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Selby Gardens proposed parking garage
Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 2 weeks ago

Divided Planning Board endorses Selby Gardens proposal

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Despite some reservations, a majority of the advisory board recommended approval of the contentious master plan, which will now go to the City Commission for review.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

In a meeting that extended past midnight, the Planning Board cast a series of 3-2 votes recommending approval of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ proposed master plan — though one Planning Board member emphasized her support came with a caveat.

The Selby Gardens proposal, which would authorize the first phase of a $92 million campus renovation, will now go to the City Commission for final review. The commission has scheduled a public hearing for Monday, Oct. 28 to consider the application.

Many of the issues that have divided public opinion on Selby’s master plan also divided the Planning Board at Wednesday’s meeting. For those who supported the project, the proposal represented an opportunity to modernize the layout of Selby’s bayfront property and support the future goals of the botanical garden.

“I think this is clearly in the public benefit,” Planning Board member David Morriss said. “It’s going to be world class.”

For those who opposed it, the scale of a five-story parking garage and the inclusion of a rooftop restaurant — operating as a primary use, rather than secondary to the gardens — made the plans incompatible with its surroundings, particularly the residential neighborhoods to the south.

“It’s clear to me that amending the comprehensive plan to establish a new Metropolitan Regional district for Selby Gardens would ensure internal inconsistency, rather than consistency,” Planning Board member Kathy Kelley Ohlrich said.

Board Chairwoman Eileen Normile was the swing vote Wednesday. Although Normile listed a series of potential benefits associated with the proposal — including the consolidation of surface parking into a vertical structure and the establishment of more public access to the site — she acknowledged the scale and intensity of the proposal were concerns.

Normile initially voted against recommending approval of a proposed comprehensive plan amendment for the Selby property. She objected specifically to regulations that would allow a restaurant as a primary use on the land. She added she would be willing to support the proposal if the restaurant were allowed as a secondary use, presumably with more limited hours of operation.

However, Assistant City Attorney Mike Connolly recommended against making any alterations to the comprehensive plan amendment during the voting process. As a result, Normile ultimately voted in support of the proposal, though she remained concerned about the details surrounding the restaurant.

Before casting her vote, Normile noted the comprehensive plan amendment needed support from a supermajority of four city commissioners to pass. Despite recommending approval, she encouraged Selby officials to consider alterations that could make the proposal more palatable ahead of the Oct. 28 hearing.

“You need to get four votes to make this work,” Normile said.

Prior to the vote, project opponents offered testimony criticizing Selby’s justification for the master plan proposal. Bill Moore, an attorney representing the Bay Point Park Neighborhood Association, said there was not sufficient data to validate the scope of the project, including the size of the parking garage.

“The analysis can’t be, ‘We sort of feel like we need 486 spaces,’ without some kind of support for that,” Moore said.

But Selby representatives said a considerable amount of work went into refining the master plan, which the organization first presented to the public nearly two years ago.

“It wasn’t a thumb in the air,” said Chris Cianfaglione, a consultant with Kimley-Horn who helped prepare the master plan. “It was with some thought and diligence."

Wednesday’s public hearing was the third and final Planning Board meeting on the Selby plans. The advisory body previously discussed the proposal at meetings Sept. 18 and Sept. 25. The City Commission public hearing is scheduled for 1:30-9 p.m. on Oct. 28.

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