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Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 8 months ago

St. Armands zoning proposals stir controversy

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Although a resident group has raised alarm about proposed building rules on the Circle, property owners say some of the concern is rooted in misunderstanding.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

St. Armands Circle property owners want to make a few things clear regarding their plans for new zoning regulations in the commercial district.

The St. Armands Business Improvement District said it wants to work in collaboration with residents and merchants as it advances proposed building rules that would allow for taller structures on the Circle. Ahead of a public hearing tentatively set for spring 2022, the BID is intent on holding a community workshop to allow stakeholders to discuss the changes — and get accurate information on what exactly is being proposed.

“We really want resident participation so they hear the facts and all the details,” BID Chairman Geoffrey Michel said at a meeting Wednesday.

Since 2020, the BID has been pursuing a suite of revisions to the land-use regulations governing the Circle. Proposed changes include raising the maximum building height from 35 feet to 45 feet, increasing residential density and allowing for hotel projects. 

On Dec. 2, St. Armands Residents Association President Chris Goglia sent an email to membership raising concerns about the proposed changes. In particular, Goglia called attention to the proposed height increase, expressing fear the change was more significant than the BID made it out to be. The email posed a question to members of the residents association: “Is this what you want to see happen to St. Armands?”

At Wednesday’s BID meeting, members of the group said those concerns were rooted in part in an inaccurate characterization of the proposed changes. The email asserted the maximum building height would change from 35 feet above ground level to 45 feet above the established FEMA elevation, which would entitle builders on the Circle to additional height that was not being accounted for. But Dan Lear, a planning consultant working with the BID on zoning changes, said the city already calculates maximum building height in the Circle based on FEMA elevation.

BID members indicated a desire to produce informational documents that clarified how the zoning changes would affect St. Armands. Rachel Burns, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association merchants group, agreed there was a need for material that more clearly explained the BID’s proposal.

“I don’t think there’s as much opposition as there is confusion,” Burns said.

Michel indicated the BID was working to hold a community workshop on the zoning changes in January.

“We’re trying to work with the stakeholders and have agreement, but I think it’s important that facts are distributed, not misinformation,” Michel said.

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