Selby Gardens Makes Case to Planning Board

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY SEP 19, 2019

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ leadership team made its case to Sarasota Planning Board for why it must upgrade facilities. But neighbors concerned about increased traffic and imposing structures, particularly a parking structure fronting Mound Avenue, also showed up in force to voice concerns.

Ultimately, the Planning Board took no vote, as extended public comments forced the issue to be tabled until the next meeting. Once the Planning Board makes recommendations on a series of items related to the plan, the matter will go to the Sarasota City Commission.

Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO for Selby Gardens, stressed the plan needed to move ahead in order to advance the institution’s global reputation for biodiverse botanical research while also establishing a sustainable business model. She stressed plans for new construction will all take place on property acquired by Selby Gardens through the years.

“The Gardens we all know and love will not be changed, including Marie Selby’s historic home,” she said.

She drew guffaws, though, at an insistence on calling the most controversial part of the plan a “sky garden.” The term “parking garage" didn’t suffice, she said, because the building would house a new restaurant, edible garden, plant shop and solar array to make the facility the only energy net-positive botanical garden anywhere.

Neighbors from adjacent Hudson Crossings and nearby Hudson Bayou, though, have expressed strong reservations the plan would turn Selby Gardens into an entertainment venue, generating tremendous traffic and imposing structures that changed the character of the historic neighborhood.

The Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, though, devoted little time to public input, which will take place principally in an upcoming meeting. Rather, Planning Board members spent hours hearing from city staff about the details of creating a special zoning district for the master plan, including how commitments made by Selby Gardens today will be enforced in the future. City officials say enshrining plans in code will mean any significant deviation from a plan requires a new application and going through the lengthy planning process anew.

Planning Board Chair Eileen Normile early on tried to keep focus on planning disputes instead of attacks on motivations. She asked early if anyone who hated the gardens would indicate that and only one hand raised. Then she asked who loved the Gardens, and both critics of the master plan in yellow shirts and supporters garbed in green cheered.

“Let the record show there is little disagreement that Selby Gardens is appreciated,” she said.

The Planning Board next meets on Sept. 25 at 1:30 p.m.

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