Residents who live around Bath & Racquet Club rousing opponents in effort to thwart plans for more than 200 residential units on the property

Community Workshop scheduled for Aug. 14 at Sarasota City Hall

An aerial map shows the location of most of the Bath & Racquet Fitness Club property, east of Trader Joe’s in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

Last fall, the Bath & Racquet Fitness Club in Sarasota announced plans to seek a City of Sarasota Comprehensive Plan amendment and subsequent rezoning so it can construct up to 180 residential units along its southern and eastern boarders and between its facilities and Trader Joe’s.

The preliminary information submitted to city planning staff cited the estimated cost of the construction at $33 million. The principal address of the club is 2170 Robinhood St.

As the application described it, “The proposed plan consolidates surface parking and renovates existing buildings and amenities in an efficient manner that maximizes the use of the site, while also preserving facilities, such as 18-20 existing tennis courts.”

The application called for the two parcels owned by the club near the city’s southern limits to be rezoned from Office Neighborhood District (OND) and Intensive Commercial District (ICD) to Residential Multiple Family 4 (RMF-4). The latter has a maximum density up to 18 dwelling units per acre, the document noted, while OND allows up to nine units per acre and no residential uses are permitted in ICD zones.

More worrisome to residents of the surrounding, mostly single-family neighborhoods, they said, was the fact that the height limitation for the new buildings would be 95 feet.

The formal application — finally filed with the city on July 25 — points out, “The residential units will be located within three- to four-story buildings … with a 20-foot landscape buffer, as well as a seven-story building located in the existing parking lot area.” The two parcels together comprise about 13.46 acres, it notes. Along with the 150 to 180 “market rate residential units” proposed, the plans calls for “up to an additional 27 (15%) affordable housing units.”

Since the unveiling of the proposal in November 2017, a number of residents have protested not only the fact that the project would include residential towers looming over them, but also that it would add a multitude of vehicles on their streets and exacerbate the congestion on U.S. 41 in the immediate area. Kimley-Horn and Associates, the Sarasota consulting firm that is acting as the agent for the Bath and Racquet Club in the application process, has explained that primary access to the property would occur via Glengary Street and Robinhood Street. “However,” the application says, “an additional access point at the northeast corner of the subject property is being provided via School Avenue.”

In a recent post on the South Sarasota Strong! Facebook page established by opponents of the project, Ben Cannon — who lives near the site — wrote, “[A] very important component to this flawed rezoning request is the increased traffic that will be added to an already very busy and dangerous section of city and county roadways. According to 2016 county traffic analysis only I-75 and downtown [have] more traffic volume problems in the entire county than the section of [U.S. 41] from Bee Ridge [Road] to Proctor [Road]. [The Florida Department of Transportation] provided 90 pages of Crash Reports for just the intersection of [U.S. 41 and Glengary, where Trader Joe’s is located, Cannon noted]. And in addition the developer wants to push their added traffic directly into residential streets via South School Ave.”

A March 14 photo shows a clog of traffic on U.S. 41 at Trader Joe’s. Image from the South Sarasota Strong! Facebook page

Cannon is urging all interested persons to gather in the SRQ Media Room at City Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 14, for the required community meeting about the proposal.

“SEE YOU THERE!!!!” Cannon wrote in a July 27 Facebook post.

The session will begin at 5:30 p.m. City Hall is located at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota.

Waging a battle

A graphic provided with preliminary information Kimley-Horn and Associates submitted to the City of Sarasota in November 2017 showed tentative plans for the property as of that time. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“Community Workshops are required by the City of Sarasota when rezoning and major use changes are requested for development,” Cannon explained in one Facebook post. “Developers do their best to try and minimize the [impact of the workshops] on their profit and plans,” he added, contending that developers do not want people to attend the sessions, and they do not want questions asked. “They would prefer a dictatorship over a democracy,” he continued. “The [affected] community that is left dealing with all the negative impact must make the most out of the Community Workshops to protect our quality of life and property values. We must attend in great numbers. We must get our questions answered and our concerns addressed.”

Cannon pointed out in a March 9 Facebook post on the South Sarasota Strong! page, “As I knocked on neighbor’s door after door it quickly became apparent that very few were aware of what was being proposed in their own ‘backyard.’ And when told they all agreed that this rezoning request was a very bad idea.”

“Hopefully, we can get the developers to listen,” he told The Sarasota News Leader in an Aug. 6 telephone interview.

South Sarasota Strong! features this image on its Facebook page. Image from the page

Cannon also has been urging project opponents to assist with the expenses for expert witnesses to speak on behalf of residents when the proposal is ready for review by the city’s Planning Board and the City Commission.

In the March 9 Facebook post, he explained that as the process “now moves into the next phase of quasi-judicial meetings with city officials, we as affected citizens will be best represented by professionals in the related fields. These experts will provide sworn testimony and expert & counter opinion on all submitted documents, assumptions and presentations made by the developer’s team.”

He added, “A minimum investment of $10,000 will be needed,” he noted in that post. “[W]e are seeking contributions from all [affected] & concerned citizens. We strongly believe that if this rezoning is approved, then other single family home neighborhoods across Sarasota will be opened up to similar rezoning requests by developers. The unthinkable will become possible, in a very negative way.”

Past, present and future

Image from the Bath & Racquet Fitness Club website homepage

On its website, the Bath & Racquet Fitness Club points out that it was founded in 1969. Much has changed in the ensuing decades, it adds. “While the family ownership has remained constant and we have planned for that to continue, the Club has not stood still,” the website says.

For example, it continues, “While most people don’t even realize it we have numerous trees that have been donated to the Club [over] the years. Some are from friends of past tennis partners. And others were just … for the love of the Club and …”

The application for the development on the site points out that 12 identified grand trees will be preserved during the construction.

An aerial graphic with contrasting colors on the website illustrates additions to the clubhouse over time. The original building, dating to 1971, had locker rooms and a pro shop. In 1976, more locker rooms were built and then, in 1979, six racquetball courts were constructed, “just in time for the racquetball boom of the [1980s].”

In 1985, the website notes, the “largest construction [project] in club history” entailed combining all the existing facilities and adding a fitness area, a studio for small-group exercise classes, steam rooms, spas and two more racquetball courts, bringing the total number of the latter to 10.

A postcard on the Bath & Racquet Fitness Club website shows the tennis courts in 1973. Image from the website

Construction of the tennis courts began in 1969 and continued through 2007, the website points out. “Court 15 was built [in 1973] for a professional tennis tournament, which included Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.” That event was held before the ladies’ professional tennis tour began, the website notes.

Altogether, the club has 29 tennis courts, a 40,000-square-foot fitness facility, five racquetball courts, three squash courts, a Junior Olympic-size swimming pool and a full-service restaurant, the website says.

“Many of our members grew up at Bath & Racquet Fitness Club,” it adds. “[W]e are awaiting our fourth generation of members. They came with their parents who were members, and now they come with their children.”

The website also notes that newcomers are welcome.