Responding to neighbors’ concerns, Sarasota City Commission agrees to change in proposed zoning district for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Metropolitan-Regional designation would necessitate public hearings on any new development if the land should be sold at some future point

A graphic shows the layout envisioned for Selby Gardens in the new master plan. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In response to concerns expressed by neighbors of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Sarasota City Commission this week voted unanimously to authorize a process that will allow the Gardens to pursue the creation of is own zoning district, similar to the one encompassing the Sarasota Memorial Hospital campus.

However, the vote came only after Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked multiple times why Selby Gardens wanted to take that path instead of working to incorporate site plan conditions into the Urban Edge zoning it originally sought for the property.

Chris Cianfaglione, a consultant with Kimley-Horn and Associates — who is working with Selby Gardens — explained that neighbors were concerned about the potential for 80-story buildings next to them if Selby Gardens were sold in the future. Moreover, the Urban Edge zoning allows new development after city staff has granted administrative approval, instead of requiring a developer to go through public hearings on projects.

Graphics show examples of Metropolitan-Regional zoning districts. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“The neighbors are very concerned,” David Smith, the city’s long-range planning manager, told the commissioners during their regular meeting on Feb. 5. If the board approved Selby Gardens’ request to change the Future Land Use Map classification of the property from Community Office/Institutional to Metropolitan-Regional instead of Urban Edge, he continued, then staff could work with representatives of Selby Gardens to ensure the new zoning district would incorporate only the types of facilities envisioned in the Gardens’ master plan, which was unveiled last year. Among those are a public restaurant and a parking garage, he pointed out. The district also, of course, would include “botanical gardens,” he said.

The application for the Future Land Use Map change is expected to come before the city’s Planning Board in April and before the City Commission in May, a city staff memo said. If state and regional agencies approve the petition, the memo added, “It is anticipated that a City Commission adoption pubic hearing could be scheduled in August 2018.”

David Smith. File photo

On Oct. 16, 2017, the City Commission authorized the Gardens’ request for an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan to change the Future Land Use Map designation of the approximately 14.73 acres to Urban Edge, Smith reminded the commissioners.

Subsequently, he continued, as they conducted community meetings and talked with the city’s planning staff, representatives of Selby Gardens heard comments that made them feel that the Urban Edge zoning “really isn’t quite the best fit for the particular site.”

Cianfaglione added that “it was pretty clear” residents who live near the Gardens were “mostly in favor of the master plan,” but they wanted to prevent any prospect of intense development next to them if the property changed hands at some point, “even though Selby has no intentions of going anywhere.”

The concern, he continued, was that creating an Urban Edge zoning district south of Mound Street would be “opening Pandora’s box to development potential or rights on that property.”

When Freeland Eddie broached the idea of attaching conditional uses to the Urban Edge district for the facets of the Gardens’ master plan, Cianfaglione told her that “introducing all of those major conditional uses was not feasible under the guidelines that we can do it under.”

An Urban Edge zoning classification would open up the potential for “a whole slew of commercial and other types of uses there,” Smith added. A Metropolitan-Regional district “is more specific …”

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie. File photo

When Freeland Eddie again pointed out that the commission could approve a variety of conditional uses, as it will be doing for the Quay Sarasota project on the bayfront, Cianfaglione responded, “There’s not really a zone district that checks the boxes” except for Urban Edge — unless the Gardens sought a variation of the Metropolitan-Regional designation.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to go against the neighbors,” Freeland Eddie told him.

Then Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch brought up the point that the Urban Edge zoning district incorporates staff administrative approval for developments, whereas the Metropolitan-Regional districts require public hearings regarding proposed projects.

“That’s correct,” Smith replied.

The residents who live around the Gardens “want something as tight as possible for this property,” Cianfaglione added.

If the land were sold, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert pointed out, the Metropolitan-Regional zoning “protects everybody from unintended consequences.”

More questions

Freeland Eddie indicated she still objected to creating “a whole new classification of land use when you could build into the code the restrictions …”

However, City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed out that Metropolitan-Regional is not a new designation on the city’s Future Land Use Map.

A graphic shows details of the plans for Phase I of Selby Gardens’ master plan. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

When Freeland Eddie countered that Selby Gardens would be seeking a rezoning to Metropolitan-Regional, Fournier reminded her that the property has to be rezoned anyway to allow the master plan projects to proceed, which is why Gardens’ representatives initially sought the Urban Edge designation.

Ahearn-Koch then asked about a section in the application that referenced dwelling units, which are allowed in Metropolitan-Regional districts.

“No dwelling units are intended,” Cianfaglione replied.

In response to another question from Ahearn-Koch, Cianfaglione explained that a traffic study will be undertaken in conjunction with work on the master plan, and Selby Gardens will modify its design for ingress and egress, for example, based on the results.

Additionally, he said, the neighbors have asked about traffic calming measures on South Orange Avenue in the area adjacent to the Gardens. Furthermore, he continued, Selby Gardens will work with the city’s engineering staff in regard to the long-range plans for a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Orange Avenue.

“Thank you for listening to the community and approaching [the plans] this way,” Ahearn-Koch told him.

Alpert made the motion to authorize the request for the change from Urban Edge to Metropolitan-Regional for the proposed Future Land Use Map amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and Commissioner Willie Shaw seconded it. Then it passed on a 5-0 vote.