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Sarasota Thursday, May 11, 2017 4 years ago

St. Armands garage plans trouble neighbors

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As the city finalizes the design of the St. Armands Circle parking garage, residents near the project site fear their interests aren’t being taken into consideration.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

When the City Commission committed to building a 495-space parking garage on St. Armands Circle, officials said the unified support of area merchants, landlords and residents made them willing to approve the project.

Now, as the city works on the design of the four-story parking structure, people living near the North Adams Drive site say they’ve been left out of the conversation.

“It seems like it’s speeding ahead without a lot of community input,” said Jim Jordan, a resident on Adams Drive. “We’re kind of concerned about it.”

In March and April, the city held workshops to discuss plans for the $15 million project. The city is contracting with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. on the design and Jon F. Swift Construction for the building.

Although a plan won’t be finalized until September, people like Madison Drive resident Dan Snyder say the design team has not listened to them.

Because the structure is being built next to a residential area, Snyder said the garage team should be particularly considerate about the project’s effect on its surroundings.

“We think they’ve gone almost the opposite way,” Snyder said. “It’s like they’re poking a stick in our eye.”

Snyder said his primary concerns are noise and light. He singles out one element of the conceptual plans the designers have shared: staircases on the exterior of the garage. This will place people outdoors late at night, which will necessitate exterior lighting. Snyder also fears that sound will travel from the stairways to the homes across the street.

Snyder has tried to arrange a meeting with the St. Armands Circle Association, but so far, he hasn’t been able to set up anything. Snyder and Jordan say the merchants and landowners are taking the lead.

Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, said residents have the wrong impression of how the project is proceeding. Right now, she said, those involved with the project are focusing on the core logistical details of building the garage — things like construction techniques and the timeline for various phases of the project.

The design is an important component of the project, but one that’s only in a conceptual phase right now, Corrigan said. She said the public workshops are supposed to be a venue for residents to share their thoughts about the project, and that their feedback will be incorporated into the final plans, which need final approval from the City Commission.

“They think we’re spending a lot of time looking at design,” Corrigan said. “We’re just not there yet.”

Parking Manager Mark Lyons said the city has sought public input throughout the garage planning process, which dates back to 2014.

“We have always felt it’s important that whatever is designed and built complements the neighborhood, and doesn’t detract from it,” Lyons said.

Since the April workshop, residents have had a meeting with the design team. Snyder is optimistic their concerns will be taken seriously going forward. But he also said residents aren’t being treated as an equal voice. He said a resident should be included in the weekly project meetings, which Corrigan attends as a representative of the St. Armands Circle Association.

“We don’t see anything until we walk into the workshops, and we’re expected to react then and there,” Snyder said.

The city will hold a workshop June 9 to discuss the St. Armands garage project. Residents aren’t sure what their next steps will be leading up to that meeting. Right now, they hope officials have heard their concerns.

If that’s not the case, they’ll keep speaking out until they’re convinced someone is listening.

“Somehow, we need to insert ourselves deeper into the process and get a conversation going,” Jordan said. “That’s how things are best accomplished.”

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