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Five Sarasota news stories to watch in 2023

From plans to incentivize affordable housing to the long-awaited reopening of the the Bobby Jones Golf Course, there is a lot of news in Sarasota on the way for 2023.

The practice range at the Bobby Jones Golf Course is surrounded by a stream that feeds water into the nature park adjacent to the golf course.
The practice range at the Bobby Jones Golf Course is surrounded by a stream that feeds water into the nature park adjacent to the golf course.
Courtesy photo
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Eventful in its own right, the year 2022 also set the stage for news in Sarasota in 2023. Among significant developments in the year prior were the start of restoration of the Bobby Jones Golf Course, completion of the roundabout at Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41, the opening of the first phase of The Bay, the launch of the Bay Runner trolley and the approval of comprehensive plan amendments designed to incentivize workforce and attainable housing.

All of these developments will carry into 2023 with implications well into the future. Here are stories to watch as 2023 unfolds.

Restoring the Donald Ross layout

After five years of delays and changes in plans and scope, the renovated Bobby Jones Golf Course is moving toward a late summer or early fall opening. Budgeted at $12.5 million, golf course architect Richard Mandell of Pinehurst, North Carolina is leading the restoration of the original 18-hole layout, paying homage to the legendary Donald Ross who designed the course that opened in 1926 while adding a contemporary feature of a nine-hole “adjustable” par-3 course across Circus Drive. 

The golf course will occupy 108 acres with the remainder of the 261-acre city-owned site redeveloped as wetlands and a nature park, the entire complex engineered to naturally purify stormwater runoff as it moves from the northern edge at 17th Street to the southern boundary at Fruitville Road. 

Built on a floodplain, which frequently left parts of the course under water, the restoration includes raising portions of the course above flood level and contemporary drainage management systems that will redirect stormwater into the wetlands.

The course will open with a temporary clubhouse and will include three new accessory buildings. Mandell is guided by original Ross drawings and descriptions that were preserved at Tufts Archives in Pinehurst. The land has been placed in a conservation easement, which means it will be preserved in perpetuity.

The entire project is budgeted at $18.8 million, funded by $20 million city bond supported by a $3 million Southwest Florida Water Management District grant for wetlands improvement, which requires a 50% local government match; and a $487,500 Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant for the Bobby Jones Water Quality Improvement Project, which requires no local match.

Trails into the nature park are expected to open along with the golf course with development of the park itself to take several more years.

SRQ vs. city of Sarasota

Litigation between the city and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport will determine if an apartment complex can be built on the 25-acre former site of Sarasota Kennel Club. 

On Nov. 7, the Sarasota City Commission approved Aventon Sarasota, a 372-unit rental community across University Parkway, located 1,500 feet from the end of the airport’s runway. The development is planned by North Carolina-based Aventon Companies, which is also named in the airport’s legal challenge.

Throughout the months-long approval process, SRQ President and CEO Rick Piccolo and attorneys representing the airport objected the rezoning and site plan approval of the apartments, citing an interlocal agreement between the airport and the city that prohibits residential development beneath the 65 decimal day-night average sound level contour unless that land use “must” be permitted. 

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.
Courtesy image

The airport’s litigation and the city’s defense hinges on how the word “must” is defined. The airport defines must as land use required by deed restriction. The city counters that it defined as a critical need to address the city’s housing shortage resulting in a lack of workforce and attainable priced rental units.

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

A mediation session is scheduled for Jan. 5, the only possible solution the developer agreeing to redesign the development to move the residential buildings to the west side of the site away from the noise contour. Representatives for Aventon told commissioners that is a non-starter because of stormwater management and the $1.5 million Aventon has already invested in the project.

The airport has also filed for an administrative challenge to the city’s comprehensive plan amendment, which enabled the rezoning to a future land use consistent with multifamily housing. The administrative law judge has kept the case in abeyance, with a status report due Jan. 30. If the matter has not settled between the parties, a hearing will be scheduled between March and May.

Municipal Auditorium 

Among the final acts of City Commissioner Hagen Brody’s time behind the dais was to champion The Players Centre for Performing Arts effort to secure a long-term lease agreement with the city for Municipal Auditorium. 

Following an unsuccessful flirtation with Lakewood Ranch master developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to locate a permanent home in Waterside, the nomadic troupe is seeking to return home to downtown Sarasota six years after selling its former facility at 838 N. Tamiami Trail in 2016.

