Observer column left out key details.
Once again, Matt Walsh’s take on Lido Pavilion in last week’s “The Lido Mob Wins” is provocative, but short on substance.
Walsh defines those opposed to the proposed redevelopment of Lido Pavilion as a “mob.” The same term was used by Gavin Meshad in a TV interview after the Jan. 14 public hearing, when he and fellow applicant Troy Syprett chose to withdraw their development application for Lido Pavilion.
Yes, there is an organized and effective opposition to their proposal to redevelop Lido Pavilion. Instead of demeaning those who disagree as a mob, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Meshad would do well to consider that the thousands of people (more than 5,500 now) who signed the Save Lido Pavilion petition have sound, compelling reasons for their opposition.
The city of Sarasota's Planning Board certainly thinks so. At the Sept. 12 Planning Board meeting, many citizens and experts offered substantial, competent testimony outlining why the proposal was a poor fit for Lido Key (consistent with the content of the online petition). Citing evidence which spoke to the project’s potential for increased noise, traffic, parking problems, drunken driving, threats to wildlife habitat, and more, the evidence presented was opposed to the Major Conditional Use and Site Plan applications. Walsh’s editorial fails to mention that the Planning Board voted 4-1 recommending denial of the proposal, or that aside from the applicants and their architect, not one citizen spoke in favor of the project.
In addition, the City’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection board voted unanimously to recommend denial of the proposal. Likewise, when Lido Key Residents Association members were polled just prior to the Planning Board meeting, 88% said they were opposed.
As the Save Lido Pavilion petition author, I stand by the veracity of its content. The petition content was based on my research of public records, attendance at public meetings, site plan discussions with restauranteurs, planning experts, and residents of Sarasota -- Lido Key residents and others.
The petition characterization of Lido Pavilion as an attractive target for local hotels is based on a number of sources. New resort development is prohibited on Lido. This prohibition can be found in section 3.11 of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, Environmental and Coastal Areas Chapter.
In order for new hotels to offer an upscale beach club, they would have to purchase an existing resort. That’s quite expensive. It would be far less expensive to redevelop Lido Pavilion as a “resort-type facility,'' a talking point consistently found in emails of support for the Syprett/Meshad proposal sent to the City Commission.
A few years prior to Mr. Meshad’s proposal, Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA) leadership was approached by a different downtown hotelier with a redevelopment proposal for the Pavilion. LKRA rejected it due to concerns over de facto privatization; that the pavilion could become a place where members of the public feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or unable to afford their own beach pavilion.
Psychological barriers, like $100 a day cabanas in a public pavilion, matter. Consider also that if you are the gatekeeper for $100 a day cabanas, you don’t have to actually own such a facility for it to benefit your hotel business. You just have to control it.
The applicants’ intention to create a “resort-type facility,” one likely to price out many Sarasota families, is a cause for concern for many in our community. At the March 2018 neighborhood workshop, a mother told Mr. Meshad and Mr. Syprett that the rate hikes they planned for the pool would be too much for a lot of people.
The $100 per day cabana rate was also revealed at the same meeting. Half of the children in Sarasota County qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Their parents are working hard to make ends meet. As I wrote in the Save Lido Pavilion petition, “Approving changes which will make our public beach facility a means of lining the pockets of insiders and squeezing out the public is an affront to hard-working Sarasota families struggling to make ends meet. We deserve a facility which works for the public. Lido Pavilion must not become the Aloft Beach Club.”
We will continue to advocate for Lido Pavilion becoming improved in a manner which serves the entire community and protects wildlife, a relaxing place where all feel welcome. When the applicants choose to characterize their neighbors opposed to their project as a “mob,” that disrespect only reinforces community concerns. Sometimes despite our best efforts, we humans get things wrong. Yes, even developers.
Demonizing citizens - the true owners of Lido Pavilion - is bad form, if nothing else.
Cathy Antunes, a Sarasota resident, is host of The Detail radio show on WSLR.