Experts weighing in on the Palm Apartments say much of its historic character has been lost to numerous renovations.
Under previous ownership in 2014, the Sarasota Historic Preservation Board approved the demolition of the century-old Palm Apartments building at 1225-1231 Second St., but the removal of the building, which today houses one residential unit and three commercial offices, never occurred.
In May, by a 3-2 vote, that same body denied new owner M2RE Partners’ application for demolition, which also proposes to remove the not-so-historic building next door and combine the parcels for an unannounced project.
On Monday, Sarasota City Commissioners, also by a 3-2 vote, sided with the developer and granted approval to proceed with demolition.
Built in 1925 as four residential units, the Palm Apartments building is locally designated as historically significant. Mike Hersom of M2RE Partners was joined by Clifford Smith, the city’s senior planner and generally recognized as an expert in historic significance, in arguing that multiple renovations over the years have removed nearly all original historic features and that the building is no longer connected to the neighborhood that once made it historic.
“Every time you do a demolition to a building, you're destroying that character, that historic fabric,” Smith told commissioners. “I believe that this building is not an exemplary example of its type. It's a frame building, metro revival, wood stucco, and there are other examples of this style building in the city. It is not in a historic district, and it's lost a lot of its association due to the fact that you have this huge building parked right next to it, so it's totally out of scale.”
The two-story, 3,162-square-foot Palm Apartments stands on a 5,250-square-foot lot, mere feet from the east wall of the 18-story Embassy Suites hotel at the corner of North Tamiami Trail and Second Street. The hotel opened in December 2018, four years after the original demolition approval. Adjacent to the two lots to the east is a proposed 10-story The Beacon condominium development.
Next door to the Palm Apartments, the single-story, 1,740-square-foot office building at 1233-1235 Palm Avenue, also on a 5,250-square-foot lot, was built in 1996. According to Sarasota County records, the combined assessed value of both lots and buildings is $1.46 million.
The Palm Apartments building is zoned Downtown Bayfront and the building next door zoned Downtown Core.
Because of the structure’s size and that the state of Florida does not permit transporting a building on state roads, the Palm Apartments cannot be moved, Hersom and Smith told commissioners.
Hersom added that Jesse White, owner of Sarasota Architectural Salvage, assessed the building’s interior features.
“The building has been renovated so many times that there's almost nothing left that he can salvage that would be deemed historical, but the few things that he … does think could be salvaged and kept, he will come and take all of that before anything were to happen.”
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who joined Liz Alpert in opposition to overturning the Historic Preservation Board’s recommendation for denial, noted a suggestion by the board to demolish the building next door and move the Palm Apartments onto that lot. She recalled plans by M2RE Partners for a single, 12-story building on the site, which could stand on one of the lots.
“I guess in theory you could do that, but the plan is to utilize both of these lots,” Hersom said. “We have no renderings at this point to even show what we potentially would do other than just going with the Downtown Bay/Downtown Core zoning.”
Mayor Erik Arroyo asked Smith if any of the conditions set forth in granting demolition approval eight years ago had changed.
“Each one of those conditions has been addressed by this current applicant, even though they had been addressed by the applicant back in 2014,” Smith said, adding that compliance to those conditions by M2RE Partners is included in his report. “I wanted everything updated so it was current to 2022, so that we were dealing with today's facts.”
Ahearn-Koch, who made the failed motion to affirm denial, said the commission should yield to the expertise of the Historic Preservation Board on the nearly century-old building.
Arroyo suggested heeding a different group of experts, and that if Smith hasn’t changed his opinion since 2014, neither should the commissioners.
“Our experts and our staff agreed that, just like in 2014, nothing has changed. The permit should have been granted,” Arroyo said. “One of the one of the biggest factors I look at is whether our experts agree with that decision, and they do. One of the other biggest factors that weighed in and I considered were is the fact that it was already issued. It’s kind of like reviving an old issue and tgetting a second shot at rejecting something.”
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