Despite concern from Longboat Key officials, the Sarasota City Commission is considering a mixed-use project proposed for the site of a public parking lot.
| 11:22 a.m. May 18, 2021
There's a long way to go before a proposed mixed-use complex anchored by a hotel and grocery store could possibly be built on St. Armands Circle, but the concept cleared its first hurdle at Monday’s City Commission meeting.
The development team of John Meshad, Gavin Meshad and Dennis McGillicuddy appeared at the meeting to present their vision for a project on the Fillmore Drive parking lot adjacent to the Circle. The concept plan includes a 98-room hotel, a 15,000-square-foot Morton’s grocery store, six townhomes and 270 covered public parking spaces to maintain the capacity of the existing lot.
The proposed structure would be 45 feet tall, 10 feet above the current maximum height allowed on St. Armands.
A majority of the commission expressed an interest in exploring the proposal further. In a 4-1 vote, the board directed the city manager and city attorney to work with the development team to clearly outline what steps would need to be taken for the project to eventually become reality.
Commissioners made clear their vote was not a firm endorsement of the development concept, but a means to continue to entertain the idea while facilitating a community conversation.
“This is very preliminary,” Commissioner Kyle Battie said. “Extremely preliminary.”
During his presentation, John Meshad said the group’s interest in developing the St. Armands parking lot dates back to 2007. A variety of factors — including a recession and the process of constructing a parking garage on another St. Amands parking lot — stopped the group from sharing the proposal with officials until recently. Now, Meshad believes the time is right to seriously consider the idea.
“We want to tee this up, serve the ball and see what the community has to say about it,” Meshad said.
Already, the concept has triggered concern from some St. Armands residents and Longboat Key officials. Residents living near the project site raised questions about the proposed height increase and asked how a development might affect traffic, noise and other quality-of-life dynamics in the area.
“Please, take your time and look at all the issues that are involved here,” said Lenny Owens, a resident on Adams Drive. “If something does happen, we hope it happens in a way that suits everyone that’s around there.”
Ahead of the meeting, Longboat Town Manager sent an email to Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown expressing a desire to provide input on the project if plans advance. Longboat Mayor Ken Schneier appeared at Monday’s meeting to expand on the town’s interest in mitigating any potential traffic issues associated with a St. Armands development.
“It’s a tremendous concern on Longboat Key,” Schneier said.
Members of the commission encouraged the development team to meet with neighbors in an effort to address those concerns before the project gets any further consideration from the city, which the group pledged to do.
“We don’t want to be contentious,” Meshad said. “We’re not trying to force this on anybody.”
Meshad said he was sensitive to resident concerns, but he and other presenters argued the project would provide meaningful public benefits. Meshad said providing structured parking would be a multimillion dollar value for the city. The proposal includes plans to bury power lines around the project site and incorporate landscaping and other design buffers facing residential areas. Meshad said the group intended to pay fair market value to the city in exchange for the land.
It’s unclear what, exactly, the next steps may be regarding the proposal. Commissioners discussed the possibility of soliciting submittals from other parties that may be interested in developing the site, but the board did not commit to undertaking such a process. Before the project as proposed could be constructed, the development team would have to secure a series of land use and site plan approvals from the city, a process that would require multiple public hearings.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch cast the lone vote against giving the proposal further consideration. Although she said she understood the project could provide some benefits, she was worried about how such a development might affect its surroundings, particularly if it involved deviating from existing regulations.
“I just am very concerned about the intensity and the compatibility of something like this,” Ahearn-Koch said.
Mayor Hagen Brody and Commissioner Liz Alpert spoke favorably about the concept, with Brody speaking about the benefits of having a grocery store on the barrier islands within city limits. Those commissioners, along with Battie and Erik Arroyo, indicated they thought the idea merited further consideration to see if it could ultimately be viable.
“All they’re asking for is for a conversation, to meet with the neighbors and see how this plan evolves,” Arroyo said.