During the month of May, three developers submitted project plans to the city’s planning department, of which two will go before the Sarasota Planning Board at some point.
As the economy begins to recover, that number of developments is expected to increase. In addition to the possible spike in proposed developments, big issues could come before the Planning Board, including the concept of a possible citywide form-based code and discussions about whether to increase density, or the maximum number of residential units allowed per acre downtown.
But, a new Planning Board member will join the board before those issues rise to the forefront.
City commissioners are scheduled to appoint a Planning Board member to fill a seat on the five-member board June 17. Commissioner Susan Chapman, elected to the City Commission in May, vacated that seat last month. Chairwoman Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, Vald Svekis, Morton Siegel and Chris Gallagher currently sit on the board.
As of June 5, community activist Cathy Antunes, architect Dale Parks and downtown advocate Tony Souza have filed applications for the open post on the five-member board. The deadline to apply for the open seat is Friday, June 7.
Although the board is considered an advisory committee to the City Commission, it has final say on certain development site plans.
Both Chapman and City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo agreed the planning board is a key advisory board.
But the two commissioners differ on qualifications they’d like to see in the new board member.
“I’m looking for someone who is the least politically inclined person,” Caragiulo said. “Someone who will look at the data and make a decision.”
Chapman said she’s looking for someone willing to spend time reading the city’s Comp Plan and building code and follow standards set in those documents. She’d also like to see someone who’s involved in the community fill the seat.
“I am replacing what I represented,” said Chapman, a longtime neighborhood advocate before she was elected to the City Commission. “I would be voting for that — for community involvement.”
PLANNING BOARD SEAT APPLICANTS
Cathy Antunes said she wants the most-compatible developments for the city.
“Everyone would say they are for smart growth,” Antunes said. “What would the alternative be? Stupid growth?”
The Golden Gate Point resident said one kind of development she would like to see come downtown, as the economy recovers, is a hotel large enough to host conventions.
Antunes is open to considering density increases in the Rosemary District and downtown, which she wants to be more walkable, although the “devil is in the details.”
Antunes, who felt the proposed Ringling Plaza Walmart did not fit in with the city’s building code, said she would be willing to say no to certain projects if that would push the developer to revise a project that does not fit in a certain area.
Antunes formed the grassroots Citizens for Responsible Government to fight a County Commission decision to place a spring-training baseball field on Sarasota County Fairgrounds for the Boston Red Sox. Antunes later led the effort to sue the county concerning its $31 million plan to help build a new stadium for the Baltimore Orioles.
Since then, the group has pursued legal action against the county concerning commissioner term limits. Antunes opposed the city’s decision to sell a parcel of city land at Fruitville and Beneva roads directly to Benderson Development Corp.
In 2011, Antunes ran against County Commissioner Joe Barbetta.
Dale Parks, who runs his own architecture firm, first came to Sarasota in 1985 as an intern architect at Siebert Architects.
If appointed to the Planning Board, Parks would be the only architect.
“Having a formal architect is an important thing for the planning board,” Parks said.
Parks would like to see a focus on the basic elements of the Downtown Master Plan. In 2000, the architect worked for Cardinal, Carlson and Parks Architecture, the local firm that partnered with urban planner Andres Duany to work on the master plan.
With eight years of experience, from 2003 to 2011, serving on the city’s Community Area Redevelopment (CRA) advisory board, Parks has given input on several city-private ventures proposed, and built, in the city.
One of the important tasks of the planning board is to offer insight on these larger public-private projects, such as the planned State Street mixed-use garage.
He points to downtown’s Whole Food as one example of how such projects need close scrutiny.
The design the city got from Whole Foods was not urban because the grocery’s building has only limited windows along Lemon Avenue, First Street and Second Street, Parks said.
“If we scrutinized that project a little better from an architectural standpoint, we might have ended up with a little better project,” Parks said.
Tony Souza said planning is key in Sarasota, where there is only so much space left for new construction and redevelopment.
“I don’t want to see it get overbuilt,” Souza said. “I want to see progress. But I want to see good progress for the city.”
High-end retail and residential are two kinds of development Souza would like to see more of in downtown.
“We have 93 restaurants near downtown,” Souza said. “I am glad we have all those restaurants, but I’d like to see a little more retail come in.”
Souza doesn’t think big box stores fit in the city’s downtown.
In 2007, Souza led an effort to try to get the city to relax density limitations from 25 to 50 units per acre in an effort to attract more affordable housing in the district north of Fruitville Road. He is a proponent of recent talks to consider density increases in the downtown core.
But Souza said projects outside downtown have to be weighed differently than those downtown.
“What you want to review carefully is variances from the code,” Souza said. “I think residential should remain residential, and business areas should remain business areas.”
Souza is chairman of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance and a member of the Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board.