.
As for concerns about relocating mature trees, Waddill indicated to the board that, during his long tenure with the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm in Sarasota, he successfully had “moved dozens of trees two or three times the size of the trees in the median [of Boulevard of the Arts].”
On another point, Waddill explained that a misconception in the community had focused on the natural shoreline in the Phase 1 area. Some people believe that the BPC is going to create a beach that will be a major draw for visitors, Waddill said. That will not be the case. “We’re not intending this [beach] to be a destination.”
Waddill also told the commissioners that the BPC had obtained funding to dredge out about 4 to 5 feet of silt in the mangroves in the Phase 1 area. Additionally, the nonprofit is preparing to file an application so it can construct the planned 10-foot-wide sidewalk that will extend about half-a-mile around the bayou.
A step in the process
The purpose of the July 15 presentation was to ascertain whether the commissioners wanted to see any specific changes in the latest design, Lafley, founding CEO of the BPC, explained.
He and Waddill would be back before the board on Aug. 19, he said, to seek approval of the implementation agreement for Phase 1. Then, after the site plan has been created, he continued, that would go through at least three steps in the public comment process, concluding with City Commission approval, before it could be built.
Lafley added that the BPC still anticipates that 80% of the expense of the amenities in Phase 1 will be covered by private and philanthropic funding.
The nonprofit has raised $11 million in commitments, he noted, along with $5 million in cash.
If Phase 1 is a success, he indicated that the BPC would be able to raise more private money more easily. Still, he predicted that it would take 15 years to complete the entire project on the 53 city-owned waterfront acres.
A timeline included in the materials provided to the commission in advance of the July 15 meeting show the BPC anticipates construction of the first part of Phase 1 beginning approximately a year from now.
Lafley also emphasized the decision to reduce “the scope and intensity” of Phase 1, with fewer permanent structures. The focus, he continued, will be on a series of lawns that slope up from the east to the bay. The setting will be host to “a whole series of health and fitness and educational activities,” he said, along with arts and cultural events.
“It’s important to remind our team of this,” he continued: “It’s not only a signature public park on beautiful Sarasota Bay, but it’s a common ground,” a gathering point, where everyone should feel welcome.
Moreover, Lafley stressed, “It’s free; it’s one of the very few amenities in the city that will be free to everyone.”
He further emphasized the continuing public outreach of the BPC as the design changes have been made. Over the past three years, he noted, the BPC and its predecessor nonprofits have conducted about 195 meetings, plus a number of public surveys.
Many of the nine speakers who appeared before the City Commission on July 15 to address the changes in the plans for The Bay begged to differ with Lafley’s assertion about continued communications with the public.
Bob Finger, president of Tower 1 at Condo by the Bay, told the commissioners, “As far as I know, there wasn’t any consultation with us about any of those things.” Yet, he added, the changes are “very, very large [ones].”
In a poll about the latest plans that 126 of the Tower 1 residents responded to, Finger continued, 126 said they did not want to see the medians removed from Boulevard of the Arts. As for the spiral pier, 123 expressed their dislike of it, he added.
Moffitt, who made the Kim Kardashian allusion, also pointed out that barges that service the Condo by the Bay docks “are ‘ginormous.’” They need sufficient space to move around, she said, and the pier must not be allowed to impede with their operation.
The pier also “comes exactly up to the wall of our [condominium] community,” Moffitt said. People will be able to walk around the fence onto the seawall at Condo by the Bay, she told the board.
Representing the management association of Condo by the Bay, Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln covered a range of concerns. He called the new pier design “too long and too big,” and talked about how the BPC is “wiping out the parking.”
The City Code, he pointed out, calls for one parking space per 1,000 square feet of active recreational area. “They’ll have almost 10 acres [in Phase 1].”
Lincoln used an aerial map to show parking areas — including one used by the Sarasota Orchestra — in close proximity to the Phase 1 site of The Bay. “If [BPC representatives] don’t take control of some of these parking areas in this phasing plan,” he said, “how are they going to guarantee that people can actually park there?”
Another Condo by the Bay resident, Suzanne Lynch, told the commissioners that she was very supportive of the master plan for The Bay. And now, she added, “Every element has been drastically changed.”