- January 10, 2023
After two years and several changes in proposals, the Sarasota Planning Board in November finally approved a site plan and rezoning to redevelop the Sarasota Bath & Racquet Club off South Tamiami Trail.
Shuttered since 2020, developer Sarasota Springs LLC is planning to rebuild the club with tennis and pickleball courts and surround it with 256 condominiums, 33 priced attainably, on the 13.43-acre site behind Trader Joe’s.
But first, the developer may still face a legal challenge from a group of nearby residents who claim to be legally aggrieved.
Four of the five Sarasota City commissioners, with Jen Ahearn-Koch opposed, on Tuesday did not recognize the residents as being aggrieved persons having such legal status, defined as being injured to a degree exceeding the general interests of the community.
That presents something of a gray area subject to interpretation, which attorney Robert Lincoln, who represents the developer, describes as situations such as blocked driveway access, lights shining onto a homeowner’s property or other direct adverse impact.
The neighbors who brought the challenge, led by Ben Cannon who lives approximately 465 feet from the site on Riverwood Court, could better be defined as affected persons, four of five commissioners agreed. Those with affected persons status have rights to present opposition to a development before the Planning Board and/or City Commission, which they had previously done.
The commission’s decision prevents the appeal from moving forward with the city, but because the decision was made during a quasi-judicial hearing, they have the right to appeal in circuit court.
During his testimony, Cannon said he and his neighbors qualify as aggrieved persons with a right to appeal the project because:
Lincoln said none of Cannon’s arguments were based on facts, but rather speculation. Attorney Brenda Patton, who also represents Sarasota Springs LLC, cross-examined Cannon, extracting testimony that Riverwood Court is a cul-de-sac that provides no vehicle direct access to Bath & Racquet, that he purchased his home in 2012 when the club was operational, and that there is more than 3,000 feet of road separating Riverwood Court from the site.
To get to his street, she said, a driver seeking a place to park would have to leave the site and make several turns before reaching his property.
However, a public pathway will be provided to the site from the neighborhood, which Cannon said may bring overflow parking onto neighborhood streets, including his.
“They can park by my house and walk down the pathway to get to Bath and Racquet, so I feel like we are going to be substantially affected by this,” Cannon said.
Affected perhaps. But aggrieved by legal definition? Vice Mayor Liz Alpert and three colleagues at the dais weren’t convinced. She specifically cited on-street parking where it is legally permitted.
‘I don't see anything here that is a legally recognized interest that would be beyond anybody else” Alpert said. “The condo that was built behind my condo, we didn’t have any parking Palm Avenue until they built their condos, now there’s on-street parking all the time. Should I have challenged that they could build that? You couldn't build anything if those were legally recognized interests or make you an aggrieved person. I'm not convinced.”
Barring additional legal hurdles, in addition to the residences and the private racquet club, Bath & Racquet will include 65,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Sarasota Springs LLC acquired the property in January 2022 for $15.35 million with the intention to build the plan conceived for prior owner Mark Lucas by the Sarasota architecture firm Halflants + Pichette.
Planned club amenities include 16 tennis courts, 16 indoor pickleball courts, an outdoor pool for the club and a fitness center. Built in 1969, the club had 29 courts when it closed, along with several racquetball courts.