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Downtown tower receives partial city sign-off

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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The controversial plan for a 342-foot condominium tower at 1260 Palm Ave. is moving ever closer to sign off by the city departments represented on the Development Review Committee.

Obsidian, planned for 14 luxury residences on 18 floors, received partial sign-off during the June 21 meeting of the DRC, which prompted Chief Planner Allison Christie to explain the process to the opponents of the project who attended the session.

“For the record for everyone here and listening, I'll just explain what partial sign-off means,” Christie said. “Approval or denial of the project is not taking place at this time. It's just the majority of the departments on the DRC have no more comments, so we will not have any more DRC meetings (regarding Obsidian). They will work with the departments individually to get comments addressed, and ultimately the decision will be with the director of development services.”

That individual is Lucia Panica, who will be responsible for ultimately determining if the plans for Obsidian meet all legal standards of the zoning code. That is not a certainty, given lingering concerns expressed by the DRC. 

“As proposed, the total building height is 342 feet, which is significantly taller than neighboring buildings and other buildings within this zone district and the rest of the city,” reads one comment. “The overall building height could be reduced to improve the effects on this adjoining property.”

Obsidian would be built on this site next to Bay Plaza. The single-story building with seven storefronts will be demolished.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

Another comment pointed out that a solar study indicates Obsidian would block the sun from solar panels installed on the roof of the city-owned Palm Avenue Garage across the street from the site. The DRC has requested the developer provide a more detailed solar study on the impacts of shade not just on the adjacent Bay Plaza condominium building, but on other nearby structures as well.

Not mentioned during the meeting was greater-than-typical interstitial space between a number of floors, which opponents have charged serves only the purpose of artificially gaining height so the upper floors can provide views of Sarasota Bay Plaza.

“We provided staff all of the information they requested and that is required under the zoning code,” said Obsidian developer Matt Kihnke, president of MK Equity Corp.

That written response referenced by Kihnke reads, “Notes have been added to the elevations and the section labeling the interstitial space. Additional detail of sizing of the mechanical, plumbing, fire protection, electrical and structure will be provided as part of the building permit set when engineering is completed.”

Other lingering matters include Obsidian seeking administrative adjustment for a reduction in the required retail frontage at the street level, facade minimum requirements not including calculations for the garage opening and other technical issues. Should any application for administrative adjustment be denied, the site plan will need to be updated to come into compliance with those standards.

Opponents of Obsidian, largely residents of Bay Plaza, have organized, held rallies and spoken before the City Commission. Although project approval in the Downtown Core zoning district is administrative, that decision can be appealed to the Planning Board by a legally recognized aggrieved party, status which is subject to interpretation. 

Per state statute, an aggrieved or adversely affected party means any person or local government that will suffer an adverse effect from intensity of development “that must exceed in degree the general interest in community good shared by all persons.”

Kihnke said he can’t predict what Panica’s decision will be once she receives full sign-off from the DRC, but he expects it to come soon.

“This would be for the city to determine, however we do not expect it to take much longer at this point,” Kihnke said. 

And should Obsidian clear all its final hurdles, when would work begin? “Early 2024 appears reasonable for commencement,” he said.



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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