A long-awaited Sarasota bayfront project may have hit a snag, as nearby residents are contesting the quality of a traffic study performed to gauge the development’s impact in the area.
In February 2013, the Kolter Group submitted plans to the city for a hotel and condominium development, recently named The Vue, at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. Earlier plans to develop a condominium were abandoned in 2007, as Kolter cited a lack of demand.
Last year, however, the group began work in earnest on getting approval for the project from the city. After nine months of Development Review Committee meetings, the project received a stamp of approval from that board on Dec. 18.
"We completed the traffic study and an additional review, and from a concurrency aspect, you've passed,” said David Smith, general manager with the city’s Neighborhood and Development Services department. “I'm ready to sign off.”
Before city staff could finalize approval of the project, though, occupants of the Tower Residences at the Ritz Carlton objected to the quality of the traffic study. David Gurley, an attorney representing the Ritz Residences, says the complaint is simple: the traffic study doesn’t meet the standards set by the city.
“To me, this is black and white,” Gurley said. “The code and comprehensive plan says you have to do these things. Did they do it? No.”
One of the Ritz Residences’ chief arguments is that the traffic study doesn’t meet the requirement to review ingress and egress to adjacent streets, outlined in the city’s zoning code and comprehensive plan. The nearby intersections of U.S. 41 and Ritz Carlton Drive and First Street and Ritz Carlton Drive were not analyzed from a capacity standpoint as part of the traffic study.
Gurley believes a more thorough analysis would show a significant impact on these intersections as a result of the 144-unit condo and 250-room hotel. He wants that impact identified, so Kolter is responsible for helping to mitigate it.
“We're really confident that when you look at these intersections, it’s going to be backed up.” Gurley said. “It'll impossible to get in or out of there with all of these additional people."
Tim Litchet, director of Neighborhood and Development Services, is charged with ultimately approving the traffic study. He hasn’t, yet — he’s meeting with city officials this week, and wants to talk with other stakeholders to see where all involved parties stand.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an opinion on the quality of the traffic study, produced by Tampa consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates.
“I believe the city has conducted our standard study for any major development,” Litchet said.
Gurley and Litchet have opposing views on whether or not the traffic study is sufficient, but they have one thing in common: they’re anticipating the support of City Attorney Robert Fournier.
“He said he would look at it in more detail, but he felt that preliminarily we had addressed the legal requirements of the code,” Litchet said.
“I have every confidence that he's going to agree with what I just said,” Gurley said. “A lawyer or an engineer or anyone will tell you — the code is very clear.”
Fournier himself was not as confident about where he stood. He said the initial traffic study, completed in October, was not sufficient, but wanted to review supplemental material that had been produced since then to see if it met the legal standard. Fournier did say there was value to be gained from a more thorough study.
"I think we could ask the consultant to take a look at it, and what conclusions they were able to draw," Fournier said. "I think that we might as well have the analysis as complete as it can be."
Dwight Thomas, the West Coast Regional President with Kolter, said the group is taking a wait-and-see approach to the ongoing issue, although they'd like to see it resolved sooner rather than later. He said they’d be willing participants in a conversation regarding the traffic study, but as of now, they’ve been relegated to observers.
“We’re kind of on the sidelines, and waiting for the appropriate communication to go back and forth,” Thomas said. "We're really not in the position to make something happen."
Contact David Conway at [email protected].