SCAT station could get new home

 

SCAT station could get new home

 

Date: January 30, 2014
by: David Conway | News Editor

 
 

Ernie Ritz’s home may come with a view, but he wants it changed.

Ritz, who lives in a building at the southwest corner of First Street and Lemon Avenue, looks at his neighbor, the Sarasota County Area Transit transfer station, as both a missed opportunity and a bad fit.

The chairman of the city’s Downtown Improvement District says the city and county, both searching for ways to generate income without raising taxes, would benefit greatly from getting a new piece of downtown real estate on the tax rolls.

“You look around the city and you start seeing all of this non income-producing property owned by the county or the city,” Ritz said. “My idea was to start selling off some of the property that they own that’s not income-producing.”

That includes the SCAT station, which he says is a prime piece of property zoned for a potential high-rise development. As it stands, he said, downtown traffic and the narrow driveways the buses must navigate make the current site a headache.

“Talking to some of the bus drivers, it’s starting to get really busy,” Ritz “They’re starting to outgrow it, and it’s tight maneuvering there.”

Ritz reached out to County Commissioner Carolyn Mason Jan. 22 to see if the County Commission was interested in his proposal, which would relocate the transfer station to a lot near the Department of Health at Ringling Boulevard and School Avenue. As it turned out, the commission had already directed staff to examine of facilitating that same move.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta led the charge to investigate the feasibility of moving the transfer station. He agreed with Ritz’s assessment of the current location and thought a transfer station might better serve SCAT riders if it were adjacent to several county service providers. Just as importantly, he said, it was desirable to make the current SCAT site available for purchase.

“If we can put that parcel on the market or give an opportunity for a developer to come in, I think it would be really good,” Barbetta said.

The County Commission’s staff report request was completed Dec. 18, but SCAT Director Glama Carter did not distribute it to county commissioners until after Ritz’s inquiry. Although Barbetta said he did not imagine there would be much opposition to moving the transfer station, the report outlines a series of issues that could arise if the station were relocated to the Ringling site.

The Ringling parcel was considered as the site for the transfer station when it was constructed in 2002, after some people expressed concerns about the First Street and Lemon Avenue location. The report says city staff identified four main problems with the Ringling site that still persist today: bus operations, impacts to land use and access, parcel size and a parking shortage.

If the station were moved 1 mile southeast — the distance between the two parcels — the timing of the current bus system would be thrown off, with some routes not being able to complete their service within an hour and others arriving at the transfer station too soon. Restructuring the routes would be costly and require resources that are not currently available, the report said.

In 2002, residents around the Ringling site were concerned about the effect the transfer station could have on traffic. The report says it is possible those concerns would resurface if the move was seriously considered.

The report states that, although the new site could be more than twice as large as the proposed transfer station, it would still not adequately meet the department’s current and future needs. It also says that one of the foremost problems with the proposed site is a lack of parking. If moved, the station would occupy what’s currently a surface lot used as overflow parking for the adjacent parking garage, which would further limit parking in the area.

Still, the report does not recommend against moving the transfer station if that is what the commission desires. Instead, it says, the board should hire an outside firm to design a station that best fits the Ringling site and addresses the issues that come with it. Additionally, it says, the board should consider bringing in a firm to evaluate other potential sites to which the transfer station could be relocated.

From the city’s perspective, this is largely a decision that is out of its hands — the county owns both the current and the proposed sites. City Manager Tom Barwin said the city would be interested in discussing the issue with the involved parties but, as of yet, it has not been approached. Barwin did say he could see the potential appeal of a new transfer station.

“There may be some advantages in a location near the health department,” Barwin said. “Lots of people come into the county seat for services in that area.”

Given the current economic state of the city and county, Ritz believes there is no reason that his neighborhood should not have a change of scenery in the near future.

“All downtown really needs is a bus stop,” Ritz said. “To have that particular piece of land sitting there with buses coming and going all day long is just a waste.”

Contact David Conway at dconway@yourobserver.com

 

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Currently 3 Responses

  • 1.
  • Any time any building is discussed in Sarasota the effect on parking is the number 1 priority. In this case, losing a few spaces of overflow parking if the bus depot were moved. That's a huge problem in the governance of Sarasota-no forward thinking. Just accept the cars that are here and think about more to come. Someone has to initiate 21st and 22nd century transportation and it won't be about cars. We need some type of light rail, streetcar, trolley-call it whatever-and we need to begin building it. Long term planning with thoughts of the future not of the past and the status quo is what is needed here.
  •  
  • Claire Morda
    Thu 30th Jan 2014
    at 5:21pm
  • 2.
  • All the commissioners see is dollar signs for the SCAT transfer point and it's obvious that Ritz is NOT a bus rider. It is not "a waste" to have the buses there for those of us who use the system to get back and forth to work, grocery shopping, doctor and other appointments and other errands.
    Why not have the city and county get together and have the county deed over the Ringling property to the city and the city deed over the land where city hall is to the county. That way the county can expand the transfer point from Lemon to Orange. From what I've seen of the it, Sarasota needs a new city hall building.
    BTW: If you buy /rent a condo downtown deal with what comes with living downtown--buses, live music, etc.. I cannot afford to or I'd live downtown.
  •  
  • Karlene Kincaid
    Thu 30th Jan 2014
    at 9:47am
  • 3.
  • Hey why not move it next to the poop plant on 12th where Barbetta wants to build the Homeless facility?
  •  
  • O C Crandall
    Thu 30th Jan 2014
    at 9:01am
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