Sarasota Denies Selby Gardens Master Plan

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY NOV 6, 2019

The Sarasota City Commission voted 3-2 to deny a request by Marie Selby Botanical Gardens regarding a master plan for the institution’s future.

“This is not in the public’s best interest, and it’s not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan,” said Sarasota City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch.

The vote ends months of debate about the plan, which controversially included building a sky garden to house parking and a restaurant on Selby Gardens property fronting U.S. 41. The plan left the original gardens donated by city matriarch Marie Selby unchanged but allowed for improvements on property acquired around the historic site.

Jennifer Rominiecki, executive director of Selby Gardens, argued the master plan was needed to provide a financial future for the cultural jewel in Sarasota. “We did not submit this plan lightly,” Rominiecki said. “Constituents would be disheartened to see another cultural institution leave the city.”

She also stressed the plan in many senses represented a reduction if potential development intensity on land owned by Selby Gardens that now hosts a dirt parking lot and aging historic homes. City plans now allow for the property to be developed as commercial office space.

Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody said it was a mistake to nix the proposal. “We should show flexibility and appreciation for our cultural assets,” he said. “This is not the same as a commercial development.”

Mayor Liz Alpert agreed, and said the plan would do more to preserve the community and stop commercial construction in the future from lurching toward neighborhoods around Hudson Bayou.

But a substantial number of neighbors around the site, who have protested the plan for months, argued against approval. Public hearings spanned two City Commission meetings and three Planning Board meetings largely thanks to opponents of the project voicing concerns.

City Commissioner Willie Shaw scoffed at traffic studies that showed minimal increase in traffic on Orange Avenue. Moreover, he was discouraged more outreach had not been done to Sarasota’s minority communities promising jobs created on the site would benefit them.

Some encouraged Selby officials to go back to neighbors and see if disagreements can still be worked out before another proposal moves forward.

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