Plan for new parking garage for Sarasota Memorial Hospital employees moving forward after unanimous City Commission votes

Hospital leaders hope to see the facility completed by the end of the year

A rendering shows the location of the planned new West Parking Garage on the Sarasota Memorial Hospital campus. Image courtesy Sarasota Memorial Hospital

Although one board member raised concerns about the potential impact of the project on the adjacent neighborhood, the Sarasota City Commission has given unanimous approval to the rezoning necessary for construction of a new Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) parking garage.

The five-story, 583-space facility between Hawthorne and Arlington streets has been designed for hospital employees, SMH representatives told the City Commission on Jan. 16. It will eliminate the need for a shuttle to convey about 250 workers each day from the parking facility on the former Doctors Hospital property, located near the intersection of Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street, Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, pointed out. “That involves 80 loops a day,” he said.

The hospital had petitioned for the city to vacate a 350-foot-long platted right of way on Hawthorne Street — just north of 1818 Hawthorne — along with the rezoning of property at 1851 Arlington St. to make the new garage feasible feasible. The parking garage would extend over the Hawthorne Street right of way, Bailey noted.

The commissioners also approved the street vacation on a first reading on Jan. 16.

A graphic shows the area of the street vacation on Hawthorne Street and the project site. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

One final segment of street vacation will be necessary, Bailey explained. Although the hospital has a signed contract for the purchase of the property that will be the focus of that petition, he said, the transaction could not be completed in time for the necessary public notice in advance of the Jan. 16 City Commission meeting.

The closing on that parcel is scheduled for mid-February, Bailey said.

SMH representatives hope to receive their city building permit for the garage “in the coming weeks,” Kim Savage, public information officer for the hospital, wrote The Sarasota News Leader in a Jan. 25 email. She was responding to News Leader questions about the project timeline. “If all goes according to schedule,” she added, “construction should be complete by December 2018.”

The entrance to the new garage will be from both Arlington and Hawthorne streets, Bailey told the City Commission; however, traffic will not be able to exit on Hawthorne.

Additionally, service trucks will be advised to enter the garage only from Waldemere Street, he said. The design of the garage entry on Hawthorne would provide clearance of only 10 feet and 9 inches, which is too low for vehicles used by the majority of the hospital’s vendors, he indicated.

An engineering drawing shows details of the garage project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

City staff deemed the impact of the garage on traffic in the area as de minimis, Bailey noted: “zero trips generated.”

Bailey added, “[Vehicles] are already on campus. In fact, many of ’em are driving around the campus, looking futilely for a parking space.”

Although signage will direct patients and visitors to the other SMH parking garages after the new facility has been completed, Bailey pointed out, a “T turnaround” will be incorporated into the new facility’s design at the Hawthorne entryway, to enable drivers who realize they are in the wrong place to back around and then head back out to the street without having to enter the garage. That design element was a suggestion of City Manager Tom Barwin, Bailey said, in lieu of a cul-de-sac.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch did have some concerns about the street vacation and the traffic, she said. “Part of our plan is to keep our grid in case something goes wrong.”

She asked Bailey, “In the long term, is the plan to close off the public’s access to Hawthorne [where the vacated street segment will exist]?”

“It’s not really part of the grid now,” Bailey replied; it is a dead end.

In the backup agenda material provided for the meeting, city staff explained, “The portion of Hawthorne Street proposed for vacation is not … a through street or required for the general public to gain access to the hospital, nearby businesses or the neighborhoods.”

When Ahearn-Koch asked how the new garage would be connected to the rest of the SMH campus, Tom Perigo, director of architecture and construction at the hospital, explained, “There’s two basically new sidewalks that are being constructed to get into the hospital.” The existing sidewalks on Hawthorne will be connected to them, he added.

‘Elevations’ show details of the design of the garage. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Then Ahearn-Koch raised the issue of “traffic on the local streets.” It can be heavy at times, she pointed out, especially around 4 p.m. on weekdays, after nearby Southside Elementary School has dismissed its students.

Ahearn-Koch suggested that SMH erect signage to direct drivers exiting the garage on Arlington Street to make left turns only, so they would go straight to U.S. 41.

Perigo replied that the goal is for traffic to head from the garage to Laurent Place, through the roundabout, to Hillview Street and then to U.S. 41. “That’s our plan.”

“That alleviates the concerns of the traffic dumping into the neighborhood a lot,” Ahern-Koch told him.

Passes and trees

When city Planner Dan Greenberg addressed the commission on staff’s behalf, Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked whether hospital employees would be issued passes to allow entry to the new garage, which would keep out members of the public.

“It’s a little further from the main hospital,” Greenberg said of the site of the planned facility, and signage will point visitors to parking areas that are closer to the hospital. “[SMH officials] didn’t foresee having access badges at this time.”

Freeland Eddie then asked him about staff’s finding that the new garage would have no impact on traffic in the area.

Staff came to that conclusion, he said, because the facility would not be a destination. It is meant to serve current employees, he noted.

However, Ahearn-Koch referenced Bailey’s earlier comments about employees no longer having to park on the former Doctors Hospital property at Bahia Vista and Tuttle. Instead, she told Greenberg, those workers would be driving to the new facility. “That’s at least 250 cars that will be coming there that weren’t coming there before. … It is going to be attracting some traffic,” she added of the new facility.

Greenberg pointed out that the shuttles no longer would have to circulate between the Bahia Vista/Tuttle site and the hospital campus, thereby reducing some traffic flow.

A map shows the area between Hawthorne and Arlington streets and U.S. 41. Image from Google Maps

He also noted that the garage would replace a 78-vehicle surface parking lot at the same location.

Additionally, Ahearn-Koch questioned the SMH representatives about the tree mitigation plan for the garage. Bailey had explained that 54 trees would have to be removed, but 58 would be put in their place.

“I know that space is tight to mitigate trees,” she said. However, about 10 to 12 oaks with trunks of 3-inch diameter recently were added to the site as mitigation for an earlier SMH project, she noted. Had any consideration been made to move them while the construction was underway and then put them back in place?

Melanie Smith, a civil engineer with the Stantec consulting firm in Sarasota, responded that if the project team found it could do that, it would. She was doubtful, nonetheless, Smith said, that any landscape contractor would provide a warranty for relocating and then returning those young trees to the garage property. Smith pointed out that the larger trees along the site’s border were being maintained.

With assurance from City Attorney Robert Fournier that they could do so, the commissioners combined the public hearings on the two SMH petitions on Jan. 16, though they had to take separate votes on the petitions.

After the presentations and questioning, Commissioner Hagen Brody made the motion to approve the street vacation on first reading, and Commissioner Willie Shaw seconded it.

“I would just like to encourage the applicant,” Ahearn-Koch said, to develop a long-range plan that would direct drivers to turn left only on Arlington Street as they exited the garage, and she would prefer to see signage erected specifying the garage for employees only.

She added that she still believes the project will contribute more traffic to the adjacent neighborhood. Nonetheless, she said of SMH, “We want to see them be successful and grow.”

After the motion passed unanimously, Shaw made the motion to approve the rezoning of the approximately 0.6-acre parcel at 1851 Arlington St. from Office Professional Business to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Ahearn-Koch seconded it, and it passed unanimously.