Over the objections of many residents in the adjacent Arlington Park neighborhood, the Sarasota City Commission has approved rezoning the former Doctors Hospital of Sarasota site to permit a high-density multifamily development.
Bahia Vista Apartments is the first test of the city’s 2022 comprehensive plan amendments that incentivizes affordable and attainable housing outside of the downtown core by providing density bonuses and other considerations for developments along primary corridors.
The comprehensive plan amendments alone don’t permit that. Until wholesale rezoning and future land use classifications are adopted and such projects are placed under administrative review, qualifying plans must undergo the political process for approval.
On Tuesday, city commissioners approved by the required 4-1 supermajority to change the future land use classification of the 6.09-acre parcel at the corner of South Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street from Multiple Family Medium Density to Multiple Family High Density. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch voted no.
That will allow Bahia Vista Associates to build a 250-unit apartment complex in which the developer plans to include 35 attainable housing units per the city’s new enabling comprehensive plan amendments.
It’s a development more than three years in the making, one that has been opposed by Arlington Park residents since it was first proposed in 2019 as a 233-unit complex called Arlington Commons, a plan that was later withdrawn.
Although the hospital was demolished in 2015, the site remains active with a medical practice on a portion of the property along with a 400-space parking structure that the developer will renovate for use by the residents.
During Tuesday’s meeting, more than 20 Arlington Park residents expressed concerns over traffic, pedestrian safety, effect on property values, stormwater runoff, spillover parking and the idea of having a four-story building on a parcel bordered on two sides by single-family homes.
In December, the Planning Board sided with the residents, recommending denial of the future land use map change by a 3-2 vote.
“As you listen to my neighbors, realize that Arlington Park residents opposed to this project are not NIMBYs (not in my back yard), we are not intolerant and we are not afraid of change,” said Rob Grant, who has been among the most vocal opponents of the apartments. “We are, though, a diverse group of very concerned citizens concerned about the destruction of our high quality of life. We see, as the planning board did, that on balance this proposal is not consistent with the comprehensive plan.”
Four commissioners disagreed, saying the site is exactly what they had in mind when three of the five sitting members approved the comprehensive plan amendments last year. Debbie Trice has since replaced Hagen Brody at the dais and Ahern-Koch opposed the amendments. The location is within walking distance of three schools, they said, is located along a main corridor and is convenient to public transit.
By right, the developer could, and consultant Joel Freedman said probably would, build a more intense use on the property as an alternative. That included potentially a 300-plus unit assisted living and memory care facility that would generate more traffic than a residential use.
The site could also host up to a 600-unit memory care facility, or a combined use of 300 to 400 units. The by-right medium density apartment complex at 35 units per acre is likely not an option. Although it could have a density of up to 50 units per acre under the new land use classification, Arlington Park Apartments will be 41 units per acre.
“Something is going to be built there,” said Vice Mayor Liz Alpert. “Every planner will tell you this is a better use of the land. Yes, they could put a 300-unit assisted living facility, and I'm sure we need more of those, but that's going to be a more intense use and still doesn't accomplish our goal of providing more workforce housing and just more housing in general because you can't bring the prices down if you don't have enough stock.”
Future land use change in hand, Freedman said he expects site plan consideration will come before the City Commission in March.
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.