The developer of the downtown bayfront property intends to revise the design of a proposed 12-story, 241-unit apartment building on U.S. 41.
After reviewing plans for a 12-story mixed-use building on the Quay site at Fruitville Road and U.S. 41, city staff determined the proposal complied with applicable regulations and recommended approving the project.
Despite that assessment, the city’s Planning Board — and Planning Director Steve Cover — had a different perspective on the quality of the plans.
“Basically, about a length of a football field, we have a blank wall facing 41 and a service entrance,” Cover said. “Just from a planning standpoint, urban design, everything else, I just have a real problem with that. That’s not what we want to see on 41.”
On Wednesday, the Planning Board reviewed the proposed site plan for developing a portion of the Quay property, which calls for 241 apartments and 12,750 square feet of commercial space on a 1.65-acre segment of the 14.7-acre downtown bayfront site.
Based on the input the Planning Board shared Wednesday, developer Lennar Multifamily Communities asked the board to continue the discussion to a future meeting so the project team could revise the proposal. The Planning Board agreed, tentatively scheduling the second part of the hearing for a February meeting.
Following the meeting, the developer was confident a new proposal would effectively respond to the concerns expressed at Wednesday’s meeting, land use attorney Charlie Bailey said.
“There were no issues raised by the Planning Board that we are not going to be able to address,” Bailey said in an email.
The city previously approved a development agreement with Quay owner GreenPointe Communities allowing for the construction of 695 residential units, 189,050 square feet of retail space, 38,922 square feet of office space and a 175-room hotel. As GreenPointe builds out the Quay district, developers must obtain block-by-block site plan approval from the city before beginning construction on a new phase.
At Wednesday’s meeting, representatives for Lennar Multifamily Communities said they made efforts to create a building with a varied, engaging facade on all sides. Architect Sema Atis said the project included ground-level retail and restaurant space along Quay Commons, the planned Main Street of the Quay district, and on the side of the building parallel to Fruitville Road.
Bailey noted the building is six stories shorter than the maximum height allowed on the property and is set back a minimum of 10 feet from a planned multi-use recreational trail along U.S. 41. Bailey said designing a structure on the site presented challenges, but the project team was happy with its results.
“Unlike many downtown buildings that maybe back up to an alley or are adjacent to another building, this has four frontages, four elevations, four facades,” Bailey said. “Sema had to design that in such a way that it properly interfaced with each of their respective frontages. There is no back-of-house operation. All back-of-house operations are internal to the building.”
“Frankly, I’m insulted for the citizens of our city that you put the back door along our Main Street.” — Kathy Kelley Ohlrich
Still, several members of the Planning Board took issue with the design of the building, particularly the side facing U.S. 41. They expressed concern the building, running about 360 feet, was too long and failed to do enough on Tamiami Trail to engage pedestrians. Board members critiqued the absence of any retail space or other public-facing activity on the ground level for most of that frontage. They said it felt like the design put the building’s back side on U.S. 41 by placing the main entrance and most of the retail on Quay Commons.
“Frankly, I’m insulted for the citizens of our city that you put the back door along our Main Street,” Planning Board Member Kathy Kelley Ohlrich said.
Developer representatives pushed back against that line of critique.
“We have a Main Street that runs from School Avenue down to the bayfront,” Bailey said. “That is Main Street. U.S. 41 is a U.S. highway that I can get on and I can drive to another state. It’s not a local road.”
The project team noted there is no design requirement for ground-level retail along U.S. 41, pointing to projects such as The Westin Sarasota as evidence the city has approved buildings without commercial space along the street. Bailey questioned the notion the Quay design represented an architectural failure along the U.S. 41 corridor.
“No disrespect to any other buildings in the area, but we don’t have any large monolithic walls,” Bailey said, pointing to the Embassy Suites building on Second Street.
But Cover stood by his criticisms of the design along U.S. 41. Cover said that, as the city pursues a series of roundabouts along the state highway, it’s working to create a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment on the road. As a result, he said placing high-quality street-level frontages on the road will be important for transforming the street into a place people are comfortable being.
“You really are turning your back on 41,” Cover said. “Keep in mind: This is a major entrance into the city, and do we really want a blank wall that’s about a football field long on the right-hand side as you’re coming into the downtown area? It’s just a major, major design issue that I’ve had with this project.”
“It sounds like a hyperbolic comment that you’d typically hear an angry neighbor make at a public hearing, because it’s not founded in fact and it’s not based on any legal standard.” — Charlie Bailey
Bailey said that design requirements — including input from the Florida Department of Transportation — guided the decision to place the main entrance of the building on Quay Commons. Omar del Rio, Lennar Multifamily Communities’ senior vice president of development, said the commercial space was concentrated on the side opposite U.S. 41 because Quay Commons would represent a calmer, more engaging pedestrian environment with buildings pulled up to the sidewalk and adjacent retail frontages within the Quay district.
“That’s what really makes a street work, is having two sides of the street activated that are easy to cross with traffic controlled,” del Rio said.
Bailey said there was no market for commercial retail space on U.S. 41, a point Cover disagreed with. Even after the project team agreed to make design changes, Bailey said that would not be incorporated into the revised proposal.
“We don’t want to set unrealistic expectations and expect there’s going to be retail lining our U.S. 41 frontage,” Bailey said. “We cannot do that. If we could do it, we would do it all day long.”
Following the meeting, Bailey said in an email the development team appreciated the Planning Board’s input and looked forward to working with city staff to address the comments made Wednesday. Bailey expressed a similar sentiment at the meeting, but he also repeatedly pointed back to staff’s assessment the plan as submitted was compliant with city design regulations.
“We’ve got a staff report that says we meet each and every criterion for approval for site plans under the city’s zoning code, and we’ve got a memo from Mr. Cover who says the design is detrimental to the city — which is not a legal criterion contained in your code,” Bailey said. “It sounds like a hyperbolic comment that you’d typically hear an angry neighbor make at a public hearing, because it’s not founded in fact and it’s not based on any legal standard.”