County Commission approves $3,434,650 out of funds for land protection, with part of money going to improvements to the site
With widespread support from neighbors of the property, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved paying $2,725,000 for 2.79 acres at 1710/1700 Vamo Drive, including 226 linear feet of direct waterfront access on Little Sarasota Bay, for passive park purposes.
The property also has 214 linear feet of unobstructed waterfront views to the south, through the Oaks Preserve property, as noted in a staff memo.
An additional $709,650 will be used for closing costs, due diligence before the transaction is completed and improvements necessary to creating a park, the Oct. 9 staff memo says. Among the initial improvements will be the removal of exotic vegetation, the erection of fencing and work to ensure public access to the water, the memo adds.
The total expense will be $3,434,650, county documents note.
The funds will come out of revenue from a 0.25 mill ad valorem tax imposed countywide. The money goes to the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Acquisition Fund and Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program, Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained to the board.
The Oct. 9 board vote came on a motion by Commissioner Alan Maio.
“It’s a lot of money,” Commissioner Charles Hines pointed out.
Nonetheless, both he and Commissioner Michael Moran called the transaction “an appropriate use of the funds,” as Moran put it.
Hines reminded the public that, over the past few years, as the commissioners have purchased large tracts east of Interstate 75 in an effort to preserve property, they also have talked about how they would have to pay more for smaller parcels with water access.
In this case, Hines continued, the Vamo Drive property is adjacent to the county’s Vamo Drive Park. He did not believe the site would lend itself to the addition of a big boat ramp, he added, because Vamo Drive is a dead-end road. Instead, Hines concurred with comments by Brown, that the land will lend itself to more passive uses.
Brown suggested that the park would be attractive to people who wish to use canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and those who like to fish.
During the Open to the Public portion of the board meeting that morning, Mike Feduccia, a resident of the neighborhood where the land is located, noted that the woman who owned the property died at the age of 101. (Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records identify the owner as the Norma Quiggle Martin Revocable Trust.)
The 12 homes in that area, Feduccia continued, were built in 1924. “They were the original fishermen houses back then, where they laid the nets out …”
“I would rather the county own it for the citizens of Sarasota versus it’s being subdivided into six units built into condos,” Feduccia continued. “Most of the people on our street would prefer for the county to preserve it than have it developed out.”
Any new construction on the site would have to be elevated about 10 feet, he explained, which also would obstruct views of the water.
‘A long process’
Brown pointed out that the property was nominated for inclusion in the county’s parkland program in November 2016. Staff obtained appraisals for it in January 2017, she added, but, “at that time, we could not come to terms [with the owner].”
The county staff memo notes that two appraisals the county obtained from independent firms “support the purchase price.”
A second round of negotiations ensued in August and September, Brown said, with the contract completed in September, after the seller agreed to the terms.
On March 29, 2017, the commissioners discussed the property as they worked to free up funding to pay for the North Extension of The Legacy Trail. They finally agreed to stop pursuit of the land through the county’s Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program, even though the site had waterfront access adjacent to Vamo Drive Park.
At that time, Maio also reported concerns from residents of Vamo Drive that if the county created a park on the site, they would be unhappy with tourists driving down their neighborhood road to reach it.
The Oct. 9 staff memo explains that the property is adjacent to both the historic Bertha Honore Palmer estate “The Oaks” and Historic Spanish Point.
It also is across from Siesta Key and the Jim Neville Marine Preserve, Brown noted.
Further, the staff memo says, “There are two highly significant historical structures on the Site as well as an existing seawall and dock.” Those structures are “a 1900 balloon-frame house formerly known as ‘Vamo Lodge’ and a 1925 Mediterranean revival architecture house. The 1900 Vamo Lodge house served as the social and cultural center of the early Vamo community,” the memo points out.
Along with the structures, Brown told the board on Oct. 9, the property has grand live oaks, mangroves and a variety of palms.
Brown also noted that county staff conducted outreach to surrounding residents, including holding an open house in July. Staff sent out 500 postcards, she said, to ensure property owners in the area would be aware of the county’s plans.
As a result of the July meeting, Brown said, staff received 76 cards of support for the county’s acquisition of the property. An additional 26 emails came in, also approving of the plans, she noted, with only one in opposition. Then, she continued, out of three letters sent by mail, two were in favor of the purchase. “Overall, there was a huge amount of support for this acquisition.”
After he made the motion to approve the purchase, Commissioner Maio pointed out that he had received many emails about the property and had attended meetings regarding the county’s proposal to buy it. “It’s been a long process,” he added. “[People] were disappointed at the length of the time. … But the passing of time allowed us to, I think, make a better deal for the county.”
Commissioner Moran called the purchase “a no-brainer.”
“It is a lot of money,” Chair Nancy Detert acknowledged. However, she said, a friend of hers who is a Realtor “used to say, when he sold waterfront property, “‘I’ll buy it back for what you paid for it 10 years from now.’ Nobody ever took him up on that offer, because [waterfront land] never gets any cheaper.”