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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 1 week ago

State scrutinizes Selby Gardens plans

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FDOT officials questioned the scope and impact of a redevelopment project, but gardens officials stand behind the proposal.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Residents critical of a proposed master plan for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens see a recent Florida Department of Transportation letter as vindication of their concerns about the scale of the project and the potential effects on traffic in the area.

But Selby officials remain confident the plans — including a 500-space parking garage — are right-sized and will ultimately clear the state’s approval process.

On June 20, the state agency submitted a series of comments to Selby following an initial review of the proposal. The master plan calls for the investment of more than $92 million into redesigning the 15-acre site, which sits along a state-controlled road in U.S. 41.

The FDOT letter asks a series of questions about the proposal. The first is focused on the parking garage, which the state agency says appears to be “significantly oversized” based on projected volume. Other questions focus on access into and out of the site, the configuration of travel lanes and traffic volumes at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Orange Avenue.

Jennifer Rominiecki, Selby’s president and CEO, said the comments were an initial step in the state’s review of the project. She said city staff determined the proposed changes would not significantly affect the surrounding area, which bolstered Selby’s optimism the state would eventually arrive at the same conclusion.

“The letter was not a final report,” Rominiecki said. “It’s just part of the process. It’s a dialogue back and forth, and sometimes it takes several rounds of questions.”

FDOT’s questions echo concerns resident opponents of the master plan have raised. Bob Bernstein, president of the Bay Point Park Neighborhood Association, said the FDOT letter affirms the need for more information regarding the proposal.

“They say they’re being very transparent, but some of these things are things that Selby has not come forth with to us,” Bernstein said. “We’re figuring they’re going to have to answer FDOT, so we’re very interested in hearing their answers.”

The city declined to comment regarding any discrepancy between FDOT’s comments and the city’s determination the project application meets the necessary technical requirements.

The proposal is set to go before the city’s Planning Board at a public hearing Sept. 18. The city has reserved time Sept. 25 if the meeting needs to be continued beyond the initial hearing.

Rominiecki said she expects to get updated comments from FDOT before that Planning Board meeting. She anticipated Selby would be able to share information that satisfactorily addressed the questions the state raised.

She reiterated the organization’s belief the garage is appropriate for the site, stating the botanical gardens currently turns away more than 200 visitors on peak days.

“The parking structure is vital and necessary, so we look forward to demonstrating that need to FDOT,” Rominiecki said.

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