City staff was forced to haul extra seats into Room 112 at City Hall Monday, as the crowd inside had expanded beyond the space’s original capacity in advance of a meeting regarding a controversial traffic study.
The outsize audience, originally expected to total around six people, was representative of the growing concern surrounding a proposed bayfront development’s impact on surrounding streets. Lending validity to that concern, the city announced at the meeting that the project's traffic study would be reexamined over the next four weeks.
Vue Sarasota Bay is a condominium and hotel project under development at the corner of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. The Kolter Group, the project’s developer, has waited for a final seal of approval from the city while staff considered whether a traffic study, commissioned by the city, met the standards outlined in the zoning code and comprehensive plan.
At first, the objecting party was largely limited to occupants of the nearby Tower Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, who first raised concerns about the study in late October. That’s changed over the past two months, as members of neighborhood associations from downtown, Bird Key, Golden Gate Point, Laurel Park and Arlington Park showed up for Monday’s meeting.
The major contentions from the Ritz Residences are that the traffic study didn’t measure the development’s impact on adjacent streets or provide a satisfactory plan for managing internal traffic. City Attorney Robert Fournier said last week those complaints had some merit. In particular, the intersection of U.S. 41 and Ritz Carlton Drive — which wasn’t studied because it’s not signalized — would see significant backups, Ritz residents at Monday’s meeting asserted.
“Ritz Carlton & Watergate Drives are really just private drives that have public access,” said Tower Residences Condo Association president Charles Thomson. “They weren't designed to have heavy traffic, and they will with this development.”
For some residents, Monday’s meeting was an opportunity to voice more general complaints, either about the current status of the intersection at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream or about the Kolter project itself. Many were frustrated about the prospect of a high-density project in what they believe is already a badly congested area, and said Kolter should pay to mitigate the traffic issues.
According to city engineer Alex DavisShaw, traffic studies are designed so that developers pay to cover the additional traffic they add to the nearby streets, not to pay to fix existing problems. She also said the city has approved a bayfront connectivity plan and is working towards getting roundabouts in place along U.S. 41 at Gulfstream and Fruitville Road, though those are at least three years away from being constructed.
Some attendees said, above all, they were looking for an indication from the city that the project wouldn’t be signed off on without further review from residents. Based on the assurances of City Manager Tom Barwin, they said they were encouraged.
“The city seems to have assured us that they will not proceed without involving us in the conversation,” Ritz-Carlton resident Richard Rubin said. “We welcome their attempts to go back to the drawing board again.”
For more information on the ongoing effort to reexamine the impact of the Vue Sarasota Bay project, pick up a copy of the upcoming edition of the Sarasota Observer.
Contact David Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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