+ Atwell and Chapman nab commission seats
Susan Chapman became Sarasota’s newest city commissioner, joining incumbent winner Mayor Suzanne Atwell in a victory during an at-large runoff election May 14. Atwell was the top vote-getter with 4,575 votes, or 38.48% of votes. Chapman garnered 3,880 votes, or 32.64%. In his second bid for a commission seat, Richard Dorfman lost the runoff with 3,433 votes, or 28.88%.
During the runoff election, 19.94% of residents cast a ballot, with 7,102 residents voting — compared with a 17.34% turnout with 6,144 residents voting in the March election.
Atwell and Chapman were sworn in May 17, during a statutory commission meeting at City Hall.
+ Commision explores Fruitville Road lane reduction
During an April 23 capital improvements plan workshop, city commissioners agreed to direct city staff to come up with cost estimates for a project that would narrow Fruitville Road from four lanes to two.
Mayor Shannon Snyder pitched the concept during the workshop, saying the project would make it easier for residents and tourists to cross into neighborhoods and commercial areas north of downtown.
Snyder wanted commissioners to consider using up to $2 million in available Community Redevelopment Area funding to start the project with a three-block, phase one, which would narrow Fruitville Road from U.S. 41 to Lemon Avenue.
+ Commissioners approve North Trail Overlay district
City commissioners approved a North Trail Overlay District (NTOD) May 6.The administrative site plan review was designed to encourage developers to redevelop aging motels and other properties on the North Trail.
On April 1, city commissioners had approved the NTOD with the administrative site plan review. At that time, they voiced concern about “intrusive” developments being built under new guidelines. Former City Commissioner Terry Turner proposed an amendment that altered the way developments are approved under the proposal.
Under Turner’s amendment, the planning board retains final approval on projects — as opposed to a change that would have given city staff the authority to have final say on developments on the North Trail.
+ Sarasota Orchestra announces new director
Following an 18-month search, the Sarasota Orchestra announced June 11, that 27-year-old Estonian Anu Tali would become the next orchestra director. Former Director Leif Bjaland left after 15 years in the position.
Tali received rave reviews when she guest conducted in 2011. Unbeknownst to the Sarasota audience, the search committee had asked her if she’d be interested in auditioning for the position when they contracted her return for a second appearance in winter 2013.
Tali signed a three-year contract, which was effective Aug. 1. She will conduct two Masterworks programs, one of which took place last weekend, in the upcoming season.
Her first full season won’t take place until 2014-2015.
+ Commissioners push for form-based code in the city
In a unanimous vote June 17, city commissioners approved a strategic plan and funding to develop a new form-based code. The new code will be designed to give developers and residents more predictability when it comes to new developments.
A comprehensive reworking of the city’s development code will be a two-and-a-half year undertaking while two full-time planning consultants work with residents and local architects to draw up a new form-based code that guides all future development in the city.
It will cost more than $700,000 for the planning process.
The city hired full-time consultants Karin Murphy, a former redevelopment specialist with the city of Sarasota, and Andrew Georgiadis, a town planner and guest design critic at the University of Miami School of Architecture.
For the next three years, Murphy will host discussions and workshops about the code, and Georgiadis will rewrite the city’s zoning regulations.
+ Planning board approves 10-story hotel on Palm Avenue
On June 12, the Sarasota Planning Board approved three adjustments for a development called One Palm, proposed for the corner of Ringling Boulevard and Palm Avenue.
The developers sought an adjustment that would allow the 10-story building to be placed 8.5 feet from Ringling Boulevard to accommodate a water drainage pipe, and another adjustment allowing the developer to keep a grand oak tree and wrap the edge of the building around the tree. The developers also requested a smaller awning than mandated in the city’s code.
One Palm developers Dennis McGillicuddy, a private investor, and John Meshad, of JWM Management Inc., partnered with iStar financial, a New York City-based real estate investment trust that owns the property at 240 S. Pineapple Ave., in a joint venture to develop the hotel and apartments.
The project will feature a 148-room hotel and will also offer 147 residential units.
The development will also include a restaurant on the first floor facing Ringling Boulevard.
