Action related to plans for new County Administration Center on Fruitville Road
With only the attorney representing an adjacent property owner having offered public comments, the Sarasota County Commission this week voted unanimously to eliminate the requirement for connecting streets in a section of the Fruitville Initiative, a special planning area just east of Interstate 75.
That action included a main street in part of the planning area that was not a facet of the original county staff proposal. It was related to plans for the new County Administration Center, whose construction “is expected to begin later this year and be completed in 2025,” Brad Gaubatz, the county manager of the project, told the commissioners on Jan. 18.
The facility is planned at 6700 Fruitville Road in Sarasota, which the county obtained from Benderson Development Co. last year, in exchange for Benderson’s taking over a segment of land that the county owned near Nathan Benderson Park.
The Administration Center, Gaubatz noted, likely will have four stories and encompass approximately 120,000 square feet. Plans also call for the 250 county employees who work at the Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota to be relocated to the new facility, he said.
Several years ago, commissioners began discussing the projected overall expense of keeping the downtown Administration Center in operation, which was estimated at $49 million over 20 years. Thus, the board members directed staff to begin searching for a site for a new facility, believing that would be a more cost-effective option in the long run.
The applicant for the modification to the Fruitville Initiative area was the county’s Capital Projects Department.
In response to the scheduling of the Jan. 18 public hearing, Citizens for Sarasota County, a Facebook group comprising community activists/advocates, published a blog explaining that the interconnectivity element of the Fruitville Initiative “has remained in force despite other developers within the Initiative having requested to be excused from it. The entire premise of the Initiative, as put forth at charrettes held by Stefanos Polyzoides in 2010, invoked a model of a walkable mixed-use community. The Interconnectivity component was the core enabling element that guaranteed a grid of streets to render walkability possible.”
As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, the County Commission in October 2015 ended up denying a request by Benderson Development Co. to modify plans it had created for property it owned in the Fruitville Initiative, because the proposal would have affected the walkability of the site.
A main street to nowhere
Although the item was listed as a Presentation Upon Request on the Jan. 18 agenda, Commissioner Nancy Detert asked for comments from staff. That was what brought Gaubatz to the podium in the Commission Chambers of the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.
Gaubatz explained that ordinances the commissioners approved in 2014 established the requirements for construction in what officially is designated as Special Planning Area 3.
Showing the board members maps, Gaubatz noted that the new Administration Center would be built on the block in that planning area that is identified as F-7. Next to it, to the east, are the blocks designated as E-3 and E-4, the map showed. The owner of that land to the east is Celery Fields Fruitville LLC, which is an affiliate of Lansing, Mich.-based DTN Management Co.
Gaubatz pointed to what had been designated the main street for blocks F-7 and E-3 and E-4, as well as three internal streets perpendicular to the main street.
With no questions from the commissioners on Jan. 18, Chair Ron Cutsinger said he had only one speaker signed up to address the proposal.
That person was attorney William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota.
Merrill said his client, DTN, did not object to the elimination of the interior streets and the main street on the southern portion of the DTN property and the county land.
Nonetheless, Merrill explained, the overall proposal would have “a very important, negative unintended consequence on my client’s parcel,” which includes two segments of that same sub-area, E, of the Fruitville Initiative. Those northern sections are designated E-1 and E-2. County staff had continued to call for a main street in that northern segment, he added.
“There’s no main street in front of the county building,” Merrill pointed out. “If there’s a main street anywhere on these parcels,” he stressed of the northern section, “it doesn’t connect to anything else … It basically cuts off [the DTN property] from the rest of the Fruitville Initiative.”
“The only justification from staff” for keeping that other main street, Merrill told the commissioners, is that the 2014 ordinance requires a main street in each sub-area of the Fruitville Initiative.
Therefore, Merrill proposed that the County Commission agree to eliminating that other main street, as well.
“Seems like a whole lot of common sense to me,” Commissioner Michael Moran said of Merrill’s request.
Commissioner Detert concurred. “I would just say we have policy and bureaucracy getting in the way of common sense … There should be an outlet for us to exhibit some common sense in these small little instances …”
Moran did ask for a county planner to explain staff’s view of the issue.
Planner Anna Messina reiterated that the 2014 ordinances require a main street in each sub-area of the Fruitville Initiative. Staff is willing to see where the main street should be created in the northern segment Merrill had noted, she added.
After consulting with Deputy County Attorney Josh Moye and then again with Merrill, the commissioners decided to modify the language in a rezoning petition that Capital Projects staff had submitted for the area where the new Administration Center will be built.
Moran made the motion to approve that, as well as the related staff requests that were part of the public hearing involving the Administration Center, and Detert seconded them.
“I’m comfortable moving forward with the no main street requirement for the Sub-Area E,” Moran said. Otherwise, he pointed out, “You are putting a private property owner in a very awkward position.”