A newly formed Greenspace Policy Committee, which was born out of the debate over a Main Street restaurant seeking outdoor-dining space in place of a plant bed, walked through downtown Oct. 28 and debated anew where to preserve greenspace and where to allow businesses to expand.
“As I walk downtown, I’m struggling to understand why we need more (paved areas) outside,” said Tim Litchet, the city’s neighborhood and development services director. “How many more (outdoor dining) seats are needed? How much do we owe a new restaurant to help it be successful?”
“It’s about vibrancy,” replied landscaper Diana Hamilton. “Do we owe it to them? We owe it to our city.”
Litchet created the committee to identify areas in which the greenspace can be added or taken away, conduct an inventory of existing greenspace and improve the city’s greenspace policy.
Vague wording in that greenspace policy led to confusion and frustration when it was applied to the new Braza Brazilian restaurant at Main Street and Lemon Avenue.
The owners want to put 110 square feet of pavers in a sparse plant bed to accommodate outdoor dining tables and install more than 300 new plants in that bed.
The greenspace policy asks that if someone reduces the quantity of greenspace that he increases the quality of plantings.
But Braza’s request was initially denied, because city senior planner Dr. Clifford Smith interpreted the policy to mean the quality of plant-bed design had to be improved, not the quality of the actual plants.
Members of Save Our Sarasota (SOS), a greenspace-advocacy group, demanded the restaurant create 110 square feet of greenspace somewhere else downtown.
Litchet decided Oct. 12 to identify 110 square feet of space downtown that could be converted to greenspace, but said the city would pay for the construction in this case, not the restaurant owners.
The Greenspace Policy Committee held its first meeting Oct. 28 and its members began debating whether greenspace needs to be mitigated square foot for square foot if a business covers some greenspace.
“Why does a business sign a lease and assume that it can pave over everything?” asked Litchet.
Replied Downtown Improvement District member Andrew Foley: “It’s called entrepreneurial endeavor, a leap of faith. Government should help with that, not get in the way.”
In future meetings, the committee will determine a baseline amount of greenspace that already exists downtown, so the city can tell if greenspace has been added or subtracted and, therefore, if mitigation is needed.
The group has already debated whether the 1,650 square feet of greenspace being added during the Five Points roundabout project can count as a mitigation area for Braza.
Hamilton thought it should, but SOS member Carol Reynolds said that public project should not count for a private business’ mitigation.
The group did suggest two different ways to deal with mitigation. One was to ask businesses that were paving over greenspace to contribute to a mitigation fund, which would pay for the creation of new downtown greenspace. The other was for the city to come up with a list of areas that could be converted to greenspace. When a business wanted to cover an area of greenspace, the city would look at the list and tell the business owner that he needed to convert one of the areas on the list.
Once the Greenspace Policy Committee makes its final determinations on all of these issues, Litchet will make recommendations to the City Commission.
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barbara Campo, Save Our Sarasota supporter
Andrew Foley, Downtown Improvement District member
Diana Hamilton, landscaper/community activist
John Moran, downtown resident/advocate
Carol Reynolds, Save Our Sarasota member
John Simon, Pineapple Square developer