Sarasota Municipal Auditorium is located with The Bay.
File photo

In exchange for investing upwards of $9 million for repairs and upgrades, plus assuming  the $300,000 annual cost of staff and maintenance, The Players proposed it would manage the facility and control booking and scheduling of its performances and other events at the facility for eight months each year. That plan ran afoul of other local groups that regularly hold events in the auditorium and with the Bay Park Conservancy, which reminded commissioners that, as part of The Bay, a guiding principal of the 53-acre, city-owned park is that its facilities — including the auditorium — be open to all.

As part of The Bay, the BPC argued, it should manage the building and control scheduling of events there.

Rejecting the lease proposal by a 4-1 vote with Brody opposed, city commissioners sent the matter back to staff to further mediate negotiations between The Players and the BPC, which it had previously done in March. The Players CEO William Skaggs told commissioners that round of talks had reached a stalemate.

Before the vote, commissioners introduced another option for The Players: renovating and expanding the city’s Payne Park Auditorium, where The Players currently stages summer stock performances. Where The Players eventually lands, and who controls Municipal Auditorium, may be determined in the next 12 months.

Attainable housing

Now that the previous City Commission has cemented comprehensive plan amendments intended to incentivize the inclusion of attainable and affordable housing in new multifamily developments, plans are beginning to find their way into the pipeline to help address the dearth in the city’s workforce housing inventory.

In addition to providing density bonuses in the downtown core and along primary corridors ripe for redevelopment, the amendments expand administrative approval of site plans outside of downtown for qualifying projects. Density bonuses are provided to developments that include a minimum 25% of attainable units within the additional density, providing they include the same specs, finishes and are scattered throughout the project.

The first test case — Bahai Vista Apartments at the corner of South Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street — didn’t pass muster with the Planning Board, which sided with residents of adjacent Arlington Park who opposed the plan on the six-acre former Doctors Hospital of Sarasota site. Although the Planning Board recommended not approving the rezoning and site plan, the final determination will be up to the City Commission.

The expansion of administrative approval — a primary point of contention to the amendments — applies to sites zoned appropriately for multifamily residential. Completion of identifying and rezoning parcels by staff will likely extend beyond 2023, but that process is underway. The Bahia Vista site has not yet been rezoned, leaving the fate of the project in the political realm. 

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who was the lone opponent to the comprehensive plan amendments, repeatedly expressed concern over potential gentrification of legacy neighborhoods and pricing residents out of homes that are currently affordable to them. 

As the comprehensive plan amendments are enabled, staff has told commissioners there are multiple projects with attainable-priced housing — defined as 80% to 120% of the area median household income of $69,490 — in the queue for consideration in 2023 and beyond.

More Legacy Trail extensions

December’s ceremonial grand opening of the Ringling Trail complete street project with an emphasis on creating a protected bike lane on Ringling Boulevard from Legacy Trail to the bayfront is the newest spur of the multi-use trail that will extend from the Manatee County line to North Port.

Further, it's part of the Florida Gulf Coast Trail which, at 336 miles, is planned to span seven Florida coastal counties from Hillsborough to Collier. The Legacy Trail is now complete from Fruitville Road just north of Payne Park to the Venice Train Depot, with extensions to University Parkway near Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to the north and to North Port to the south. 

Bicyclists take the ceremonial inaugural ride on the Ringling Trail bike lane starting at Legacy Trail.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

Plans for north extension have stalled along with negotiations with Seminole Gulf Railway, which owns the right-of-way of the intended trail path. But as an alternative route northward is being sought, plans are also being developed to extend the trail across Fruitville Road at Tuttle Avenue along and through the Bobby Jones Golf Complex site and into the underway expansion of Sarasota County’s 17th Street Park. 

From there, it would continue to Nathan Benderson Park and across the planned flyover bridge at I-75 and into Lakewood Ranch.

In March 2022, the section of the trail from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road opened, connecting Payne Park to the network.

During the Ringling Trail ribbon cutting, former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines, now director of the Florida Gulf Coast Trail, said plans for that eastward extension of the trail toward Lakewood Ranch are solidifying, and that Ringling Trail fills an important connectivity gap for the trail network. Sarasota, he added, is at the geographic center of the Florida Gulf Coast Trail, which will continue to progress in 2023.



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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