+ Iwo Jima statue receives pushback
During a meeting July 1, City Commissioner Susan Chapman moved to send a proposed installation of the original Iwo Jima statue on the bayfront to be discussed through more committees. The motion passed 3-2, with Commissioner Paul Caragiulo and Mayor Shannon Snyder offering the two dissenting votes.
As a result of the vote, the submitters of the proposal withdrew the donation application.
Harold Ronson, a Longboat Key resident, and Thomas Savage, founder of the Sarasota Public Art Fund, announced their efforts to bring the iconic World War II monument to Sarasota’s bayfront during the Memorial Day ceremonies at J.D. Hamel Park.
Savage said he pulled his donation application because he did not have enough support from the commission for his vision. That vision included the completion of the project by Nov. 10, the 238th birthday of the Marines. He said sending the bill to the committees signaled the ultimate intention of the commissioners to deny his application.
In August, two area businesses announced they planned to revive the effort to bring the iconic World War II monument to the Sarasota-Bradenton area.
+ Commison approves the Laurel Park Overlay District
Responding to requests from Laurel Park residents to change current zoning procedures, the City Commission approved July 15 the creation of an overlay district that will allow greater neighborhood oversight of significant developments in the area.
The Laurel Park Overlay District will require two public workshops when a proposed development in the district exceeds current zoning regulations before a building permit or administrative site-plan application may be approved. One meeting must be held before an application is submitted, and the second will be held after the application is submitted but before city staff grants approval or denies the project.
+ Paul Caragiulo announces his bid for County Commission
With the backing of County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo announced July 31 that he will run for Barbetta’s county seat in 2014.
Explaining his decision to run for the county seat, Caragiulo said the county’s approach to development is more in line with his — and Barbetta’s — desire to draw investors into the county.
Both Barbetta and Caragiulo will continue in their current seats until their terms expire. Barbetta will reach his term limit in November 2014.
+ Sarasota tourism sees a record year in 2013
Visit Sarasota data indicates Sarasota County received a record amount of tourists in 2013, and those tourists spent more money in the area than ever before. According to Visit Sarasota County, Sarasota County had 740,300 visitors in fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, spending $640,974,200 in the area economy. That is a 5.8% jump in visitors from fiscal year 2012 and a 10.2% increase in direct spending.
+ Ringling Bridge celebrates 10 years
The Ringling Bridge celebrated its 10-year anniversary. On Aug. 31, 2003, more than 2,400 people participated in the 5K and 10K runs to celebrate the opening of the John Ringling Causeway Bridge.
Controversies over the bridge’s design have largely been forgotten now that it has become the area’s top recreation area for runners and cyclists, and an icon on Sarasota’s bayfront.
+ City hires new engineer firm for Lift Station 87
Frustrated with the oft-delayed project but resigned to the reality that there was no other way forward, the City Commission approved at its Aug. 19 meeting the hiring of a new firm to assume engineering duties at Lift Station 87, in Lukewood Park.
The city will pay McKim & Creed $1.1 million for phase one of engineering work at the lift station. That includes assuming responsibility as the engineer of record after the city’s agreement with Boyle Engineering and AECOM Technology Corp., the previous engineers, fell through and the project stalled.
City Manager Tom Barwin said the prior firm was “obviously in breach of contract” and that litigation is currently ongoing as a result.
Phase one was slated to take 150 days, and Barwin said the “aspirational” date of completion was August 2015 but acknowledged that was a best-case scenario; city staff said work could last until April 2016.
The new hires have held two public forums to field questions, and have created a website at liftstation87.com for updates regarding the project.
+ Options emerge for Siesta Key beach project
A cost estimate put the $21.5 million Siesta Beach improvements under budget by $375,303, allowing county commissioners the opportunity to spend the remaining money allocated for the project on a series of optional add-ons. Add-on options include: dune walkovers; a west pavilion; 10 additional two-pole shelters; park tree size and species upgrade; upgrading esplanade concrete to standard pavers; concrete paving at maintenance yard; a covered maintenance building; and a parking lot tree size and species upgrade.
