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Controversial high-rise condos to be reconsidered for downtown Sarasota

A marathon meeting is expected as the 342-foot Obsidian condominium tower makes its first foray into the public process on Jan. 10.

The upper floors of Obsidian would offer bayfront views to the east and downtown views to the west.
The upper floors of Obsidian would offer bayfront views to the east and downtown views to the west.
Courtesy image
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When the proposed Obsidian condominium tower gets its day before the Sarasota Planning Board on Jan. 10, Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly has warned board members it will likely take all day, and perhaps most of the evening.

The embattled project at 1260 N. Palm Ave. failed to receive approval from Development Services Director Lucia Panica, who denied two street-level exceptions to the zoning code, though opponents for most of 2023 have argued before the Sarasota City Commission that their objections to the project go much higher than that — 342 feet higher to be exact.

Before delving in to its agenda at its Dec. 13 meeting, the Planning Board heard from Connolly and Planning Director Steven Cover about scheduling January meetings with an eye toward the anticipated duration of the Obsidian public hearing and an evening event that planning staff would like to attend on the date of the board’s second meeting of the month on Jan. 24. 

Cover requested board members keep the Jan. 24 meeting brief so his staff may attend a speech that evening by Andres Duany, an architect and urban planner regarded as the father of New Urbanism, the model he applied to his vision for Sarasota 23 years ago. 

"The 1260 North Palm appeal is scheduled for Jan. 10, and at the last 12 consecutive City Commission meetings under citizens input people have come to complain about 1260," Connolly said. "They have said there are 4,000 people who have signed a petition against 1260 Palm Avenue. I'm not saying that I expect 4,000 people to come and testify, but nonetheless I do expect that it will be a marathon."

At issue was whether to bump a public hearing over a sign for Wolfie’s Deli, which Connolly said will not be quickly dispatched either. The board ultimately decided by a 3-2 vote to keep both Wolfie’s and Obsidian on the Jan. 10 agenda.

In June, Obsidian received partial sign-off by the city’s Development Review Committee, which occurs once a project is determined to have met all but a few of the architectural and technical standards within the zoning code. However, three exemptions requested by developer Matt Kihnke sent the application to Panica, who declined exemptions for a reduction in the required retail frontage at the street level and facade minimum requirements not including calculations for the garage opening.

“It is unfortunate that we were not able to resolve these reasonable adjustments with city staff,” Kihnke said in September. “The adjustments are specific to the first two stories of the building and have to do with fire and life safety systems, as well as safe ingress/egress to and from the site. We are, however, confident that we will be successful in our appeal of this decision to the Planning Board and have them grant the adjustments.”

That decision pleased opponents of the project, principally residents of the adjacent Bay Plaza, who have spoken before city commissioners during the public comment period at nearly every meeting since May 2023. They acknowledged that the project may not reach the City Commission, but if it were to do so under an appeal of an eventual Planning Board decision, they've warned they will turn out in full force.

Their primary objections are to the height of the building, charging the developer was manipulating the zoning code to create additional space between floors and other methods to artificially inflate the height of the 18-story building to 342 feet — nearly 100 feet taller than any other downtown building — for the sole purpose of towering above Bay Plaza to sell more bay-view units.

A May 2023 rendering of interior space of a condominium in Obsidian.
Courtesy image

They’ve also expressed concerns over safety during and after construction, disruptions created by the complexity of such a construction project on a small parcel of land, the building’s shadow blocking solar panels on the Palm Avenue Parking Garage across the street, and the building generally being inappropriately out of scale with the surrounding area.

“If this project were to proceed to construction, it would create in my mind an unacceptable level of risk to the health, safety and well-being of the neighborhood,” said Bay Plaza resident Ron Shapiro during the Nov. 4 City Commission meeting. “This would be true both during and after construction.”

Added fellow Obsidian opponent Paul Hess, “It fails to comply with zoning code compatibility criteria as well as the downtown master plan’s walkability and pedestrian friendliness requirements. Like thousands of Sarasotans who have signed petitions, we will continue to oppose the Obsidian project’s appeal to the planning board.”

Following the decision on the Jan. 10 agenda, Planning Board Chairman Daniel Clermont suggested the Wolfie’s hearing occur first, “Because I think it will be less time.”

“Well, I can guarantee you that,” Connolly replied.



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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