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Sarasota Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019 6 months ago

Welcome back, Sarasota: 10 things you missed while you were away

A lot of news happened over the summer. Here's the best of it.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

We know it can be hard to keep up with the news from Florida while you're summering away, free from humidity, afternoon thunderstorms and the worry of an alphabetical list that can rip your roof off. So each November, we bottle up all the Sarasota-area happenings you missed and bring them to you thusly. Like we said on the front page, Welcome Back!

Support and opposition to the Selby Gardens master plan was vocal.

Selby Gardens master plan rejected

Let’s back up a few months from the City Commission meeting that took place earlier this month, at which leaders rejected a key portion of Selby’s master plan application, the nonprofit’s proposal for redeveloping its 14.7-acre bayfront site.

Selby Gardens had pursued a $92 million master plan project that included the construction of a five-story parking garage with rooftop restaurant, along with other facilities designed to support the botanical gardens. The plans drew outspoken public comment from both opponents and supporters, with residents filling the commission chambers beyond capacity for the first Planning Board meeting on the proposal.

The garage structure that Selby officials call the “sky garden” was a focal point of the proposal since the master plan became public in 2017. Selby has said its 270-space parking lot is insufficient, and it believes a vertical garage structure will allow the gardens to attract more visitors while concentrating parking on a smaller portion of the property.

Opponents have used the parking garage as a central exhibit in their argument that the master plan is incompatible with neighborhoods nearby. The garage could be up to 75 feet tall, more than twice as tall as the maximum height currently allowed on the property.

YMCAs are still open, thanks to a team approach.

Groups keep YMCAs open

When word came that the city’s two YMCA fitness centers were shutting down, two things happened. People got mad, and a lot of the same people decided it just wasn’t going to happen.

After years of losses, Sarasota Family YMCA closed the two sites in September. A few days later, the centers on Potter Park Drive and Euclid Avenue reopened under new management.

A partnership between the Dreamers Academy charter school, the Save Our Y organization and the investment firm Project Stoked started from scratch: rehiring all the fitness centers’ employees, launching a new payroll and membership system, and rebuilding the computer system.

Aside from the gym, managers hope to work out a contract with Dreamers Academy charter school to detail how the two organizations will work together on the same property. Both parties have said that they look forward to the partnership and hope to share resources when possible.

Dreamers Academy Principal Rubylinda Zickafoose said she is happy to finally have a location for the next school year after several other location options didn’t pan out.

Paid parking returns downtown

Yup, those are parking meters you see along the Main Street corridor downtown. The city’s new initiative went live over the summer to generally positive reviews from the city and a few thumbs downs from business owners worried about their effect on customers.

The city activated the pay stations on a phased schedule; all of the stations on Palm Avenue and the ones west of Orange Avenue on Main Street did not go live until the end of July. Focused on ensuring visitors were comfortable with a new system, the city de-emphasized issuing citations for meter violations prior to Labor Day.

City leaders said the system will help create a better overall experience and open up the most convenient spaces for those willing to pay while directing other drivers to free parking on side streets or less costly spaces in the downtown garages.

By the way, parking costs $1.50 an hour.

Speed humps on St. Armands Circle

Everyone’s favorite traffic-control devices, speed humps, have arrived in St. Armands Circle for a temporary stay – but how temporary is still an open question.

Installed in July by the Florida Department of Transportation, eight temporary speed humps are now hard at work near intersections. FDOT is using the project as an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of the humps, which are designed to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety.

Speed humps were installed in St. Armands Circle last summer.

At a St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting, Sarasota city engineer Alex DavisShaw said FDOT could leave the traffic-calming devices in place for three to five years if state officials determined they were improving the quality of the roads within the commercial district.

They could be replaced with more permanent structures if officials feel they are working, though no funding has been set aside for that.

Circling for a traffic solution

As work gears up on a traffic circle at Fruitville Road and U.S. 41, we recently learned a few details on how traffic will work its way through during construction. Some access to Fruitville Road will be limited during the project. Although north/south traffic through the intersection will continuously remain open, a portion of Fruitville Road will be closed to all westbound traffic. The project team has identified Boulevard of the Arts and 10th Street as alternate routes.

