City attorney raises points he recommends the board consider, given the potential for the nonprofit organization to file suit over the April 11 decision
On Monday, May 2, Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier plans to address with the City Commission some lingering matters as a result of the board’s 3-2 vote on April 11 to turn over a staff decision to issue a building permit to the Woman’s Exchange for an expansion on Rawls Avenue.
In a memo included as backup agenda material for the board’s regular meeting on May 2, Fournier explains that after Mayor Willie Shaw signs a formal resolution denying a permit for the Woman’s Exchange’s site plan — the board is set to vote on the resolution on May 16 — and that document has been filed with the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk, a 30-day window will open during which the Woman’s Exchange can file a Writ of Certiorari with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, challenging the City Commission’s action.
Three days after the board took its vote, following a quasi-judicial hearing of an appeal of the building permit, Woman’s Exchange CEO Karen Koblenz told The Sarasota News Leader the nonprofit organization was considering all of its options.
In his April 25 memo, Fournier points out, “There was much discussion at the … hearing on the issue of whether the proposed site plan satisfied the applicable [City Code] standards for approval. However, the question of whether the construction of a 3,524 sq. ft. expansion of the existing 10,800 sq. ft. [Woman’s Exchange] building triggers a requirement to provide a new loading space in conformity with current code standards was also raised at the hearing.”
He adds that city staff agreed a new loading zone was needed for the expansion, while the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association (LPNA) — which filed the appeal — argued that it was not.
Fournier notes that the City Commission did not offer any specifics on how to resolve that question when it voted at the end of the April 11 hearing. “My recommendation is that the proposed Resolution denying the site plan should also make a determination that the City Zoning Code does not require the [Woman’s Exchange] to provide an additional loading space in order to construct the … expansion,” he writes.
His two primary reasons, he continued, are that including that in the resolution “could help facilitate a solution to some of the issues presented by the LPNA appeal without litigation” and that failure to do so “increases the risk of exposure to the City from a possible second [Woman’s Exchange] lawsuit alleging an inability to use the Rawls Avenue parcel to the north of the existing … building,” which the nonprofit purchased in 2012.
Woman’s Exchange representatives have maintained that they need the Rawls Avenue expansion to make the nonprofit’s furniture consignment business more efficient. The organization’s mission is to support the arts in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Therefore, Woman’s Exchange representatives say, improving operations will result in more wherewithal, so it can increase its annual financial contributions to arts and cultural groups.
In his April 25 memo, Fournier also says he plans to report on zoning regulations that will have an impact on “the future development of properties on South Orange Avenue.”
The Woman’s Exchange is located at 539 S. Orange Ave., at the Oak Street intersection.
While he is not suggesting that the City Commission revisit its disapproval of the site plan, Fournier adds, the board “may want to re-examine the designation of Orange Avenue south of Morrill Street as a primary street in light of the decision on the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association appeal.”
According to testimony and staff documentation, the loading zone the Woman’s Exchange wanted to incorporate into its expansion would have to be on Rawls Avenue, because that is a secondary street; the City Code does not allow loading zones on primary streets.
It is unlikely that a new loading zone that would conform to the City Code could be located on the Woman’s Exchange’s main building site, Fournier notes in his memo, “because of the limitations and requirements imposed by the applicable zoning regulations, especially the designation of South Orange Avenue and Oak Street as ‘primary streets.’”
Fournier’s discussion is listed under Unfinished Business, just before the period for commissioners’ comments, during the afternoon session of the May 2 meeting. That session will begin at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall, located at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota.