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Letter to the Editor

How to avoid a cookie-cutter downtown

  • By
  • | 8:00 a.m. September 14, 2023
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Redevelopment pressure within Sarasota’s Downtown Core Zoning District will negatively impact the built environment downtown. The Downtown Core Zoning District is roughly bounded on the north by Fruitville Road, on the south by Ringling Boulevard, on the east by U.S. 301, and the west by the Downtown Bayfront Zoning District.

The Bayfront Zoning District is the first few blocks from the bay. The Downtown Core contains many buildings that do not exceed two stories in height. While many of these buildings may not be historic, they help enhance the overall character of the downtown. 

In 1983, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the city of Sarasota brought together a study. This study acknowledged what we all know. There are many aspects of Sarasota which make it attractive. The point of the study was to improve on a good thing.  One of the action items in this study was to: “Develop main view corridors from the downtown to the Bayfront.” Another goal was to:  “... maintain not only the historically significant structures, but historical character of the downtown.”

Longtime City Planning Board member Bob Lindsay once said: “Most people do not comprehend what the fully built downtown will look like.” 

This statement was made before the current downtown zoning districts were created, but those new districts only tweaked what were previously vested zoning rights. One of the significant changes with the “new” downtown zoning districts was the formation of the Downtown Bayfront Zoning District. This new district allowed new buildings to be constructed to 18 floors. However, the Downtown Core is limited to 10 floors. This is effectively creating a wall between the Downtown Core and the bay. 

Currently, property owners can sell easements for view to adjoining property owners, but this is not enough incentive when they can sell their property to a developer who can redevelop a one- or two-story parcel into a 10-story project. 

Allowing owners of low height developed property in the Downtown Bayfront and Downtown Core Zoning Districts to sell their development rights above their existing height to a developer in the Downtown Core would increase the odds that these older properties, which provide a large amount of character to the downtown, would be preserved. 

For example, if a two-story parcel in the Downtown Core sold its excess development rights, it would forever stay at that scale and allow a developer of another property in the Downtown Core to build to 10 + 8 stories or a total of 18 to provide a better chance of a view corridor to the bay. Without change, the Downtown Core will become a monolithic boring streetscape of 10-story buildings devoid of character or charm. 

— Jim Toale, Sarasota

Jim Toale is a retired real estate attorney and lifelong resident of Sarasota. 


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