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Airport files two legal actions against city over apartments approval

Despite pending mediation, the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has filed preemptive challenges against the city over rezoning and approval of apartments at the former kennel club site.

The planned Aventon Sarasota apartments is across University Parkway from the SRQ runway. The airport is challenging the legality of the rezoning and site plan approval.
The planned Aventon Sarasota apartments is across University Parkway from the SRQ runway. The airport is challenging the legality of the rezoning and site plan approval.
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The legal tussle between Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and the city of Sarasota over its approval of an apartment development at the former Sarasota Kennel Club has reached the 12th Judicial Circuit in Sarasota County. 

Last week, Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln filed a complaint with the court naming both the city and developer, North Carolina-based Aventon Holdings LLC, alleging a violation of state law “in granting a rezoning and site plan that is inconsistent with the city’s own comprehensive plan and violates their interlocal agreement by allowing residential development inside the safety noise contours of the airport.” 

The airport also filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the 12th Judicial Circuit, which is an appeal of a judicial action, in this case to overturn the City Commission’s decision made in a quasi-judicial proceeding.

On Nov. 7, the Sarasota City Commission gave its final approval of a site plan and future land use rezoning of the 25-plus acres of the former dog track, which was closed in 2019 following a statewide referendum banning dog racing in Florida. For months, the airport had alleged approving the development was in violation of a 2018 agreement with the city that prohibits development of residential property beneath the 65 decibel day-night average noise level contour from the end of the runway at SRQ, some 1,500 feet away from the site across University Parkway. 

It also charges the approval is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, although the City Commission, with sign-off by the state, approved amending that plan, which includes a future land use designation on the site that permits multifamily residential. 

Aware of the airport’s pending litigation, commissioners approved the project, citing the need to address a citywide housing shortage justifies language in the  agreement that allows the city to approve residential there if it “must” do so. The city must, a supermajority of commissioners agreed, permit the project to address the lack of local housing stock. 

Along with Lincoln, SRQ President and CEO Rick Piccolo argued before commissioners that “must” is more appropriately defined by binding deed restrictions that require residential development on a property within the 65 DNL noise contour.

Aventon plans to build a 372-unit rental community on the site, most of the residential buildings located on the east side of the property closest to the runway. The airport had suggested relocating the residential buildings to the west and out from beneath the contour, but Aventon attorney Scott McLaren told commissioners at the Nov. 7 meeting that reconfiguring the site plan would make the project unworkable, and that the developer had already spent $1.5 million in engineering and site plan work.

The airport previously filed for a hearing before a Florida administrative law judge, that process suspended until the city and airport complete the requisite government dispute resolution process of mediation. 

A mediation session is also scheduled for Jan. 5.

Prior to the nearly complete shutdown of air travel in response to COVID-19 in 2019, the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority had expressed interest in acquiring the kennel club property for use as a parking area, rental car operations or a combination of the two. Piccolo told commissioners the nature of the airport’s opposition to the apartments is not based on acquiring the property, but rather out of concern for the health and safety of the residents, and for the inevitable noise complaints it will receive from residents, the latter even though Aventon said the city and the airport would be indemnified against any future actions.

Immediately adjacent to the Aventon site is Progress at University, another apartment development working its way through the city’s planning board. That project is not challenged by the airport because the approved rezoning for multifamily uses there predates the 2018 interlocal agreement.

Until the legal matter is settled, City Attorney Robert Fournier told commissioners on Nov. 7, nothing is changed with regard to the property.

“The future land use classification of this property right now is still Community Commercial,” he said. “The ordinance approving a comprehensive plan amendment will not go into effect until this challenge now pending is over and it's finally resolved."



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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