As Selby Gardens seeks historic designations for buildings on its property, neighboring residents want to discuss the best way to preserve the past.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is pursuing plans for $67 million in renovations to its campus near downtown Sarasota, but the organization says it doesn’t want its focus on the future to minimize the history of the site.
That’s why the organization has filed plans to add two buildings on the campus to the local historical register: the William G. and Marie Selby House, built in 1922, and the Payne Mansion, built in 1934. The designation offers incentives for preservation and gives the city the ability to review any alterations to historic structures.
On Aug. 14, the city’s Historic Preservation Board unanimously recommended approval of the historic designation for the Selby House. But, during the discussion, representatives for neighboring residents raised a point of concern about Selby’s plans for preserving the historic character of the property.
Attorney Robert Lincoln, representing the resident association for the nearby Hudson Crossing condominium at 888 S. Orange Ave., questioned whether Selby was doing enough to maintain the existing dynamics of the property. Lincoln suggested the entire property should be designated historic, giving the city greater ability to investigate the significance of any structures proposed for demolition as part of Selby’s master plan.
Lincoln cited at least four other buildings on the property listed on the Florida Master Site File, an index of buildings 50 years or older irrespective of historic significance. Selby said these buildings will no longer be needed as its master plan is implemented, but Lincoln wanted to examine opportunities for preservation before the organization requests a demolition permit.
“The number of options tend to be really limited at that point,” Lincoln said.
Any historic designation would need to be done with the property owners’ consent. In a letter Tuesday, Selby President and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki alerted the city the organization was uninterested in considering a broader historic designation for the property.
In that same letter, Selby detailed a variety of ways in which it said the master plan intended to preserve historic aspects of the site. In addition to the planned renovation of the Selby House, which will continue to serve as a café, Rominiecki noted Selby’s plans to maintain the brick-lined segment of Palm Avenue as a pedestrian promenade. She also said new facilities were being built with Sarasota School of Architecture principles in mind.
Rominiecki outlined the reason why Selby planned to demolish some older buildings on the site. Selby Gardens purchased those former private homes after Marie Selby’s death in 1971, expanding the gardens’ campus. Dating back to 2010, however, Selby said professional assessments showed those buildings had poor structural integrity and were not viable as long-term infrastructure.
In the letter, Selby pledged to investigate “options including building relocation, salvage and documentation for the city’s historical files” as it pertains to those buildings.
Although it is not mandated in the city’s regulations, Selby spokeswoman Mischa Kirby said the organization was open to discussing any historic preservation options with residents sooner rather than later. Selby has already formed a neighborhood advisory committee to discuss the master planning process with residents, and Lincoln said residents were optimistic an agreeable solution could be reached.
Although Lincoln said Selby had been earnestly engaging with the community, after reviewing the letter, he expressed hope Selby would offer an even firmer commitment to a community conversation about the property’s history.
“I hope planning for the long-term historic quality of that site is something that goes on actively and early, rather than just as the last thing they worry about in the entire scheme of things,” Lincoln said.