Neighbors Weigh In On Selby Gardens' Future

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY SEP 30, 2019

The public got its chance to speak to a master plan for the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens at a Sarasota Planning Board meeting last week. But even after two extended meetings on a series of planning and zoning matters around vision, the board has yet to make its recommendations.

Two neighborhood associations sent attorneys to address their remaining concerns with the lofty plan.

“We object to the applications, not to Selby Gardens but to what we think is an overly ambitious, almost grandiose plan far too intense for this 14.7 acre contained site, said Bill Moore, on behalf of the Baypoint Park Neighborhood Association. “This is not Denver, Atlanta, New York or Chicago.”

Most notably, neighbors have a problem with the parking garage and proposed restaurant whcih they say can generate traffic to the site even when the Gardens proper are not in operation.

Robert Lincoln, on behalf of the Hudson Crossings Condominium Association, said Selby Gardens has worked closely with its immediate neighbors, and he remains hopeful sticking points in ongoing talks can be ironed out. He said deficiencies in city code creates some of the problems for all parties involved. If the city had a multi-use planned development land-use category, that could resolve issues about planning and predictability for the gardens property, he said.

Former Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman, who lives in the nearby Hudson Bayou neighborhood, objects strongly to the Selby Gardens plan. While city staff recommends approval of the plan in part because of the Gardens cultural significance to Sarasota, she quibbled with whether a parking garage and restaurant served any greater good. “These are not unique to the community,” she said. “There are plenty of restaurants with which this will compete.”

Former Commissioner Ken Shelin gave a passionate a speech in favor of the plan. “Selby Gardens and this master plan does the things citizens expect from our city,” he said. He considered the efficient use of space on the Selby site to be a benefit to all, and that better visitor attractions outside the historic gardens, which will remain pristine, will invite more visitors into the community of Sarasota.

ATLARGE founder Anand Pallegar noted that much of the land where new amenities are planned today are used for parking. He praised Selby Gardens leadership, particularly CEO Jennifer Rominiecki, for a plan that will generate greater interest worldwide in the work done at Selby Gardens. “Perhaps in doing something like this, it will inspire a generation of epiphyte lovers, which would be an amazing thing to see,” he said. 

“Sometimes change is difficult, but as someone betting in the future of this city, this is a plan that holds an intense amount of opportunity for the community for generations to come.”

The Planning Board will hold a third meeting on the plan on Oct. 2.

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