Opponents cite potential for big increase in traffic on neighborhood streets and worries about noise
The Central Cocoanut Neighborhood Association in the city of Sarasota is fighting the proposed construction of a car wash franchise that would stand at the intersection of U.S. 41 and 17th Street, on a parcel that has North Trail zoning.
Additionally, the directors of the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership have expressed to the city commissioners their view that Tommy’s Express Car Wash “is fundamentally incompatible with the surrounding community and would in no way be of benefit to the community in its current form and location.”
That statement came in a Feb. 9 letter from Steve Roskamp, secretary/treasurer of the Partnership, The Sarasota News Leader learned through a public records request.
A Feb. 27 email blast that the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations of Sarasota (CCNA) sent to its members includes information from the Central Cocoanut Neighborhood Association about the car wash application, along with a plea for persons to sign a petition the Association has created.
Charlie Nagelschmidt, a representative of the Association, wrote that while the business would be in a commercial area, it would have no direct access from U.S. 41. Thus, anyone wishing to enter the site would have “to navigate into the property via 17th Street.”
A city Development Services staff member’s comment on the application materials called for eliminating the driveway from U.S. 41 at the northwest corner of the property “for access management purposes and to improve walkability,” the News Leader learned.
Based on Tommy’s Express Car Wash statistics, Nagelschmidt continued in the CCNA email blast, a projection for 50% of the maximum capacity of the new franchise would introduce more than 2,000 extra vehicle trips “onto 17th Street and neighborhood streets without bringing any added benefit to the neighborhood.”
In a Jan. 10 email to City of Sarasota Development Services staff, Nagelschmidt referenced the application for the project, which said the facility would be able to process more than 200 cars per hour. The corporate website, Nagelschmidt added, puts the figure at 220 an hour. Tommy’s Express Car Wash businesses on South Tamiami Trail and Fruitville Road are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., he pointed out: 14 hours a day. Thus, he wrote, 200 to 220 vehicles per hour over a 14-hour period would result in 2,800 to 3,080 vehicles entering the business — and twice those numbers, if one takes into account the fact that the vehicles also leave the car wash.
“Yes, that’s at 100% capacity,” Nagelschmidt acknowledged, “but even at a reduced capacity the impact is significant and cries out for traffic experts to objectively evaluate the full breadth of the proposed facility.”
He further noted that 17th Street connects to Cocoanut Avenue, “which is a designated city ‘Collector’ roadway through a residential area populated with several city parks.
“Additionally,” Nagelschmidt wrote, “Cocoanut, along with Central, has been documented by and to the city and [the Sarasota Police Department] as speeding areas. For safety reasons, we do not want to increase that hazard.”
Documents that the News Leader reviewed indicated that, even though the application said the business’ effect on transportation would be de minimis — a Latin term meaning “too small to be meaningful or taken into consideration,” as the Thomson Reuters Practical Law website explains — Bowman Consulting, the Melbourne firm representing the developer, did submit an application to the city for a traffic study.
Further, in Nagelschmidt’s comments in the CCNA email blast, he pointed out that the car wash “will be disruptive to abutting and adjacent residential properties, other commercial activity in the area and even residential properties in Tahiti Park on the opposite side of the North Tamiami Trail.”
As the Central Cocoanut Neighborhood Association website explains, “The Central–Cocoanut Historic District is a U.S. historic district (designated as such on June 17, 2005) located in Sarasota, Florida. The district is along Cocoanut Avenue, between 11th and 22nd Streets to the south and north, and between Tamiami Trail and the railroad tracks to the west and east.”
Nagelschmidt asked that members of the CCNA email the city commissioners and provide comments on the proposal, “should this application reach the City Commission.”
In the meantime, he added, “Take every opportunity to advocate for Meaningful Community Input and accountability on new development in the city.”
‘Nearly unanimous community outcry’
In its Feb. 9 letter, Roskamp of the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership reminded the Sarasota city commissioners that the Partnership “is a broad-based, collaborative community initiative that has fostered sustainable, predictable, economic redevelopment along the North Trail to achieve a revitalized, attractive, safe and inviting environment for business, institutions and neighborhoods since 2009.”
Then Roskamp pointed out that preliminary concepts for the proposed car wash, which would stand at 1716 N. Tamiami Trail, had “circulated in the community for some time now.” He added, “It was our hope that attempting to force this use on the North Trail against nearly unanimous community outcry would have encouraged the developers to find a different location within Sarasota.”
The Partnership, Roskamp continued, “is dedicated to seeing positive growth and redevelopment along the North Trail of Sarasota and it is rare that we come out against a particular development.”
