The City Commission voted 4-1 to authorize the creation of a new zoning district, which will allow officials to formally consider a proposal to redevelop the bayfront site.
The City Commission voted 4-1 Monday to approve the creation of a new botanical gardens zoning code classification, a necessary step to facilitate a proposal to redevelop the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens property.
The commission’s vote pertains to just a portion of the applications Selby Gardens has filed with the city. The board must approve a rezoning and site plan at future public hearings before Selby Gardens can move forward with a master plan for reshaping its bayfront campus. Plans for the 14.7-acre site include constructing a four-story, 450-space parking garage, a ground-floor accessory restaurant and a 28,600-square-foot building serving as a welcome center and plant research facility.
Still, at Monday's meeting, Selby Gardens cleared a hurdle that it could not last year: receiving the commission’s support for the creation of a new land use designation associated with its master plan. In 2019, the City Commission voted 3-2 to reject a proposed comprehensive plan amendment linked to a previous iteration of the Selby project.
On Monday, a majority of the commission said they believed Selby’s proposed zoning code amendment — developed following the denial of the 2019 application — was in line with the city’s planning standards.
“This sounds to me like you’ve done everything a good neighbor would do and you’ve come to this plan with the voice of the community in mind,” Commissioner Erik Arroyo said to Selby representatives.
The botanical gardens zoning district contains specific land use regulations that would pertain to the Selby Gardens property if the commission subsequently approves the rezone application. The revised regulations includes a list of permitted accessory uses within the zoning code district, which include but are not limited to an event facility, restaurant, greenhouses and parking garages.
Although some opponents of the project said the accessory use regulations were inappropriate for the property and vague, Selby representatives argued the botanical garden zoning category would be more relevant — and more restrictive — than the current office zoning classification assigned to the site. Both city staff and the planning board recommended approving the zoning code change.
“I think it’s really well-written,” Planning Director Steve Cover said. “I think it covers all the issues and concerns that have been brought up by people in the area, and it’s the first step that I think is necessary to move forward with this.”
Selby Gardens officials said the zoning text amendment was part of a revised master plan that responds to concerns residents and community members have brought up in a series of public hearings since 2019. Selby President and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki said the organization had built public support for its proposal, calling the master plan necessary for ensuring the long-term sustainability of the botanical gardens.
“We want to stay in the city of Sarasota, and this zoning text amendment is essential to this outcome,” Rominiecki said.
Some residents living near the Selby Gardens property continued to express opposition to the master plan proposal, including the zoning text amendment. Susan Chapman, a resident of the Hudson Bayou neighborhood, suggested the botanical gardens zoning classification was vaguely worded and invited exploitation from other property owners.
Selby’s proposal drew support from representatives from organizations including the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, the Barancik Foundation and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch cast the lone vote against the zoning code amendment. In her questioning, she said she shared the concerns about a lack of specificity in the zoning regulations. Ahearn-Koch also objected to a provision allowing for the possibility of reduced parking requirements within the botanical garden zone district if city staff authorizes it.
“This motion is about a zoning text amendment that will be citywide, and I have serious concerns about the language in this zoning text amendment,” Ahearn-Koch said.
The rest of the commission was supportive of the change, lauding Selby for the revisions to its master plan proposal and sharing none of Ahearn-Koch’s concerns about the proposed language.
“I think we should put some faith in our staff that they have looked at the ramifications of the zoning text amendment,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said.