Size and hours of new restaurant also modified
On Jan. 26 — 11 days after representatives of Selby Gardens hosted a Community Workshop on proposed changes to the master site plan — the Gardens formally released its revised proposal.
During more than 40 hours of public comments and discussion at hearings last fall and, more recently, during follow-up meetings with residents of the community, three recurring concerns were voiced, a Selby news release pointed out: The 75-foot height of the parking structure and operation of a planned public restaurant “were incongruous” with the City of Sarasota’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the city; noise from the planned restaurant would be disruptive to residents who live in the vicinity of Selby Gardens; and the master plan features had the potential to increase traffic.
As a result, the release continued, Selby Gardens’ compromise master plan cut the parking structure’s overall height by 40%, and it no longer seeks a change to the Comprehensive Plan.
Additionally, the compromise plan reduces the size of the planned restaurant from 185 seats to a maximum of 110; and it limits the restaurant’s hours of operation to mirror the Gardens’ hours, to cut down on noise and traffic from people who are not patrons of the Gardens, the release explains.
During the Jan. 15 Community Workshop conducted at Sarasota City Hall, Chris Cianfaglione, a planning consultant and civil engineer with the Kimley-Horn and Associates firm in Sarasota — who has worked with Selby Gardens on the master plan — told attendees that the Gardens would conduct additional traffic studies during peak tourist season in an effort to address public concerns about how the proposed improvements could exacerbate congestion near downtown Sarasota.
As for the restaurant, he noted, Selby Gardens’ project team and leaders understood the concern about having a new facility on-site that would be open to the public — especially with activities taking place on the roof of the proposed new parking garage. He specifically cited residents’ worries about noise and “light spillage.” Cianfaglione also noted the objections to the “height and mass” of the garage.
In the Jan. 26 news release, Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens, said, “The Master Plan continues to be a vital chance to transform and realize the full potential of our beloved gardens, while also preserving our important history.” She added, “I’m thrilled to say we think even after downsizing the restaurant” and reducing its hours of operation, “we believe the compromise Master Plan will allow us to sustain Selby Gardens for years to come.”
During the Jan. 15 Community Workshop, she acknowledged “that this process has been a tough one. … We really think that we are addressing the major concerns that we heard, so we’re very optimistic that we have really found compromises …”
The following are more of the changes delineated in the new plan:
Parking and clean energy
The compromise master plan includes a 40% reduction in the overall height of the building hosting a parking facility and retail space. The new structure, which will be called the Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF), will house a four-story parking facility and garden shop with a building height of 38.5 feet —comparable to the height of neighboring buildings.
“Most importantly, the LEAF will retain essential sustainability features from the initial Master Plan,” the release says. “A 50,000-square-foot solar panel array on its roof will provide one megawatt of power, while a [stormwater] management system will clean water used [on-site] and then return it to Sarasota Bay. These features will make Selby Gardens the first net-positive botanical garden complex in the world, meaning more energy will be created than consumed.
“These building systems will provide educational lessons about water quality, green technology and solar power to visitors. The structure will also have extensive plantings that showcase what Selby Gardens’ researchers study and protect.”
The new restaurant will be located on ground level, and Selby Gardens will own it. A “significant percentage” of net revenue from the restaurant will be reinvested to fund Selby Gardens’ mission, the release explains.
Other features of the new plan
The LEAF building will mean a reduction in the amount of surface parking, which will allow for a significant increase in overall garden space, the release continues.
Among other initiatives, the plan will incorporate “a robust multi-use recreational trail for the community,” and Selby Gardens will plan and maintain a portion of the City of Sarasota’s bayfront public park — known as The Bay — as a gift, with amenities, for the community, the release adds.
Selby Gardens’ primary entrance will remain on U.S. 41. Physical improvements and traffic signal timing changes have been proposed for the intersection of U.S. 41 and Orange Avenue, the release continues.
A partnership among Selby Gardens, CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange “will provide training in high-demand trades to City of Sarasota residents,” the release says. Contractors that employ the trainees will have a higher priority for hiring to undertake facets of the master plan, the release points out.
A $250,000 gardens-wide sound mitigation system has been installed to monitor and regulate sound throughout the Gardens, the release adds.
“Critically important to the world of plant science,” the hurricane-resilient Plant Research Center, which will house a new library, laboratory, and herbarium, “will become a reality,” the release says.
During the Jan. 15 Community Workshop, Richard Roark, a planner and landscape architect with the Olin firm, which has collaborated with Selby Gardens on the master plan, pointed out that the Gardens is not only “a major local presence,” but it also has won international recognition for its work in the fields of horticulture and botany. That is largely because of its unique program focused on epiphytes, Roark indicated. Continuing an emphasis on all that work, he said, “is very important.”
The master plan will remain a three-phase project, the release says. “To date, Selby Garden trustees Jean Weidner Goldstein, Cornelia Matson and Pauline Wamsler have spearheaded the fundraising campaign,” with more than 80% of the money having been secured to implement Phase One, the release says. The total project is expected to take 10 years and cost $92 million — $72 million for construction and $20 million for endowment and operations, the release notes. “Of the $42.5 million needed to implement the first phase of the master site plan, $35 million has been raised.”
The first phase includes the Welcome Center, Plant Research Center, LEAF building, the multi-use recreational trail around the perimeter of Selby Gardens’ property, increased public access, and the historical restorations of Palm Avenue and the Selby House (already completed in 2019), the release says.
Later phases of the compromise master plan include a new greenhouse complex; a learning pavilion; and improved, circuitous walking routes throughout the property, as well as improvements to the historic Payne Mansion, home to the Museum of Botany & the Arts.
To view the Selby Gardens Master Plan “fly-through,” visit the link on YouTube.