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Epoch Sarasota
Sarasota Friday, Jun. 14, 2019 1 month ago

Sarasota Planning Board denies Epoch appeal

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The Planning Board unanimously determined a group of downtown residents lacked the standing to challenge city staff’s approval of a Gulfstream condo project.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

A group of residents living on Gulfstream and Palm avenues did not qualify as aggrieved persons and were not able to appeal city staff’s approval of an 18-story project on their street, the Planning Board unanimously determined Thursday.

At a special meeting, the advisory board’s 5-0 vote brought an end to an attempt to challenge the construction of the Epoch condominium at 605 S. Gulfstream Ave. After city staff approved the project in April, 22 residents jointly filed an appeal challenging that decision.

The Planning Board meeting focused on a series of preliminary motions and a question about whether the appellants were “aggrieved persons,” the standard that must be met for someone to appeal an administratively approved site plan.

One of the definitions for an aggrieved person in the city zoning code is “any person or entity which will suffer to a greater degree than the general public an adverse effect to a legally recognized interest protected or furthered by the land development regulations or the comprehensive plan.”

Attorney Dan Lobeck, representing the appellants, said the project negatively affected the character of this segment of Gulfstream and Palm — something residents living in the area had an interest in preserving. During Lobeck’s presentation, a series of appellants spoke about the project’s purported incompatibility with its surroundings. They objected to the building setbacks included in the site plan, which staff determined complied with the city’s zoning code.

“I am aggrieved of this building going up on a half-acre lot taking 99% of the land,” said Alice Nelson, a resident of the Royal St. Andrew condominium building on Gulfstream Avenue that neighbors the Epoch site.

Attorney Robert Lincoln, who represented Epoch developer Seaward Development, argued Lobeck failed to provide any justification for the appeal. Lincoln said proximity to a project alone doesn’t qualify somebody as an aggrieved person, and the resident testimony did not show why the project would affect their rights more than any other member of the general public.

“They haven’t identified anything that’s an actual cognizable harm to a legally recognized interest that’s also protected by that code,” Lincoln said.

The Planning Board sided with Lincoln, finding nothing in Lobeck’s argument that merited moving forward with the appeal. Planning Board member Eileen Normile said she thought there were legitimate compatibility issues regarding the project worth discussing, but she did not think the appellants had met the aggrieved person standard.

“It has to be (a legally recognized interest) that they suffer above and beyond what the general public suffers,” Normile said. “And this is what we have — these statements talking about the streetscape. It’s tough.”

The rest of the board agreed the appellants did not qualify as aggrieved persons, bringing an end to the appeal before the residents challenging the project could make the bulk of their argument.

“They had to prove that burden, and I don’t feel like they did,” Planning Board member Damien Blumetti said of the appellants.

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