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Proposed St. Armands developments prompt density concerns

St. Armands residents and Longboat Key leaders believe increasing maximum building height and redeveloping the Fillmore lot could add to traffic congestion.

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  • | 2:10 p.m. January 12, 2022
  • Sarasota
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In summing up the St. Armands Business Improvement District's Vision 2026, Chair Geoffrey Michel offered a simple statement in a virtual workshop on Tuesday evening.

“We’re not asking for 10 stories,” Michel said. "We’re asking for 10 feet."

Other proposed changes to the shopping district and surrounding streets: raising the maximum building height from 35 to 45 feet, increasing residential density and allowing hotel projects.

“The circle is clearly in need of updates,” he added.

The proposed changes are subject to approval in the spring before the city of Sarasota Planning Commission and the Sarasota City Commission.

A rendering of what St. Armands Circle could look like if the proposed 10-foot height increases are approved. Rendering provided by Scott Ashby.
A rendering of what St. Armands Circle could look like if the proposed 10-foot height increases are approved. Rendering provided by Scott Ashby.

When asked how the city plans to make traffic improvements to account for the added density under the proposal, consulting architect Dan Lear explained the process Sarasota leaders would undergo.

“When a developer submits an application for development, it goes into review and if they’re adding … residential units, they have to do a traffic analysis to basically determine the effect on the traffic,” Lear said. “And they may or may not be approved for their development based off of that analysis.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, several St. Armands residents expressed their concerns about the increased density, including St. Armands Residents Association President Chris Goglia.

Goglia said a St. Armands Residents Association survey found 75% of the 125 total respondents were opposed to the 10-foot height increase. The survey ran from September 2021 to October 2021 on the SurveyMonkey platform. It required a unique link to participate, which the association emailed out to each of its members. Controls were in place to prevent duplicate responses.

“We don’t understand why you want to take our circle that’s always had these two-story buildings, and not just go to three (stories), which is what Naples has, but to all the way to four (stories),” Goglia said.

Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier also attended Tuesday’s meeting. He called St. Armands Circle a “critical link” between Longboat Key and downtown Sarasota.

“We’ve experienced (an) hour to two-hour delays during season to get downtown for events, but it’s also a safety concern for evacuation purposes and emergency services,” Schneier said. “We understand that redevelopment is also often beneficial.

“We face those issues ourselves on Longboat Key, but bigger and taller isn’t necessarily better, and a 28% height increase will increase traffic, especially if the intensity of the use is increased as well, which we think hotel use will likely do.”

Vision 2026 does not necessarily coincide with when St. Armands Circle could finish the proposed changes, but marks when the shopping circle turns 100.

"This is not a money grab,” Michel said. “This is a genuine approach to make this a nicer place. Some of these buildings (were) built in 1960, and they’re ready to fall over.”

Michel also detailed how the Vision 2026 proposal seeks to make St. Armands Circle more friendly to pedestrians.

“Our goal is to make this more of a village with the purpose of being able to live here, stay here (and) play here,” Michel said.

Longboat Key’s response

On Monday, Schneier wrote a letter to Sarasota Mayor Erik Arroyo and the Sarasota City Commission to address the town’s concerns about plans to redevelopment the Fillmore Parking Lot on St. Armands Circle.

The city is considering five different proposals for the 1.98-acre site racing from $5 million to $11.8 million. Three of the proposals include a hotel and grocery store, two feature a residential component and one offer includes no plans for the future of the property.

“The town would be wary of the development of this properly unless correlating road and traffic improvements occur to accommodate the additional traffic that potential development will undoubtedly cause,” Schneier wrote. “Intensification of a use on St. Armands as proposed, on an already failing state road which already is known to create gridlock during tourist season and beyond, is not an acceptable impact to the town.”

On Monday, the Longboat Key Town Commission also agreed to retain Tampa-based attorney David Smolker of the Smolker Matthews law firm.

Smolker has a rate of $300 an hour for his work and a paralegal rate of $125 an hour.

It’s unclear what the specific legal options Longboat Key has at this point because Sarasota leaders have yet to pick a development plan for the Fillmore lot.

“We have to know what we’re fighting against,” Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said. 

The proposed height changes and the Fillmore lot proposals are not on the Sarasota City Commission’s agenda for its Jan. 18 meeting.

Longboat Key Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said he thought it was prudent for the town to hire Smolker.

“I do think we need to be careful,” Haycock said. “St. Armands is going to get rebuilt. It’s old as hell. They’re tearing down buildings now, so redevelopment is going to happen. I think we just got to be consistent with our message. It's really about traffic.”



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