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Selby Gardens master plan model
Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 26, 2019 10 months ago

No decision on Selby Gardens proposal

A Planning Board hearing drew an outpouring of input from opponents and supporters of the proposed master plan — but a final recommendation won’t be coming until next month.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Twelve hours wasn’t enough for the city’s Planning Board to finish its public hearing on Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ proposed campus master plan.

After hearing testimony from the public Wednesday at the second meeting the advisory body has held regarding the proposal, the Planning Board determined a third meeting would be necessary to produce a recommendation on whether the plans should be approved or rejected. The board agreed to continue the hearing at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

Selby Gardens has submitted a series of applications to the city in hopes of completing a $92 million renovation project at its 15-acre bayfront property. The plans include the construction of new structures including a five-story parking garage with rooftop restaurant, a welcome center and a greenhouse. The proposal would require approval of a site plan, a rezoning, amendments to the city’s zoning code and future land use map and an easement vacation.

After a Sept. 18 Planning Board meeting offered the opportunity for Selby representatives and city staff to discuss the project, Wednesday’s meeting focused on input from the public. The testimony included two lengthy presentations from attorneys representing residents living near the project site, both of whom asked officials to deny the proposal.

Bill Moore, an attorney for the Bay Point Park Neighborhood Association, mentioned several sources of concern for residents who have opposed the master plan. Moore suggested the proposal was not compatible with the nearby residential neighborhoods and the parking garage was out of scale with the area surrounding the property, a perspective shared by many residents who spoke later in the meeting.

Moore questioned the necessity of the project and the soundness of the data Selby presented in support of the proposal.

“We’d ask you to reject this application — not to tell Selby ‘No, never,’ but to come back ... with a plan that fits the site," Moore said.

Attorney Robert Lincoln, representing the residents at the Hudson Crossing condominium, objected specifically to the site plan and easement vacation. Although Lincoln said there were issues with how the project would affect the condo that directly borders the Selby property, he also said he believed Selby was in a tough position and expressed some optimism that lingering problems between both sides could be worked out.

Lincoln said a flat rejection of the Selby master plan was not necessarily an optimal outcome. He discussed two scenarios that could arise if the plans were denied: Selby could sell the property to another owner who would develop it using the current regulations, or Selby could alter its proposal to lower the height of the garage by increasing the overall building footprint on the site.

“I don't think any of those things would make it less intense, would take away any of the other kinds of issues people are worried about, and I think all of those things would probably make it worse for Hudson Crossings,” Lincoln said.

Other members of the public offered opinions on the master plan, with opponents framing the proposal as detrimental to the character of the area and supporters calling it necessary for the future of Selby Gardens.

The Oct. 2 meeting will begin with a series of rebuttals: first from individuals living in the immediate vicinity of the project site, then from city staff and finally from Selby Gardens representatives. The Planning Board will deliberate and produce a series of recommendations to the City Commission.

The City Commission is scheduled to hold a special public hearing on the master plan proposal Monday, Oct. 28 at 1:30 p.m.

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