City Commission approves development agreement after securing additional language ensuring a waterfront district will be included and that public access will be allowed during certain hours
Starting in 2018 and continuing over the next seven to 10 years, the 14.65-acre development known as Quay Sarasota is expected to be constructed block by block in downtown Sarasota.
The City of Sarasota Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the design of each of the 10 blocks after it has been submitted for review. The first to see vertical construction, the development team says, most likely will be Block 6, in the southwest corner of the property. A waterfront district with restaurants, shops, a plaza and an amphitheater for entertainment — planned for the public as well as the residents — potentially could be designed first, if not at the same time as Block 6, the project team told the City Commission on Dec. 5.
Rick Harcrow, regional president of GreenPointe Communities LLC of Jacksonville — the developer — told the board he anticipated no structure in the waterfront district would be taller than two stories. “That will be the central meeting place for this urban neighborhood.”
The Quay Sarasota will encompass up to 695 residential units, 175 hotel rooms, 38,972 square feet of office space and 189,050 square feet of other commercial space, based on documents provided to the City Commission. The full build-out is not anticipated until 2020. The property borders Boulevard of the Arts on the north and U.S. 41 on the east.
Charles D. Bailey III, an attorney with the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota — and a member of the development team — noted during the Dec. 5 City Commission meeting that the property is “at least the size of Golden Gate Point. … It’s a district within itself.”
Referring to the block-by-block development plan, he added that the Planning Board process “mandates that we be responsible and accountable. If we ever screw the pooch — pardon my redneck French — on any of the first block site plans, Lord knows we’re going to hear about it on the next one. We don’t want that to happen.”
First, a new street grid — including what the project team called the main street, or “spine road” — and other infrastructure will be built to support the future residences and businesses, Bailey told the City Commission. For example, Bailey said, that will include enhancement of the potable water network in that part of the city. He indicated the work would get underway soon.
Concurrently, the development team will be working on the design and permitting of a two-lane roundabout at the intersection of Fruitville Road and U.S. 41.
GreenPointe Communities will front the funding for that project, and the city will reimburse the firm after the city receives the money from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the development agreement says. The document calls for GreenPointe to begin the design and permitting of the roundabout within 30 days of the city’s approval of that agreement.
Specifically, the agreement also says GreenPointe must begin the effort to hire a contractor for the roundabout within 30 days of whichever occurs later: GreenPointe’s receipt of the last of the permits for the project or the roundabout’s inclusion in the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Five-Year Work Program and the city’s Capital Improvement Program. The roundabout is expected to be completed within three years after construction begins.
The Quay Sarasota also will include the historic Belle Haven, which dates to 1926; the Belle Haven was the first structure to win historic designation in the city, staff noted during the Oct. 17 first reading of the development agreement. The building will remain in its present location, Bailey stressed then.
Pros and cons
On Dec. 5, during the second readings of two ordinances detailing street vacations for the project, as well as the general development agreement, the City Commission’s 4-1 vote of approval primarily came down to three numbers: 408, 767 and 780.
Provided by Bailey, they respectively reflect the number of annual on-site jobs as the project is built, the total number of jobs anticipated during that seven-to 10-year period, and the minimum number of full-time employees expected at the Quay Sarasota after it has been completed.
Mayor Willie Shaw, Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Suzanne Atwell all cited those figures as reasons for supporting the plan, in spite of the fact that the actual look of the proposed 10 blocks of the Quay Sarasota will be finalized one at a time. All the board could consider on Dec. 5 was a basic outline of the blocks imposed over an aerial view of the property.
Commissioner Susan Chapman was the only board member to vote against all facets of the project. She cited concerns about the additional intensity and density in that part of the city, including what staff cited as another 922 vehicle trips each day originating with the Quay Sarasota after it has been completed.
While the original development proposal, created by Irish American Management Services Ltd. “has a lot of problems with it,” Chapman said, it called for fewer 18-story structures than GreenPointe might build.
Moreover, referring to the proposed residences and commercial space, Chapman pointed out, “That’s a lot to fit on that [site].”
Bailey pointed out that the original proposal for the project will be in effect until Sept. 30, 2019. Irish American planned to construct three 18-story residential towers over two stories of parking on the property. The land is zoned Downtown Bayfront District, which allows 50 units per acre, he added. “We are not developing at the maximum density allowed by code.”
When Chapman asked him how many buildings of that height GreenPointe plans, Bailey replied, “Technically, there’s nine.”
“Nine?!” she responded.
He stressed that that would comply with the code, but he also reminded the board numerous times that no definitive plans have been created yet.
Commissioner Liz Alpert reminded Chapman that the Irish American plan did not encompass the public access to the waterfront that the GreenPointe proposal features. Further, Alpert said, the GreenPointe project has “the exact same density [as the Irish American plan].”
“I’d rather have this where there’s a waterfront district,” Alpert added.
The project also includes a Bayfront Multi-Use Recreational Trail (MURT) on its northern and eastern boundaries and a Scenic MURT on the western border, to enhance connectivity for the public, she noted.
After team members met with City Manager Tom Barwin, Bailey said, the goal is to try to extend that Scenic MURT north to a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on the Hyatt Regency property.
Chapman told her colleagues she does not believe GreenPointe wants to build the project the City Commission approved for Irish American before the Great Recession struck. “What we’re agreeing to is an additional 10 years [for a huge development],” she pointed out.
As Bailey had noted, Alpert responded, nothing prevents GreenPointe from pulling permits to construct the Irish American plan. With the revised proposal, Alpert continued, “I think we have this opportunity to develop a really premier waterfront project, and I think we would be remiss to not take advantage of that.”
“This is an exciting, creative project,” Commissioner Suzanne Atwell told her colleagues. “It can’t come soon enough for me.”
“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mayor Shaw said. “That was most important to me. … These next 10 years of jobs are most important to our citizens here.”
Other facets of the project
During his presentation, Bailey pointed out that the development will restore a road grid across the property that has not existed there since 1967. Connectivity will be provided to the city’s Cultural District to the north and to property to the south, with the potential ultimately for direct access to the Ritz-Carlton.
During the Dec. 5 public hearing, Freeland Eddie won an agreement from the development group to amend the language regarding public access to the Scenic MURT on the western side of the property and to make it clear that the waterfront district will be part of the project.
Harcrow of GreenPointe explained that the area would not be accessible 24 hours a day. “We want to be mindful that this is part of the residents’ association,” he said.
The area will be open when the restaurants and shops are open, Bailey stressed, and when art festivals, wine-tasting events and other public activities are taking place.
Commissioner Atwell concurred that “unintended consequences” relating to safety and security would result if full-time public access were available.
“I’m not saying it should be open 24 hours,” Freeland Eddie responded.
“It is private property,” Commissioner Alpert pointed out. “They’re opening up to make it a good project.”
Donna J. Feldman, a Clearwater attorney on the project team, proposed adding language to the agreement calling for the Scenic MURT along the western boundary to be open during hours consistent with city park rules and in accord with the opening and closing hours of the retail uses in the Waterfront District. For example, Feldman said, if the dining establishments closed at 10 p.m., then the MURT would remain open until 10:30 p.m.
“I think that works,” City Attorney Robert Fournier said.