The city’s Planning Board doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to roll the dice and bet that a future casino could be earmarked for Sarasota until the Legislature actually approves casinos statewide.
Last week, the planning board chose not to recommend plans to designate The Sarasota Kennel Club as the only potential site for a future casino.
Director of Neighborhood and Development Services David Smith told the board at its March 14 regular meeting the city was following the Sarasota City Commission’s direction by telling the gambling industry where a large-scale casino in the city could be placed if one were proposed.
“We’re following proper growth management procedures by getting ahead of and preparing areas for casino gaming,” Smith said.
But the majority of the planning board disagreed, voting 3-2 vote not to recommend a zoning code amendment and a Comprehensive Plan amendment to the commissioners.
The Sarasota City Commission decided it was so concerned that the Legislature might open up casino gaming to non-Indian tribe Florida properties in the future, it directed staff in October to make the changes to disallow a gambling site on the bayfront or in the downtown core.
Since that time, bills drawn up that could have allowed for the issuance of three Las Vegas style casino gaming licenses in South Florida did not pass, but those, and other casino bills, are expected to reappear next spring in the Legislature.
Smith told the planning board staff it still had direction to make the changes, because commissioners felt it appropriate “to get ahead of the game and begin addressing casino regulations.”
Planning Board Chairman Morton Siegel, though, told the board he had a real problem with making such changes when the city has no idea what kind of casino gaming bills might be proposed in the future.
“It’s very likely, from my experience, the next bill that comes forward could be entirely different in substance,” Siegel said.
Siegel stressed that casino gaming is still unlawful in the state, other than on approved Indian tribe sites.
“We are being asked as a planning board to approve a use that’s prohibited,” Siegel said.
Although Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly noted the city’s intent is only to allow the changes to take effect once the state allows casino gambling, Siegel called the process “unlawful.”
“There’s so many unforeseen circumstances in the process without knowing what casino gaming statutes are going to say,” Siegel said. “If we approve this, we are condoning that we are in favor of casino gaming.”
Planning board member Susan Chapman disagreed, saying the commission’s intent was only “trying to head off a casino at the pass.”
“In the event of having a casino here, I would prefer to have a plan in place regulating where it can be located,” Chapman said. “I would hate for our waterfront to be cheapened by a casino and the Kennel Club is the least offensive place in the city for it to go.”
Gallagher noted the city would still have time to make similar changes by June or July of next year if a casino bill is passed by the state, even though Smith maintained he felt it was important “to get ahead of the game.”
“The pressure is off now for another year,” Gallagher said. “We don’t even have any input from residents who live near the (kennel club) site because this thing doesn’t’ have enough teeth in it yet.”
Siegel agreed. “We are putting the cart before the horse here and it’s not a good way to maintain policy.”
Golden Gate Point project approved
Golden Gate Holding Co. LLC received a 5-0 approval vote by the city’s Planning Board March 14 to build an eight-unit, five-story residential project on a 15,245-square-foot lot at 188 Golden Gate Point, Sarasota.
The contemporary-style building will be set back 30 feet from the water and will have two units per floor. The four floors of residential will sit over one story of garage parking.
Units will range in size from 2,500 square feet to 3,100 square feet. A rooftop terrace, complete with a 60-foot lap pool, will be available for all residents.