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Housing trumps traffic concerns in Bahia Vista Apartments approval

The Sarasota City Commission approved the rezoning and site plan for Bahia Vista Apartments over Arlington Park cut-through traffic concerns.

The site development plan for Bahia Vista Apartments.
The site development plan for Bahia Vista Apartments.
Courtesy rendering
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A new multifamily development adjacent to the Arlington Park neighborhood took another step closer to reality Monday. The Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1, with Jen Ahearn-Koch opposed, to approve a rezoning request for Bahia Vista Apartments at the former site of Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.

Commissioners held a public hearing on site plan approval and rezoning of the 6.09-acre property at the corner of Bahia Vista Street and Tuttle Avenue for a 250-unit rental development. 

Residents of the Arlington Park neighborhood have opposed proposed high-density projects on the site for three years. In November 2022, they won a moral victory before the Planning Board, which voted 3-2 to recommend denial of the project. In February, the City Commission approved a request to redefine the future land use on the site to allow increasing residential density there. 

Standing at the edge of Arlington Park, the location is largely commercial across Bahia Vista Street and Tuttle Avenue, and residential across Briggs Avenue and Prospect Street. Remaining on the site is a medical office building, which will be demolished, and a 466-space parking deck, which will be refurbished for use by residents of the apartments. That location of Doctors Hospital of Sarasota was demolished in 2016.

Among the Planning Board objections, Ahearn-Koch reminded commissioners, was incompatibility of the apartments with its surroundings, which Arlington Park resident Rob Grant echoed in his opposition remarks. 

“The building as proposed is completely out of scale with the neighborhood and will more exacerbate existing public safety concerns,” Grant said. “There's an existing parking deck perceived primarily as about 35 feet high except for two elevator and two stair towers that are actually 45 feet high. In contrast, the building proposed will be massive, as you can see from those renderings topping out at 60 feet with architectural features that will encircle three-quarters of the perimeter of the property.”

In an effort to find compromise with the neighbors, Joel Freedman, representing the developer, and Chris Gallagher of Hoyt Architects told commissioners they located the development’s two four-story buildings 42 feet from the streets and removed balconies from the buildings facing residences. Much of the view of the project from homes will be blocked by the parking deck, they explained, which will be further obscured by landscaping consisting largely of traveler palms. 

To discourage neighborhood cut-through traffic, right-in, right-out access to the property will be on Briggs Avenue near Bahia Vista Street. A second vehicle access point will be off Tuttle Avenue.

Still, Grant and others worry about increased traffic through their neighborhood when the intersection of thoroughfares Tuttle and Bahia Vista bog down, as it often does. Freedman countered that the residential use of apartments versus the commercial use present on the site will result in less traffic, and the workforce-priced units will allow commuters to live closer to employment centers, especially to nearby Sarasota Memorial Hospital, thus reducing vehicle trips from outside the city through the intersection.

“I can tell you the hospital is ready to go,” Freedman said. "They would love to be able to put their nurses and staff in this facility.”

The Bahia Vista Apartments site includes a 400-deck parking structure that will remain and a medical office building that will be demolished. It's located on the southwestern corner of South Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street.

Vice Mayor Liz Alpert and Commissioner Debbie Trice said traffic at the intersection of Tuttle and Bahia Vista — which is maintained by the county — and the site plan and rezoning are separate issue. A project that adds to the city’s housing stock on a commercial corridor, they said, should not be held accountable for an existing problem. City staff has concluded the project will not have an adverse impact on traffic.

“It's called unsafe by design,” Alpert said. “This one corner is not going to solve that problem or exacerbate that problem. That problem is there and needs to be dealt with. But approval of this, I think, helps go toward encouraging more public transit and less cars on the road.”

“I think (traffic safety) is separate and distinct from what is before us,” added Trice. “We want more attainable housing and it seems clear to me that we don't have to worry about this being another luxury development. So from that standpoint, I think it will be an overall benefit for the city. And I think that there will be 750 or 1,500 additional cars may be the perception of people who live in a single-family home and have two or three cars in the family, but I don't think it's going to be an issue for this particular development as designed.”

Because the approval was not unanimous, the matter will come before the commission for a second reading.



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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