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Letter to the Editor: Quay is circumventing city rules

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  • | 10:30 a.m. March 2, 2023
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Question: When do 9 building sites equal 10?

Answer: When you create one out of thin air.

The latest (and largest) building proposed for the Quay is designed to use air space over a 78-foot-wide Quay Boulevard to join two building sites into one massive building called One Park Condominiums. In fact, the size of the portion suspended over the roadway is reportedly equal to an additional building in itself. Nearby residents claim that those air rights belong to them, and they are in court to prove it.

The plans violate the 2016 development agreement entered into by the city and Quay Venture, the master developer and owner of the 14-acre Quay. For this building to be built, there would have to be some major changes made to that development agreement. But this won’t be the first time they have asked for special treatment.

When Quay Venture purchased the property, they inherited an aging development agreement with a well-defined site plan, but they had other plans for the site, they just didn’t know what they were. A new development agreement would require a new detailed site plan, which takes time. The city’s zoning code was crystal clear — no site plan, no development agreement.

No problem! Somehow in 2016 the city agreed to tweak its regulations to create something that did not exist in the zoning code. They called it a “general development plan.” 

The Quay’s plan had few details. In addition to the expedited process, the city agreed to vacate certain streets and allow credits toward potential traffic mitigation. Quay Venture in return promised designated common areas for the public’s enjoyment including the boulevard, Quay Commons. While a court case over who actually owns the air rights above Quay Commons proceeds apace, the City Commission has been jousting with its own city attorney over what procedures would be fair to both groups that claim ownership when the developer seeks city approval for changes to the development agreement and general development plan. In the most recent public discussion on the subject city commissioners voted 4 to 1 (Ahearn-Koch voting “no”) agreeing to the building developer’s request for a custom-made process and ignoring the city attorney’s advice.

City Attorney Robert Fournier explained that the proposed changes in the two documents should be heard in one public hearing in front of the Planning Board. Attorneys for the building developer (Quay 1 and 9 LLC) preferred to have them heard separately, which according to Fournier creates an unfair legal environment, suppresses public input and limits the information that can be discussed. 

There are other real reasons for the public to be concerned. Behind the scenes, attorneys for Quay 1 and 9 LLC have been pushing for an expedited process according to Fournier and “demanding subservience to their will.” Meanwhile, Aaron West, speaking on behalf of Quay 1 and 9, told the City Commission on Nov. 21, 2022 that “UPON COMPLETION OF THE BUILDING …we will be donating a million dollars to The Bay.” In this case, quid pro quo is Latin for “Shameless Inducement.”

If the Quay’s owners and their buyers want to change the rules of the game seven years after the agreements were signed, it seems only fair that the benefits of the backroom negotiations in 2016 yield to the realities of today — with today’s fees, regulations and a new traffic study. 

When do nine building sites equal 10? When and if city leaders vote to allow Quay 1 and 9, LLC to renege on promises made seven years ago. As surely as the proposed building floats above Quay Commons, a vote to support it by city leaders will suspend all belief that contracts with the city carry any weight at all.

–Eileen Walsh Normile, former city commissioner and Planning Board chair


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