However, he added, “In this instance, the combination of incompatible design, strong potential for negative traffic circulation issues, noise and excessive traffic in proximity to residential properties makes it incumbent on us to speak out.”
Therefore, Roskamp concluded his letter, the Partnership was recommending “that no Advisory Board or Commission serving the City of Sarasota approves this application.”
In a Feb. 13 document detailing city staff members’ review of the application, Briana Dobbs, a senior planner, explained, “The intent of the North Trail (NT) Zone District is “ ‘to permit a mix of neighborhood scale commercial, cultural and educational facilities; tourist accommodations and attractions; multifamily residential and mixed uses and to facilitate their proper development and use. The commercial and service activities within this zone are primarily oriented toward serving the needs of local residents, tourists and students. Development and redevelopment shall be compatible with, and preserve and enhance, the character of the adjoining neighborhoods. It is further intended that this district is to promote development and redevelopment in a manner that creates a safe and attractive environment for specified uses as well as cultivate an attractive gateway to the city.’ ”
A car wash is allowed in the North Trail Zone District, but only with City Commission approval of a Minor Conditional Use, which the applicant is seeking.
With Sarasota planning staff having deemed Tommy’s Express Carwash application complete as of Jan. 12, “The City must approve, approve with conditions or deny the application on or before July 11, 2023,” Myra Schwarz, general manager of the Development Services Department, notified a member of the project team in a Jan 12 letter.
Numerous ‘affected persons’ oppose project
Among other documents that the News Leader received through its public records request were about 60 forms filled out by individuals requesting “Affected Person” status for the purposes of the hearing that the City Commission would have to conduct on the application. Those individuals either own property within 500 feet of the site of the proposed car wash, or they are the designated representatives of property owners, residents or occupants of homes in such close proximity to the location.
Former mayor and City Commissioner Willie Charles Shaw, who lives on 17th Street, was among the individuals who identified themselves as property owners.
City Attorney Robert Fournier has pointed out during hearings that individuals deemed to have such “affected person” status are entitled to a longer period of time to provide their comments to the commissioners during a public hearing on an application.
Twenty-four of the forms represented owners of The Strand, a condominium community standing at 1709 N. Tamiami Trail. The car wash would be built across the road from their complex, one document noted.
Another affected person, Jeffrey J. Olszewski, who marked the statement identifying himself as “an owner, resident or other occupant of real property located within  feet” of the car wash site, wrote, “In addition to noise and air pollution, the infrastructure is not designed to successfully handle the abundance of continual traffic that a Tommy’s Carwash would bring to our beloved community.”
A 16th Street resident, Arlene Pettus contended on her form, “Tommy’s is an encroachment into a long established residential neighborhood.”
Further details from the application
The application for the carwash was filed with city staff on Nov. 17, 2022, the document shows. Kyle Shasteen, a professional engineer with the Bowman Consulting Group in Melbourne, explained that the project would entail construction of the business operation on 1.179 acres located at 1716 N. Tamiami Trail.
Tommy’s Express Carwash would operate out of a building encompassing 5,244 square feet, the application says. “The proposed project includes parking, landscaping, irrigation,” and on-site irrigation, underground water and sewer utilities, and “stormwater drainage design,” Bowman added.
The applicant is seeking a Minor Conditional Use, the letter points out, noting that the plans comply with the relevant city regulations. Further, Bowman wrote, “Tommy’s Car Wash is consistent with the area’s future land use of Community Commercial. The public health, safety, and welfare is [sic] preserved, as well as the existing grand trees …”
A residential parcel stands to the east of the site, Bowman continued. Therefore, he pointed out, the car wash would install a fence with opaque screening “to mitigate incompatibilities.”
Further, he noted, “The transportation system is capable of safely supporting the car wash in addition to the existing uses in the area. The off-street parking area requirements have been met.”
The application identifies Nick McMullen of Marquesas Circle in Sarasota as the contract purchaser of the North Tamiami Trail parcel.
Marquesas Circle is home to an office center east of Sawyer Road and north of Clark Road, a map shows.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records for the parcel say it is owned by Jamba Mart LLC, which bought the property for $1.1 million in April 2019. In 2022, the market value of the vacant land was $824,300, the Property Appraiser’s Office website notes.
An affidavit included in the application identifies McMullen as president of Tommy’s Express Holdings, which the Florida Division of Corporations notes was established in March 2018.
At the time the application was filed, the expectation was that the construction of the business would begin on April 1 of this year, with occupancy of the building by Nov. 1.
A flyer about the proposed business says, “Every Tommy’s Express location is part of a national franchise brand and is locally owned and operated, providing high national standard and a valuable community partner.” The flyer includes the national company’s website: www.tommys-express.com.