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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 24, 2015 2 years ago

Real estate market strengthens in Bay Island

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The north Siesta Key neighborhood has rebounded strongly from the recession, and the area is dotted with home sales and construction
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Toward the end of Freeling Drive on Siesta Key, where a cul-de-sac sits just feet from the waterfront, the skeletons of two homes face one another.

Although these structures are in different states of their construction, they represent a trend that the Bay Island neighborhood has become an increasingly desired location.

Sarasota home sales in general are brisk again. But for the third straight year in Bay Island, through the beginning of September, there have been 12 home sales — more than double the total over the same period in 2012. During the past six months, six homes have sold for $2 million or more.

Tommy Vaughan-Birch, who has been updating the Bay Island/Siesta Association’s neighborhood directory, said she has noticed more families in the Bay Island neighborhood than there have been in the past. Overall, she views the increase in sales as the routine effects of the rebounding market.

“When things were lower, nobody really wanted to sell their house,” Vaughan-Birch said. “Now, people are thinking about making a change.”

Still, Michael Moulton, a Realtor at Michael Saunders & Co., said there are some attributes that make Bay Island particularly appealing. The rising number of families in the area doesn’t surprise him; Siesta Key tends to attract younger buyers than Sarasota’s other barrier islands, he said.

What’s more, he said, “People are having success selling their properties elsewhere, which is enabling them to finally buy what could be their vacation home or retirement home.”

"People are willing to take the time to build to get exactly what they want." — Michael Moulton

Another contributing factor to the strong Bay Island market: Buyers are tearing down existing homes and building larger ones. “People are willing to take the time to build to get exactly what they want,” Moulton said. “That’s really the thing that took it on the chin during the downturn.”

Focal Point

As the city of Sarasota’s Urban Design Studio works toward completing a new form-based zoning code, the studio's leaders say one spot in the Bay Island neighborhood stands out as needing improvement.

Urban Design Studio Director Karin Murphy and Principal Designer Andrew Georgiadis say the bend in the road where Siesta Drive turns into Higel Avenue is a problem intersection, particularly for bikers and pedestrians. 

“We noticed it's terribly inhospitable, uncomfortable and dangerous,” Georgiadis said. “That curve is one of the worst spots I've ever seen.”

But Murphy and Georgiadis believe a variety of changes could help tame the speed of vehicles passing along this stretch of road.

Bay Island hypothetical buildout.
This drawing from the Urban Design Studio shows a hypothetical build out of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, with buildings and road features designed to slow down drivers.

To begin with, Murphy and Georgidis note that stretch of road was constructed to accommodate cars moving quickly and lacks a variety of visual elements that would cause drivers to slow.

One scenario they suggest would be the construction of a roundabout at Siesta and Higel. Georgiadis also suggested additional structures at the corner, such as a cafe, would create more visual variety and enhance the walkability of the area.

“At that corner there could be a building that could perhaps, over time, have some daily needs at the ground floor,” Georgiadis said.

The Urban Design Studio hasn’t finalized plans for the corner, and any project ultimately would need a developer. Still, the studio's ideas generated no objections from residents. Murphy and Georgiadis are confident that some combination of changes can produce a safer environment at the intersection.

“This is sort of using the built environment to create more civilized driver behavior,” Georgiadis said. “All of those things are giving your brain a signal, which is, ‘Slow down, you don't need to be going 50 or 60 mph.’”

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