Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A developer is working on a new project near a residential neighborhood, but those who live near the property in question say the proposal is a bad fit for the area.
It might sound like an old tale in Sarasota, but Tahiti Park residents are optimistic that it’s coming with a new spin. Despite a long list of concerns about a proposed Starbucks on U.S. 41, neighboring residents say early talks with the project’s developer have been fruitful — and they’ve come away with the confidence that an agreeable compromise can be reached.
“This is one of the better situations that I’ve experienced,” said Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, president of the Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association. “Immediately upon approaching them, they were open-minded and willing to listen to everything we had to say.”
On April 1, representatives for Casto Southeast Realty Services appeared before the city’s Development Review Committee to discuss preliminary plans for a Starbucks at 1603 N. Tamiami Trail. The 2,250-square-foot café, slated for the former North Trail site of El Pescador, would include a patio area and a drive-thru.
It would also be located off of Hampton Road and Tahiti Parkway, the entrance and exit for the Tahiti Park neighborhood. The neighborhood has experience fighting against projects to which it objects: In 2013, residents successfully lobbied the City Commission against the rezone of Hampton Road land for the development of a dermatology clinic.
Those residents are worried about the Starbucks project, too. Ahern-Koch estimated it would bring about 500 peak-hour vehicular trips to a neighborhood that currently sees about 35 trips during the busiest part of the day.
“That would be really, really devastating for us, but that’s just picturing what we think would happen,” Ahearn-Koch said.
The residents don’t think that traffic would be devastating in and of itself — the land is already zoned for commercial use. Their main concerns are with the planned ingress and egress points: One entrance is on Hampton Road, the only access point into the neighborood. An exit is on Tahiti Parkway, a narrow, substandard road that is difficult to navigate when cars are traveling in opposing directions.
“Adding anything to that would not be a good idea,” Ahearn-Koch said. “We think it would be a pretty serious safety hazard.”
They had other concerns with the initial plans. In particular, expanding the roads to handle the added capacity and installing a sidewalk on Hampton Road would require the removal of some trees that make up the neighborhood’s natural canopy. Still, despite the concerns that Ahearn-Koch has detailed, she maintains a rosy outlook on the future of the property.
During and after the DRC meeting, representatives for Starbucks and Casto Southeast Realty Services stressed that the plans they presented were still evolving — and that they were willing to listen to the neighbors as they continued to revise the project. Indeed, the developers also questioned city staff about the loss of nearby trees.
“We wanted to save as many trees as possible, and the sidewalks are going to impact that,” said Bob Cepuchowski, a project manager with Casto.
For Ahearn-Koch, the process is a signal that developer and neighborhood interests don’t necessarily have to be opposing — that as long as they’ve got a legitimate outlet to discuss potential problems, they’ll welcome new development. For her part, Ahearn-Koch has said Starbucks would be a valued addition to the North Trail.
“If you come to us first, everyone can air their concerns,” Ahearn-Koch said. “Some things we can work around; other things we can’t, but it’ll be out there. It’ll get rid of the sense that nobody’s listening to us.”
After dealing with protracted and heated debates over worrisome proposals, Ahearn-Koch hopes that future developers will follow the Starbucks model when projects in the area come forward.
“I hope it’s a sign of things to come and the way things will be going on in the future,” Ahearn-Koch said. “Ultimately, it’s in the developers’ best interests to be a good neighbor, and it’s in the best interests of the neighborhood to be a good neighbor back to the developer.”
“Ultimately, it’s in the developers’ best interests to be a good neighbor, and it’s in the best interests of the neighborhood to be a good neighbor back to the developer.”
— Jennifer Ahearn-Koch,
president of the Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association