North Tamiami Trail is a battleground.
Sarasota police officers combat prostitution and drug dealing, and proponents for re-development often clash with nearby residents wary of urban sprawl and traffic congestion.
The Sarasota Planning Board voted 2-2 Jan. 9 on a request from a property owner to re-zone a half-acre parcel to build an extended-stay dermatology clinic. The city considers a 2-2 vote a “no” decision.
That decision reduces the chance that commissioners will approve the request in March.
The vote was another disappointment for North Trail Redevelopment Partnership Chairman Jay Patel.
Patel, a local hotelier, has spent the last three years fighting to implement new voluntary land-use regulations, an amendment to the zoning text called the North Trail Overlay District (NDOT), to encourage redevelopment along the U.S. 41 corridor. He sees the proposed business, Reflections Medspa, as beneficial to the area.
“It brings more tax dollars,” Patel said during a Feb. 4 phone interview. “It brings good people into town instead of the drug dealers and prostitutes who hang around there now.”
As one of the last places in the city of Sarasota with land for new development, Patel sees North Trail land as extremely valuable, but he would like to see predictable land-use regulations put in place.
Right now, vagrants regularly use the vacant lots as a campground, explained Dr. Steve Bedi, the permit applicant for the clinic.
Bedi applied for the re-zone on behalf of his daughter, Dr. Monica Bedi, who is the medical director of Reflections Medspa’s current location on Bee Ridge Road.
Steve Bedi signed a proffer that prohibits the property owner from operating a gas station, convenience store or nightclub, among other restrictions.
But, pushback from residents against proposed developments is not new on the North Trail.
In 2011, the Planning Board approved the Goodwill store on U.S. 41.
Shortly after, Robert Casella, an Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores resident, appealed the construction of the Goodwill.
“The neighborhoods don’t want change irrespective of if it’s good or bad,” Patel said.
A redevelopment veteran
Jeff Oldenburg owns a strip mall across the street from Ringling College of Art and Design and has been fighting for 20 years to change land-use policies to encourage redevelopment of the North Trail.
“When the residents realize that those of us who own on the Trail and those who live east and west of the Trail share a conjoined destiny, in as much as they will enjoy no peace until we do, maybe a spirit of unity of vision will ensue,” Oldenburg said.
Oldenburg cited the stretch of Tamiami Trail, just south of Sarasota Memorial Hospital, as a similar area that has medical buildings. There are at least two optometrist offices and a dental-surgery complex along the corridor.
“It absolutely baffles me because (Reflections Medspa) is compatible,” Oldenburg said.
The 57-year-old property owner said he sees female joggers from time to time along the corridor, which is a positive sign for improvement in the area’s safety. And students regularly perch in front Big E’s Coffeehouse at his complex until 1 a.m.
The reality is that crime is still a problem on the North Trail. The Sarasota Police Department arrested four women for prostitution during a Jan. 23 sting.
Monica Bedi said she understands residents are wary about property values and long-term uncertainty of a commercial parcel abutting their neighborhood, but noted she would employ security at the clinic. Legitimate commercial activity would replace illegal activity at the current site.
“The cops can chase vagrants and prostitutes away at 2 p.m. and they’ll be back at 5 p.m.,” Oldenbeug said.
Component for change
Patel said the North Trail Redevelopment partnership is focusing on other goals that aren’t likely to create contention, as well as the NTOD amendment to the zoning text.
For example, the non-profit organization is pushing for a dedicated Sarasota police officer for 24-hour-a-day patrols on the North Trail and a connectivity plan to make transit to Water Tower Park easier.
Patel said he is unsure of how the planning board will vote on the NTOD amendment when it continues discussion during a Feb. 27 meeting.
City of Sarasota Chief Planner Ryan Chapdelain said he’s unsure, as well, but said the amount of cooperation between the diverse group of stakeholders — colleges, performing-arts venues, residents and businesses — is astounding.
“It’s something that I haven’t seen in my time with the city,” Chapdelain.
Because of the Planning Board’s continued discussion on the NTOD amendment, planning staff’s April presentation to commissioners will likely face delays.
The plan includes specific requirements, such as the daylight plane designed so development won’t impede daylight from reaching residential areas. The voluntary regulations would allow staggered heights up to 45 feet depending on distance from a residential property.
For example, if approved, the NTOD land-use regulations would bar new developments from back-lit signs or awnings. There are 12 restrictions on signage in the amended overlay district to encourage conforming structures.
“It’s just a component toward redevelopment,” Oldenburg said.
Proponents of the plan hope for a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly North Trail.
“I don’t think anyone seeing this as a silver bullet for the North Trail,” Chapdelain said. “I think it will have a more of a longer-term impact.”
The Sarasota Planning Board will continue discussion about the North Trail Overlay District during a Feb. 13 meeting.
What: Sarasota Planning Board
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27
Where: Commission Chambers, City Hall, 1565 First Street, Sarasota
Dr. Steve Bedi, who applied to re-zone a half-acre of residential land on North Tamiami Trail to commercial, wants to build an international dermatology clinic.
The parcel is currently zoned for residential construction.
“Doctors today don’t have time to re-teach someone how to live healthy,” Bedi said during a Feb. 4 interview.
Researchers have linked psoriasis and various other skin diseases to adverse lifestyle decisions, said Bedi’s daughter, Dr. Monica K. Bedi, who will operate the clinic.
Reflections Medspa, which would feature 26 rooms for guests who can stay between one and three weeks, would focus on helping patients develop healthy eating habits, exercise schedules and meditation practice, Bedi explained.
Members of the staff will bus patients to and from the airport to avoid traffic congestion.
“We want to bring from around the world to Sarasota,” said Steve Bedi. In documents submitted to the city of Sarasota for the re-zone, he writes that 90% of patients would come from outside Florida.
The Sarasota City Commission will hear the application for the re-zone at two public hearings in March.