Feb. 19 meeting scheduled for commissioners to review proposed terms, including request for reimbursement of some of Lido Beach Redevelopment’s expenses
The agenda for the Jan. 14 special meeting of the Sarasota City Commission said the session would begin at 1:30 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. As it turned out, it took just a bit more than 16 minutes for the board members to vote unanimously to continue the session until Feb. 19.
On Feb. 19, based on comments made during the Jan. 14 meeting, the commissioners hope to address a proposed agreement terminating their lease with Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners LLC for the Lido Pavilion and Pool property.
The attorney for the limited liability company had broached the suggestion of the lease termination during a Jan. 11 telephone conversation with City Attorney Robert Fournier, Fournier explained on Jan. 14. They also have asked for reimbursement of some out-of-pocket expenses, Fournier told the City Commission, noting that the total could be less than the legal bills if the city had to fight a lawsuit over the project.
If the hearing had gone forward on Jan. 14 on Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners’ requests for approval of a Major Conditional Use and a site plan — regardless of the board decision — Fournier said, he had expected litigation to follow.
Lido Beach Redevelopment’s decision to try to terminate the lease reflected opposition that had grown for years over the intensity of the improvements the partners had proposed for the 2.42-acre, city-owned property located at 400 Benjamin Franklin Drive, Fournier indicated.
Additionally, the attorney for the company that owns the Lido Beach Resort, which is immediately south of the Lido Pavilion and Pool property, said his client is “prepared to make an initial contribution of $175,000 and host a communitywide fundraiser to help make the Lido Pavilion a facility that will be right for Lido Key and one that the citizens will embrace and be proud of for decades to come.”
The commissioners in November 2017 voted twice in favor of the lease with Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners. The first vote — on Nov. 20, 2017 — was 4-1, with Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch in the minority. After Commissioner Willie Shaw subsequently voiced concerns, the board discussed the issues once more, on Nov. 30. At the end of that meeting, Shaw joined Ahearn-Koch in voting “No.”
On the morning of Jan. 14, Cathy Antunes, a Sarasota resident who has been among the most vocal opponents of the Lido Beach Redevelopment plans, sent an email to members of the news media, announcing that as of 8:30 a.m. that day, she had gathered 5,420 signatures of city residents and visitors to Lido Key who did not approve of the project as proposed.
The applicants planned an increase of 69 seats in the restaurant, for a total of 233, along with a 33-seat tiki bar and 10 rental cabanas within the pool area, staff noted in the backup agenda material for the Jan. 14 hearing. The existing restrooms were to be renovated, and new shade structures, a lifeguard station, two playgrounds, a splash pad and 21 extra parking spaces were planned, the agenda material said.
The city Planning Board voted 4-1 on Sept. 12, 2018 to recommend that the City Commission deny the request for the Major Conditional Use related to the zoning if the property, as well as the request for approval of the site plan.
In an email she sent the city commissioners before the Jan. 14 meeting, Antunes wrote, “The public understands that the applicant’s proposal would create a far more intense use at the Pavilion, changing retail food service from a snack bar to a destination bar and restaurant, from a secondary to a primary use.” She added, “The public is upset about this and doesn’t want the character of their beloved beach to change. We believe such a change violates many standards in the City’s land use regulations, including provisions of the Comprehensive Plan.”
As evidence of that opposition, the City Commission Chambers was full at the start of the Jan. 14 session, with people standing at the back. Mayor Liz Alpert directed the overflow crowd to another City Hall room with chairs, where people could watch the proceedings on a television.
After the board’s unanimous vote to schedule Fournier’s report for Feb. 19, applause and cheers resounded in the chambers.
Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch was absent from the meeting because of a family emergency, Alpert explained.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for comment after the vote, Antunes wrote in an email, “We are glad the applicants have reconsidered and may walk away from their proposal. The proposal to redevelop Lido Pavilion never should’ve gotten this far. There are numerous problems which appear to be flagrant violations of the city’s comprehensive plan as well as FEMA [regulations].”
In a separate Jan. 14 news release, Antunes had explained that the primary FEMA concern was what is called the “50% Rule.” As Antunes put it, “That is, substantial improvements to a building in a flood zone can [cost] no more than 50% of the
market value of the building before the improvement.”
In that news release, Antunes noted that in 2018, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office assessed the value of Lido Pavilion at $437,000. Yet, the Lido Beach Redevelopment partners had stated they planned to invest $4 million in Lido Pavilion improvements, she added.