Commissioners insisted the approved improvements will be included only if they do not take the overall cost of the project above its $21.5 million budget.
The County Commission gave a final nod to the project’s funding during an Oct. 23 meeting, with construction set to begin by December.
+ Hotel finds its ‘suite’ spot on Tamiami Trail
Jebco Ventures Inc., which lost out on the Palm Avenue hotel space in June 2012, submitted pre-application documents to build an Embassy Suites at 202 N. Tamiami Trail.
The proposed plan includes 200 suites on 10 floors, a 4,000-square-foot restaurant and a 4,000-square-foot ballroom/conference area, all atop a six-story parking garage with 200 parking spaces.
Construction on the hotel is projected to take 16 months, and Bridges said he was hoping to begin construction in the third quarter of next year. That would place the date of completion around winter 2015-16.
+ Ringling Shopping Center owners file second suit
The owners of the Ringling Shopping Center filed a second lawsuit against the city of Sarasota following the Feb. 23 denial of a site plan for a Walmart at the location. The suit alleges the city violated its own zoning laws in denying the site plan, and asks for injunctive and non-monetary relief.
The owners previously filed a petition for certiorari April 23, asking that a judge review the City Commission’s decision. The owners argued that they went through the adequate process, holding neighborhood meetings and received written analysis from city staff stating why the project was consistent with the city’s zoning plan.
A Nov. 6 court order in response to the petition for certiorari fell in favor of the city of Sarasota, upholding the commission’s decision to deny the application.
+ New retail and rentals planned for Siesta Key Village
Daiquiri Deck property owners Jim Syprett and Jay Lancer released plans for the site of the recently demolished Napoli’s Pizza in Siesta Key Village. (Daiquiri Deck restaurant owners are Russell Matthes and Troy Syprett.) The building will include ground-floor retail space and three rental units on the second floor. Syprett and Lancer say there is too much competition in the Village for another bar or restaurant to succeed on the site.
+ City Commission adopts millage rate increase
At a second and final public hearing Sept. 24, city commissioners voted to adopt a proposed budget and millage rate for the 2014 fiscal year.
The operating millage rate of 3.1728 mills is an 8.5% increase over last year. Including debt service for bonds from 2007, the total millage rate for the city is 3.5817 mills, 6.8% higher than last year.
+ Paid parking approved for Palm Avenue Garage
The City Commission voted 3-2 Sept. 3 in favor of approving paid parking at the Palm Avenue parking garage. The garage has been free to park in since March 2012, when the city also removed parking meters from the streets.
According to the preliminary rate schedule, parking at the garage will remain free for the first two hours. Parking will cost at least $1 for more than two hours, gradually increasing until it reaches a maximum of $16 for more than 10 hours.
City Parking Operations Manager Mark Lyons said paid parking in the garage could reduce the department’s $500,000 deficit by about half.
+ Commission and public reject a Main Street gallery
During an Oct. 7 City Commission meeting, Sarasota residents opposed to a proposed gallery at 1400 Main St. showed up in force, eventually getting their way when the commission denied the proposal in a 3-2 vote.
During 50 minutes of public comment, only one person offered support for the project. The complaints were varied, but they all coalesced around one argument: The gallery would not provide a public benefit.
Chris Brown, who purchased the building at 1400 Main St. in May, applied for a major encroachment agreement with the city to build the gallery. City staff said a major encroachment needed to demonstrate a benefit to the public to gain approval. The deck would have extended almost 9 feet over the public right of way.
Mayor Shannon Snyder and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo were the dissenting votes. Caragiulo said he wouldn’t approve the agreement as proposed, but said he was interested in working with Brown rather than leaving him to develop without city input.
+ Beach drainage project stays stuck in the mud
Heavy rainfall in September left the Siesta Beach Drainage project construction site flooded and required crews to find a way to pump out the standing water before work could resume.
The plans to dewater the construction site exposed oversights in the planning of the long-delayed project. Prior to September’s heavy rains, crews anticipated the retention pond construction site (the pond is planned to be 15 feet deep) would continually need to be dewatered due to the shallow water table near the beach.
