Plaintiffs in Bath & Racquet Club lawsuit settle with City of Sarasota and developer

Enhanced landscaping buffers and measures to prevent light intrusion into surrounding residential areas among the terms

The 19 residents of the city of Sarasota who filed a lawsuit to try to overturn the city Planning Board’s approval of the redevelopment of the Bath & Racquet Clubhave reached a settlement with the city and the applicant over the issues.

The plaintiffs contended that the minor conditional use and site plan application for the club did not, as required, “meet all applicable land development regulations.” Those included facets of the Engineering Design and Criteria Manual (EDCM) and conditions placed on the property during the 2021 rezoning of the site.

The 13.5-acre club property stands on Robinhood Street in Sarasota, to the east of Trader Joe’s on U.S. 41.

During the March 6 City Commission meeting, City Attorney Robert Fournier explained that it appeared that the plaintiffs and the applicant/developer were working hard to draft the terms of a settlement, which would include modifications to the site plan. Those changes could be approved administratively, by city staff, without the need for further City Commission action, he said.

Because he did not believe all of the issues would be resolved prior to the commissioners’ next regular meeting — on March 17 — he sought the authority to sign a settlement agreement if one were ready for final approval prior to that March session.

By consensus, the commissioners agreed to his request, with the proviso that any changes could be approved administratively.

A document filed with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota on March 14 said that the plaintiffs, the city and the developer — Sarasota Springs LLC — had agreed to stipulate to the settlement terms, with each party bearing its own costs and attorneys’ fees.

The signatories were Fournier; Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes, on behalf of the plaintiffs; and Daniel C. Guarnieri, an attorney with the Sarasota firm Berlin Patten Ebling, on behalf of the developer.

The city Planning Board voted 3-2 on Nov. 9, 2022 to approve a site plan for the redevelopment of the Bath & Racquet Club that includes 256 multi-family residential units, 33 of which are to be priced as “attainable,” plus 65,458 square feet of non-residential space. The latter is to include 5,000 square feet of retail space, 23,000 square feet of office space, a 5,000-square-foot restaurant, tennis and pickleball courts, a public park, a dog park, a playground and 32,000 square feet of indoor recreational space, the city staff report explained.

The plaintiffs in the litigation were Ben Cannon, Daniel Shanahan, Margaret Shanahan, Shannon Wight, Caitlin Miller, Luis Tamayo, Khalin Van Raadhorst, Brennan Troyer, James Guttridge, Karen Guttridge, Cheryl Boldin, James Boldin, Mary Brown, Hysen Muhametaj, Garrett R. Shaffer, Glenna Shrock, Ronald Solt, Michael Speth and Jennifer Zak. They all live “within a few hundred feet” of the Bath & Racquet Club property, the complaint said.

Details of the settlement

The Sarasota News Leader was able to obtain a copy of a March 15 email from Kathryn Yeager, a litigation legal assistant with Berlin Patten Ebling, to attorney Brookes, which included the final version of the settlement.

Among the facets of that agreement, Sarasota Springs said it would provide enhanced landscaping buffers “along the south and east sides of the Property where adjacent to single-family residential structures,” noting that the buffers would include “the maximum amount of canopy trees, accent trees, and shrubs as agreed to with the City arborist.”

The plaintiffs had argued that the Sarasota Springs application did not include the required landscape buffers in those particular areas, even though the plantings along the eastern boundary were a requirement of the city’s Zoning Code, and the buffer along the southern boundary was a stipulation imposed by the City Commission.

Further, the settlement says that vehicular access at the northeast corner of the Bath & Racquet Club property “will be restricted to emergency access only,” though that is “subject to 2 conditions”: approval by the city engineer and the Sarasota County Fire Department and the use of a “frangible gate,” meaning a structure that will require careful handling. “An electronically operated gate will not be provided,” the settlement adds.

Further, the property owner will “install a sign near the gate stating that the access is for emergency vehicles only,” subject again to approval of the city engineer and the Fire Department.

That stipulation has been determined to be minor, city staff agreed, “because the anticipated change to the external traffic pattern can reasonably be anticipated to be minor and not substantial.”

The settlement calls for Sarasota Springs to “make adjustments to the site grade to direct flow [of stormwater] to the east along the swale between the Property and the neighborhood to the south so that the drainage will not sheet flow across the southern boundary. Changes to grading must comply with the City of Sarasota Engineering Design Criteria Manual (EDCM) and be approved by the City Engineer.”

Yet another stipulation says that Sarasota Springs will revise its site plan “to eliminate all raised [tennis] courts as well as the stadium seats on the east side of the Property.” Additionally, no elevated parking structure will be built on the east side of the site, with the grade-level parking lot to remain in place. “Any lighting on the surface parking lot will be shielded and directed so as not to shine light into adjoining neighborhoods,” that part of the agreement points out.

Further, no lighting of the pickleball building will be visible from parcels abutting the southern boundary of the project site. “Non-electrical black-out blinds will be installed in the pickleball building,” the document says, adding, “Court lighting will be turned off outside of operating hours.”

On a similar note, the agreement says that “[c]ourt lighting fixtures will be shielded and directed so as not to shine light into adjoining neighborhoods.”

Additionally, 12 of the 16 outdoor pickleball courts “will be enclosed and have non-electrical black-out blinds for night use so that lighting will not adversely affect off-site neighbors.” That section also points out, “There will be enhanced landscape buffering, light shields, and a [6-foot-tall] fence between the remaining four courts and the neighborhood to the south,” with the court lighting turned off after the hours of operation.

Moreover, the settlement says, “The Club will not provide outdoor music. However, a public address system may be installed for the purpose of limited announcements related to emergencies and operation of the Club, but shall not be used to announce food service or court changes.”

Finally, a stipulation calls for signage to be erected to provide the hours of operation. Those hours will be 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

The News Leader also obtained a copy of an April 18 letter from Lucia Panica, the city’s Development Services director, to attorney Brenda Patten of Berlin Patten Ebling, responding to Patten’s request “for modifications to the previously approved Site Plan, 22-SP-12.”

In that correspondence, Panica noted that staff had received the modified site plan  on March 28.

Panica then formally acknowledged that the changes outlined in the settlement “do not impact the Site Plan approval.” Moreover, she wrote, they “do not result in any increase in building height, reduction in setbacks, or cause any other non-compliance with the Zoning Code. [They] are consistent with the settlement agreement as agreed to by the City and applicant.”

Then Panica pointed out, “Based on the materials you have provided, and comments received from DRC members, I have determined that the proposed changes meet the criteria for minor modification.” Thus, she continued, Patten could proceed with the process for obtaining a city building permit for the project.

“DRC” refers to the city’s Development Review Committee. Its members represent the city departments and divisions that deal with land-use applications. Those committee members work to ensure that facets of a proposal will comply with all applicable city policies and regulations, including those in the Zoning Code.

1 thought on “Plaintiffs in Bath & Racquet Club lawsuit settle with City of Sarasota and developer”

  1. So, plaintiffs had to go to court to compel City to abide by its own Zoning Code and a previous stipulation by developer concerning buffering and stormwater runoff onto adjoiners’ lots. Why do citizens have to spend their own time and money to force the City administration to adhere to its own rules?

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