Additionally, in her Jan. 14 statement to the News Leader, Antunes wrote, “The applicants are asking for a $175,000 reimbursement for their costs, but no one is reimbursing citizens for their costs. Many people have expended much time energy and money in this effort.
“We will continue to work toward a solution for Lido Pavilion which truly serves the community,” she wrote.
A change of course
At the outset of the meeting, City Attorney Fournier explained that he had received a phone call early in the afternoon of Jan. 11 from Bill Merrill III of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota. Representing Troy Syprett and Gavin Meshad, the Sarasota partners who comprise Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners, Fournier said Merrill told him, “He was calling to advise me of a possibly significant new development.”
Merrill’s clients, Fournier continued, were considering the potential of asking the City Commission to continue the Jan. 14 hearing “to allow sufficient time for the city and the applicants” to discuss terms and conditions of terminating the Lido Beach Redevelopment lease. That discussion, Fournier added, “likely would include … some reimbursement … for certain out-of-pocket expenses that had been incurred during this process.”
Merrill was careful to explain to him, Fournier said, that his clients still believed they could present “competent substantial evidence” that would lead to the commission’s approval of their request for a Major Conditional Use and the proposed site plan.
Merrill added that his clients also believed “they had done everything the city had asked them to do,” Fournier said, since they had been awarded the right to redevelop the site. That resulted from the city’s advertisement of an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) process regarding the Lido Pool and Pavilion. The ITN arose out of the work of an ad hoccommittee of the Lido Key Residents Association in January 2012.
Nonetheless, Fournier continued on Jan. 14, “I guess you could say they needed to be realistic about the situation and, given the number of citizens who had been so vocally opposing the project, [they anticipated] significant delays before work could start on this project,” if the City Commission approved the Major Conditional Use and site plan.
Fournier said he told Merrill that he felt the City Commission would appreciate knowing the applicants’ position prior to holding the Jan. 14 hearing.
Fournier added that he wanted to avoid the board members learning about Merrill’s proposal from someone other than him, so he called them after his discussion with Merrill. He was able to reach all of them except Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie, he added.
Referring to Syprett and Meshad, Merrill told the commissioners, “Sadly, they were invited to this process,” referring to ITN. Over time, he continued, they “even significantly reduced the intensity of what was originally requested in the ITN itself. … We feel that we have a very strong case …”
Nonetheless, Merrill continued, “They feel that, in the best interest for the community and themselves … [given the portent of] litigation from one side or the other, or both,” it would be better to try to work out a termination of the lease with the city.
After Fournier explained that he did not believe that the discussions laying the groundwork for the termination could be concluded in time for the commission’s Feb. 4 regular meeting, he proposed the Feb. 19 date.
“That would be acceptable to us,” Merrill replied.
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie then said she wanted to reiterate a point she made last fall: If the termination of the lease does not occur, and the board ends up rescheduling the quasi-judicial hearing, she would like to see that proceeding set for a Saturday.
A Saturday meeting was her proposal when the commission first discussed when to consider the application for the Major Conditional Use and site plan. The goal, Freeland Eddie repeated on Jan. 14, would be “so that no one would have to take time off from work” to attend the hearing.
Fournier also pointed out that the public would have the right to address the proposed terms of ending the lease with Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners, but no public comments had to be accepted on Jan. 14 if the board voted for the continuance.
The Lido Beach Resort offer
At Fournier’s suggestion, Mayor Alpert asked for comments on Jan. 14 from Sarasota attorney John Patterson, who represents Logan Acquisitions, owner of the Lido Beach Resort.
Mark Walsh, an officer of the company, was unable to be present that afternoon because of a family emergency, Patterson explained. Therefore, Patterson had a statement from Walsh to read.
In that statement, Walsh offered support for the potential termination of the lease and the out-of-pocket expenses Merrill had mentioned to Fournier. Patterson also said Walsh believes “we can all work together with staff, the neighbors and the community to find a balanced solution” that would keep the Lido Pavilion “at its current scale of use.”
Finally, Walsh suggested the $175,000 contribution and the fundraiser.
Following that, Commissioner Shaw made the motion to continue until Feb. 19 discussion of a proposal for termination of the lease with Lido Beach Redevelopment, and Commissioner Hagen Brody seconded it. After the motion passed on the 4-0 vote, applause again rang in the Commission Chambers.