The new plan to deal with the greater-than-anticipated amount of water involves using the quarter-mile underground pipe that empties into the Gulf of Mexico, which was intended to carry stormwater treated in ultraviolet-light treatment units when the project was complete.
The intent of the $4.5 million Beach Road Drainage Improvements project is to prevent a repeat of 2004, when the beach was closed three times due to high levels of bacteria in the Gulf.
The price of the expanded dewatering operations has yet to be determined.
+ BID, DID move toward restaurant restrictions
The Business Improvement District and Downtown Improvement District held a joint meeting Oct. 8 to revisit the possibility of limiting the space restaurants occupy on St. Armands Circle and in downtown Sarasota.
City attorneys warned of a host of legal issues involved with restricting land use, but organizer and chairman of the BID, Marty Rappaport, said it was a cause worth pursuing. DID President Ernie Ritz was the only board member at the meeting to say he doesn’t believe a restaurant problem exists.
Members of both boards voted to put out a request for proposal that would bring in a consultant to investigate whether the number of restaurants within the BID and DID is problematic.
In 2005, the St. Armands Business Improvement District hired urban retail planner Robert Gibbs to study St. Armands Circle. Gibbs praised the circle as a shopping destination, but called the tenant mix “way off” because there were too many food-related tenants for a commercial tourist district. After that study was conducted, the BID suggested restricting restaurants from occupying the first floor of buildings, but that effort was unsuccessful.
+ School Board approves SMA middle school
In a highly charged meeting Oct. 15, the Sarasota County School Board voted to allow the Sarasota Military Academy to open a middle school. Concerns about an improperly filled-out application threatened to stall the proposal.
Initially, SMA’s middle school expansion looked unlikely. The school board voted on three charter school applications that same meeting, denying the first two and then taking SMA to task in a series of public comments excoriating the school for what board members called a “sloppy and disappointing application.”
The SMA prep school’s campus, which has a projected $4.7 million price tag, will comprise about five new buildings, as well as soccer and lacrosse fields and be located on a 12-acre site off Fruitville Road, east of I-75.
+ Kimpton hotel on Main Street moves closer to approval
At a meeting Oct. 23, Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to negotiate with SHD Partners on a contract that would allow the development group to construct a hotel on the county-owned parcel located at 20 N. Washington Blvd.
The group plans to build a nine-to-10-story Kimpton Hotel on the land. The hotel, at 115,000 square feet, would contain 150 rooms, a 120-seat restaurant and a 6,000-square foot conference area.
As part of a sale agreement with the county, SHD Partners would conduct a parcel swap to allow for the county to continue providing parking for downtown county services. If an agreement were finalized, SHD Partners would obtain the property at 2051 Main St. and construct an 86-space parking lot before transferring that space to the county.
To complete the agreement, SHD Partners would pay the county about $660,000 — the difference between the assessed values of the two properties.
+ County Administrator Randall Reid terminated
Four of five Sarasota County commissioners voted to terminate Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid Oct. 23, with Commissioner Nora Patterson as the lone dissenter.
Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Mason made the motion after discussing three lackluster performance reviews commissioners gave to Reid.
Deputy Administrator Tom Harmer stepped in to fill the top post while commissioners look for a permanent replacement.
The county hired Reid less than two years ago in the wake of the procurement scandal that ended with the firing of former County Administrator Jim Ley.
+ City selects State Street garage design
By a 4-1 vote, Sarasota city commissioners selected a “Pad Lite” plan for the State Street garage site, located at State Street and Lemon Avenue. The proposal consists of four levels of parking, providing around 345 parking spaces and about 15,800 square feet of retail space on the bottom floor of the garage. A 30-by-105-foot commercial liner building would stand in front of the garage along the length of Lemon Avenue.
The city’s Urban Design Studio team finalized the idea for the shallow Lemon Avenue “pad” building Oct. 18. Principal Urban Designer Andrew Georgiadis said the building could consist of four three-story live/work units and two large apartments above them.
Ian Black, a real estate broker the city hired to sell commercial space at the garage, expressed trepidation about the design. He said the pad parcel would underutilize a prime downtown location, and that not enough research had been done to gauge whether developers would be interested in the concept.