City commissioners vote 4-1 to refrain from any rezoning at this point that might limit responses
With Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie taking the lead — and making the motion — the Sarasota City Commission this week voted 4-1 to forgo a staff recommendation and instead advertise an Invitation to Negotiate for the 13.19-acre Marian Anderson Place brownfield site that leaves open the future zoning of the majority of the site.
Commissioner Suzanne Atwell cast the “No” vote after her motion in support of the staff zoning proposal died for lack of a second.
David Boswell, general manager of the city’s Purchasing Department, told the board he planned to begin advertising the Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) on March 23. Material provided to the commission in advance of the meeting says bids are due by 10:30 a.m. on June 30.
Timothy Litchet, director of the city’s Neighbor and Development Services Department, explained that, in keeping with a discussion the board members had about the Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) process on Jan. 3, staff proposed pursuing a small-scale Comprehensive Plan amendment for the interior 10 acres of the parcel to change its land use category to Production Intensive Commercial, with an accompanying process to rezone that segment Industrial General Development (IGD).
“IGD would be the most beneficial [zoning],” he pointed out, in terms of the job creator and the [skills] training” board members expressed a preference for during their January discussion.
As Litchet noted during the commission’s regular meeting on March 20, the IGD zoning “would allow for light production and assembly of goods and clean high-tech industry” on those 10 acres. Keeping the current Commercial Residential District (CRD) zoning on the 3.19 acres fronting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way — as the board members had discussed in January — would accommodate potential retail and mixed-use development, Litchet added. That portion of the site could have up to 80 dwelling units per acre in a project, he noted.
The draft ITN cited the requirement that the architecture of structures fronting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way “be of superior quality and have a consistent theme and reflect new urbanism standards.”
However, Freeland Eddie argued that the board’s goal should be to give flexibility to developers who may be interested in the site, “so we don’t necessarily prohibit someone from assuming that their project might not fit.” The commission always could rezone the interior of the property later, she pointed out, and that process would ensure the public’s ability to offer its views on the issue.
To undertake the rezoning now, Freeland Eddie continued, would be “almost like we’re cutting ourselves off from seeing what the best and highest use of the property is before we put the ITN out.”
“I agree with you,” Mayor Willie Shaw said.
Commissioner Liz Alpert also voiced the concern with the lack of flexibility.
Conversely, Atwell agreed with comments City Manager Tom Barwin made during the discussion. “I think we’re poised now to bring … economic and social prosperity with this rezone.”
If the city advertises the ITN with the implication that its lead goals are housing and retail uses of the Marian Anderson Place, Barwin pointed out, “that’s probably what you are going to get back.” However, he continued, if the commission approved the draft ITN with the emphasis on high-paying jobs, “we’re much more likely to see that as the lead response.”
With retail businesses, Barwin pointed out, employees would be looking at pay in the range of $7 to $8 an hour, and that was not the type of job creation the board members had discussed in January. The staff recommendation, he continued, is to put emphasis on “good, solid permanent jobs.”
As he had during the Jan. 3 meeting, Barwin also pointed out on March 20 that a residential use on the brownfield site “risks and conjures up images of children playing in dirt on a former polluted or perceived-to-be-polluted site.”
Barwin further talked of looming changes in the economy. For example, he said, drones “already [are] being assembled here in Sarasota.” Additionally, the potential exists for environmental initiatives — including manufacturing related to new energy-efficient technologies — to play a bigger role, he told the commissioners.
Moreover, given prognostications for a future with driverless vehicles, Barwin continued, 3 million to 4 million people who make their living as professional drivers will need new jobs. “This could be a very valuable parcel to be ready” for high-tech manufacturing with high-paying jobs, he emphasized.
“This is quite an important policy decision,” he told the commissioners. “It’s a strategy that right upfront seeks to diversity this economy. We’re generally a service-industry community.”
In response to questions from Freeland Eddie, City Attorney Robert Fournier noted that the maximum housing density on property zoned CRD would be 25 units per acre; the IGD zoning has no housing restriction. As for maximum height: Fournier said the CRD zone allows up to 35 feet; the IGD, 45 feet.
Proceeding with the land-use change and rezoning, Purchasing General Manager Boswell said, “doesn’t necessarily prohibit [another type of proposal].” It would just be an indication of the board’s priority, he added. “This commission always reserves the right to tweak or modify the zoning,” Barwin said.
After Freeland Eddie made her motion to proceed with the ITN without pursuing any land-use or zoning change for the property, Barwin sought clarification that the ITN should not preclude any options proposed by a developer.
Shaw assured him that was the correct interpretation.
One plea from the public
As she had in January, Valerie Buchand, president of the organization Newtown Nation, indicated that Newtown residents already have a vision for the Marian Anderson Place site. “I ask you to leave the zoning the way it is,” she said. “We have been waiting on this opportunity for a long time. … We have an opportunity to bring jobs. We have an opportunity to make this work in our community. At least see what the developers will bring forward.”
In response to questions from Commissioner Alpert, Boswell said that after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) “gave us a clean bill of health” for the site, he received about 10 calls from people interested in developing the property. He advised them not to make their proposals public until the City Commission was ready to entertain ideas, he added, “to maintain the credibility of a competitive solicitation …”