At a community workshop Wednesday, residents living along Boulevard of the Arts continued to raise concerns about the layout of the park project.
As The Bay Sarasota continues to refine plans for the first phase of a 53-acre waterfront park project, it met with a group of citizens at City Hall on Wednesday as part of the city’s development review process.
The community workshop focused on the Phase 1 plans, which include an open-space lawn, a curved boardwalk over the water, a concession stand and a kayak launch, all within a 10-acre footprint on the southern end of the city-owned bayfront property. The Bay is a private nonprofit developing the bayfront site in partnership with the city.
In September, the City Commission unanimously approved an implementation plan with The Bay that included an overview of key elements of the first phase. Now, The Bay must go through the city’s site plan review process and obtain approvals for a major conditional use and a waiver allowing the park to be built on a site zoned for government use.
At the workshop, The Bay Chief Implementation Officer Bill Waddill said the process differs from the normal site plan review effort for a project in the city. Although the public is often seeing a proposed development plan for the first time at a community workshop, Waddill said The Bay has held more than 30 large workshops and 200 meetings in total about the park project.
As a result, he said, The Bay is now focused on finer details of the Phase 1 plan, such as the size of the boardwalk, the setbacks for proposed structures and the widths of sidewalks on the site. Waddill said The Bay has not yet finalized a site plan but intends to submit one to the city in December.
Many of those in attendance at Wednesday’s workshop live in condominium buildings on Boulevard of the Arts, directly south of the Phase 1 site. Questions from those residents expressed concern about the layout of the park and its effects on the surrounding area, particularly as it pertained to traffic circulation.
Speakers at the workshop asked for information about the projected attendance at the park, the proposed design of Boulevard of the Arts, the number of parking spaces included in the plan for Phase 1, the hours of operation and more. Waddill said some of those details would be addressed in the site plan, while others would be mentioned in a forthcoming implementation agreement with the city. The City Commission must approve both the site plan and implementation agreement.
A specific point of concern for some residents was the western terminus of Boulevard of the Arts, located near a proposed plaza and the boardwalk. Residents were worried cars would travel to the end of Boulevard of the Arts to drop off people visiting the park, causing traffic problems when drivers attempt to turn around.
Although Waddill said The Bay intended to direct visitors north of Boulevard of the Arts for parking and drop-off, residents were skeptical of the efficacy of the group’s routing plans.
“That’s a chokepoint,” said Steve Isenhour, a resident of Condo on the Bay. “It’s a chokepoint today. It’s going to be a triple chokepoint later.”
Residents of Condo on the Bay, located at 888 and 988 Boulevard of the Arts, continued to object to the location of the boardwalk. Those critics have suggested the placement of a portion of the boardwalk south of Boulevard of the Arts represented an infringement into a residential area. The Bay’s plans call for the southern end of the boardwalk to extend from a .35-acre city-owned parcel west of Condo on the Bay.
In response to those residents Wednesday, Waddill said the city’s approval of the implementation plan represented an endorsement of the layout The Bay envisioned for Phase 1. He said that design was built with substantial community input, and although he said the organization would continue to listen to public input as it seeks additional approvals from the city, it did not intend to substantially revise a plan the group believes has significant public support.
“We have to respect the process that we’ve been through,” Waddill said.
On Wednesday, The Bay announced it had secured $13 million in private contributions toward the first phase of the park. The group hopes to raise $20 million from private sources and an additional $5 million in public funding for Phase 1.
The Bay is working to gain all of its necessary approvals for Phase 1 by next summer and is targeting a late 2021 opening for the park.