In August, the Florida Department of Transportation shifted traffic along U.S. 41, where the state agency is overseeing the construction of roundabouts at 10th Street and 14th Street. The 10th and 14th street roundabouts are scheduled for completion in spring 2020. Construction on the $12.6 million project began in fall 2017.

The city is pursuing additional roundabouts along U.S. 41, including a project at Gulfstream Avenue set to begin in late 2020.

Sarasota Orchestra looks for a new home

Sarasota Orchestra in February first shared its vision of a new concert hall in Payne Park, building on an announcement in 2018 that it intended to move from its bayfront home because of space constraints and concerns about sea level rise.

In May, the City Commission expressed discomfort with the prospect of giving up public parkland for the proposed project and voted to reject the idea while still expressing a desire to keep the orchestra in the city long-term. The orchestra previously said Payne Park was the only viable site it had identified in the city, and after the commission rejected the proposal to use that land, the organization said it would look outside city limits for a place to build a concert hall.

In October, city commissioners again discussed a resolution stating the city was committed to keeping the orchestra in the city, though no formal action was taken. That resolution will likely come up for discussion in the future. The orchestra has offered no timeline on its decision-making.

Bobby Jones looks at changes

By 2021, work could begin at the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Course reducing it by nine holes and adding nearly 50 acres of public parkland on the east and western sides of the 293-acre property.

The city’s favored design includes 27 regulation holes and a nine-hole short course.

The city is projected to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on the course as it pays back the debt associated with a bond issued to fund the project. But the 36-hole design showed the least significant losses in the analysis, resulting in average deficits of about $575,000 annually between fiscal years 2022 and 2028.

The city’s selected design includes 47.4 acres of parkland to be used for non-golf purposes. At the commission’s direction, city staff will work with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast on a potential partnership regarding the design, funding and management of that land.

The city and the Conservation Foundation are considering creating a conservation easement for the Bobby Jones property to preserve the land as public open space in perpetuity. Although the city would maintain ownership of the land, the Conservation Foundation would hold the easement to ensure the property was not developed contrary to the terms of the agreement.

School Avenue closes

That shortcut across Sarasota High’s campus to beat the traffic isn’t going to work any more.

The City Commission gave up control of the segment between Hatton Street and Tami Sola Street, meaning the road, which bifurcated Sarasota High, is no longer open to the public, even when school is not in session.

The school district made the street closure a priority while it attempted to improve campus safety after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Some residents living near Sarasota High objected to the street closure and expressed concern about the effects it would have on the transportation network in the area. As part of the agreement, the school district is committed to making up to $3 million in improvements to streets east and west of the now-closed segment.

Kennel club closes

The dogs are no longer running at Sarasota Kennel Club, though off-track betting is still in full swing, along with the site’s card room, One Eyed Jacks. A 75-year tradition in Sarasota reached the finish line May 4, nearly a year before it was legally required to stop.

The owners of the Sarasota Kennel Club decided to sell the property earlier this year, with a deal poised to close in early 2020, according to club President Jack Collins. The decision came after Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment last year banning dog racing in the state.

Michael Lander doesn’t know what, exactly, will end up replacing the kennel club in north Sarasota. Although Lander is leading a group under contract to purchase 24.4 acres of the property, he says Bronxville, N.Y.-based Wakefield Development Partners LLC is approaching the site with an open mind.

“I’ve been asking around what Sarasota needs, and it seems to be attainable housing,” Lander said. “That’s tentatively the objective.”

Siesta spill

Demolition of Siesta Key Water Reclamation Facility, near 5200 Oakmont Place, is expected to be in full swing in early 2020.

Now that the Siesta Key Master Pump Station is built, the majority of the remaining infrastructure for the Siesta Key Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, which ranked second worst in the state for pollution and was decommissioned in 2018, is no longer needed.

The county also will accept bids to see how much it would cost to demolish a 2-million-gallon tank that is currently used as a backup in case of emergency overflow, such as in May, when 36,000 gallons of raw sewage was spilled into the Grand Canal.

Compiled from stories by David Conway, Brynn Mechem and Samantha Chaney

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