Sarasota City Commission gives final approval for Marie Selby Gardens redevelopment

 

SARASOTA — The long process of winning approval for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ bayfront redevelopment plan concluded at a City Commission meeting on  Tuesday evening, ending nearly four years of lengthy negotiations with the city and often contentious debate with neighbors.

The last hurdle came with a series of noise and other concessions at the request of Selby’s southern neighbors. While the botanical gardens had made certain promises regarding the size of the restaurant and cutoff times for events, those who live across Hudson Bayou wanted it in writing.

City Commissioner Kyle Battie voted with the majority of other commissioners to include them in an ordinance but had some strong reservations.

“I see a lot of shall not do this and shall not do that,” Battie said. “I wonder how they can even do business.”

Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody announced the series of 4-1 City Commission votes on several requests by Selby. These requests were part of a required second reading for a series of zoning rule changes and a utility and street vacation approved by the commission last month.

The changes help pave the way for Selby’s proposed redevelopment of its downtown campus. The plans call for a new 450-space parking garage with a 110-seat restaurant at Orange Avenue and Mound Street, along with a new welcome center.

As before, Jen Ahearn-Koch voted against the measures.

Ahearn-Koch questioned the street and utility easement along Palm Avenue. These changes would make room for a new recreational trail for bicycles and pedestrians that will run along the eastern and north property boundaries. Citing previous broken promises to create an easement, Ahearn-Koch wanted the easement to remain in perpetuity or include a penalty should Selby back out and change course.

This rendering shows the proposed Marie Selby Botanical Gardens parking garage at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Mound Street.

The city’s legal counsel argued there were already obligations in place.

“I don’t see it as sufficient protection for the citizens of this community because it can be undone pretty easily and it has been undone pretty easily,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Those in the majority were satisfied with the proposal and did not speak publicly on Tuesday. They previously argued that Selby had bent over backward to make concessions to its neighbors, who succeeded last year in narrowly convincing the City Commission to send the nonprofit botanical gardens’ original vision back for revamping.

One concession not included was a request for reduced decibel levels on the south end of Selby’s property. This would have impacted neighbors across Hudson Bayou in the Bay Point Park Neighborhood, who have long complained about excessive noise from weddings and parties.

Fireworks displays will be prohibited, as will private rentals of the rain forest gardens. Private event rentals of the Great Lawn, including other garden-wide rentals, will be limited to no more than 25 per year.

Potentially noisy outdoor events will be confined between noon and 10 p.m., except for Selby’s annual Orchid Ball. The gala, which typically takes place in the spring, will be allowed to extend until 11 p.m. With the exception of the annual Orchid Ball, no activities featuring live band performances shall be permitted on the Great Lawn after 5 p.m. This does not include DJs. Outdoor amplified sound is also required to be directed away from residential neighborhoods.

The ordinance also puts limitations on the accessory restaurant, cafes and snack bars. These areas cannot exceed 6,000 square feet or 160 indoor seats.

Before Selby receives permits for vertical construction on its project, it must first make right of way improvements.

Selby Gardens has set a goal of breaking ground on Phase I late this spring. The three-phase plan will take several years to complete.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Sarasota’s skyline.

Selby Gardens’ Board of Trustees is spearheading the fundraising campaign that has raised more than 80% of the funds needed to implement Phase I.

The three-phase plan is expected to cost $92 million, which breaks down to $72 million for construction and $20 million for endowment and operations. Of the $42.5 million needed to implement the first phase of the master plan, $35 million has been raised.

“We are thrilled to be able to stay in downtown Sarasota in a way that allows Selby Gardens to be environmentally and financially sustainable for generations to come,” said Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens.

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