UPDATE: Bayfront residents believe the updated traffic study still fails to meet the requirements outlined in the city code.
Earlier: At the behest of bayfront residents, the city decided to revisit the traffic study for a major downtown hotel and condominium development nearly three months ago. Now, the city appears to be satisfied with its findings — even if residents are not.
Beginning last year, residents of condominiums such as the Tower Residences at the Ritz-Carlton and One Watergate objected to the traffic study Kimley-Horn and Associates conducted to determine the impact of Vue Sarasota Bay, a project planned for Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41. The Kotler Group’s development will include 144 condominium units and 250 hotel rooms.
The complaints from residents, which alleged the study underestimated the peak-season traffic increases and did not outline how internal traffic would be managed, caused the city to revisit its work. After further review, the city indicated at a meeting Monday that any traffic solutions at nearby intersections would not include delaying the development of Vue Sarasota Bay, on which the Kolter Group hopes to begin construction around June.
Tim Litchet, director of Neighborhood and Development Services, is responsible for signing off on the study and granting the development its traffic concurrency certificate. He said a preliminary indication from the city attorney’s office was that the study met the city’s minimum legal standards, and that as soon as he got a confirmation in writing, he would sign off on the concurrency certificate.
Many residents objected to Litchet’s use of the word “minimum,” arguing that the existing traffic problems at Gulfstream and U.S. 41, as well as other nearby intersections, demanded a higher standard.
Mike Normile, a resident of One Watergate, said that more attention needed to be given to increased traffic along Ritz-Carlton Drive. Several residents said they believe people traveling to and from Vue Sarasota Bay will cut through Ritz-Carlton Drive to avoid U.S. 41. Normile said that situation would create a unique safety issue that the minimum standards of a traffic study do not fully address.
“I would look for the city to go beyond the minimum in something like this,” Normile said.
Litchet said he had no means to delay a development that met the criteria outlined in the city code. As the city considers how to manage a development boom along the bayfront, however, he said changing the criteria outlined in the code could be an option. Until then, he said, there’s nothing he can do.
“Maybe part of the long-term solution is looking at some of those standards,” Litchet said. “I have to apply the standards in the code.”
Even after additional study, Kimley-Horn determined Vue Sarasota Bay would not add enough traffic to require additional traffic-mitigation efforts from the developer beyond what is already required. To gain approval, a new development must not add traffic that creates conditions that exceed 115% of the acceptable level of service standard the city established.
In addition to the Vue traffic study, managing future growth in the area and fixing the current traffic issues were leading concerns for many attendees. Bob Easterle, a Ritz-Carlton resident, said the city was in a pressing situation with several hotel and condominium projects slated for an already busy area. He said the city needs to make coming up with a holistic solution that addressed long-term traffic issues a priority.
“What we do is we keep putting Band-Aids on this city,” Easterle said. “We’ve got to find a comprehensive-type plan that solves the problem — not just at 41 and Gulfstream, but throughout the whole city.”
City representatives said the city is working on several short- and long-term efforts to improve the flow of traffic in that area. Those efforts include traffic signal synchronization, expected to be in place in May, and proposed roundabouts at Fruitville Road and Gulfstream, which are still years away from completion.
City Manager Tom Barwin said city staff plans to survey the area with FDOT District 1 Secretary Billy Hattaway in the upcoming weeks to evaluate other short-term options. He said the city was pursuing many avenues as part of a larger attempt to address traffic issues, including a renewed focus on transit options such as trolleys and water taxis.
“We have to get into this alternatives conversation,” Barwin said. “We’ve got to expand the tools in the toolkit.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].