- February 2, 2017
Patrick DiPinto said deciding to build a high-rise condominium at 605 S. Gulfstream Ave. was an easy choice.
“It is truly one of the last of its kind on the bayfront,” DiPinto said. “We’ve got an incredible piece of property that has over 100 feet of direct Florida waterfront views.”
That’s why DiPinto’s company, Seaward Development, spent more than $9 million to buy out the 14 owners of the Versailles condo, built in 1974 on the Gulfstream site. And on Jan. 16, Seaward filed a preliminary application to knock down the existing structure and build an 18-story, 25-unit condo in its place.
Buying a condo building only to demolish it and build a new one is a costly endeavor.
But the sustained demand for bayfront residences near downtown Sarasota makes the investment worth it, even with other condo projects in development nearby. (And as close as next door: An 18-story, 17-unit condo is under construction on the neighboring property at 624 S. Palm Ave.)
DiPinto said the units, which will average 4,000 square feet with four bedrooms, are marketed toward island residents who don’t want to significantly downsize from a single-family home.
The units won’t go on the market until March, though construction likely won’t begin until the end of the year.
And yet, Seaward said it already has seen significant interest from buyers.
“We have had dozens of Realtors call us with prospects who want to be downtown,” DiPinto said.
Since 2013, developers have moved forward with a series of 18-story downtown structures near the bayfront. That’s the maximum height allowed for buildings in Sarasota, permitted only on properties zoned downtown bayfront.
Starting with The Jewel at 1301 Main St., at least eight projects in the past five years have included plans for 18-story buildings. The Quay development likely will have multiple high-rise structures. Two more properties zoned for 18 stories — one at Fruitville Road and U.S. 41, the other at 838 N. Tamiami Trail — lack formal plans but are slated for development in the near future.
Some residents have groused about the recent influx of high-rise buildings, but Sarasota officials say the city is being developed according to plan.
“If it’s consistent with our comprehensive plan and consistent with our zoning, they can just go forward with it,” Planning Director Steve Cover said. “If it’s consistent with both, it’s consistent with where the city wants to go.”
“It’s consistent with where the city wants to go.” — Steve Cover
If residents or city commissioners wanted to see a different type of development, Cover said the city does have the means to change its regulations governing new building. But that doesn’t mean the city can suddenly halt all high-rise projects. In Florida, if property rights have been given to somebody, they can’t be taken away without compensating for the lost value.
That means, for example, it could allow increased residential density in exchange for reduced height. Or, to address other issues, it could go in the other direction — in exchange for mandating wider setbacks from the property lines, the city could allow taller buildings.
Cover, who moved to Sarasota in 2017, has taken note of the focus on luxury residential development near downtown. From a planning perspective, he said that’s not a point of concern — merely a reflection of the demand for that particular product.
“I know since I’ve been here, most of the new developments are the larger, higher-end condominiums,” Cover said. “So I guess there’s a big market for that.”
Gulfstream Avenue resident Lottie Varano is more wary of the continued development downtown.
Varano lives in the Essex House, where residents have raised a series of complaints about the effects of the neighboring 624 Palm construction site. Because of those complaints, the city is reconsidering its regulations on setbacks for downtown buildings, though no changes have been made.
Although the Essex House won’t be as directly affected by the Versailles redevelopment, Varano encouraged the builder to take concrete steps to address the safety concerns associated with new construction.
“I would like to see, if they are going to no setbacks, that they don’t just say they’re going to be careful — that they do things to be careful,” he said. “Like providing netting to stop the fallout so that they don’t damage the neighbors’ property.”
DiPinto said Seaward has already spoken with neighboring property owners and city staff, and pledged to prioritize safety during the construction process.
“We’re trying to be cognizant of what’s important to our neighbors,” DiPinto said.
And though the project doesn’t even have a formal name yet, the developer is setting lofty expectations for the final product.
“This will be an iconic building,” DiPinto said. “It’s going to be one the city and residents on Palm and Gulfstream are going to be proud of.”
Varano said he recognizes the city can’t pick and choose which high-rise developments to permit, but he wished the city had a mechanism that would slow the rate at which new buildings are going up. Across the street from the Essex House, Seaward has broken ground on another residential project — the five-story, 16-unit 7 One One Palm condo at 711 S. Palm Ave.
The safety issues are residents’ most pressing concern, but Varano said the constant construction creates a quality of life issue, too. DiPinto said the 605 S. Gulfstream project could be complete by late 2020. Taken together with the 624 Palm development, that’s five years of high-rise construction in one piece of the city.
Varano acknowledged that’s the reality of life in a growing city. Still, he said he was disappointed downtown residents seemed fated to keep dealing with the nuisances of life around construction sites.
“Are we tired?’’ Varano said. “Yeah, we’re a little weary — especially those of us who are up in age and trying to spend our retirement years in some peace and quiet.”