Botanical Gardens Zone District Moves Forward

Todays News

Sarasota City Commissioners voted to create a new Botanical Gardens Zone District, a major step toward allowing a master plan for the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to move forward.

A virtual meeting on the matter stretched a couple hours before Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of creating the zoning, a dramatically different series of events than the extended deliberations spanning multiple meetings a year ago that ultimately led to a 3-2 decision against the Selby Gardens application. Since that time, two commissioners who voted no left the board, one declining to seek reelection and the other going down in defeat in November. Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, the only remaining commissioner to vote down the last Selby proposal, cast the only vote against the zoning district on Monday. New Commissioners Erik Arroyo and Kyle Battie joined with Hagen Brody and Liz Alpert in approving the change.

Supporters and critics still delivered hours of input on the merits and drawbacks of creating a new zoning district, one that allows for a plan including some controversial elements, most notably a 450-space parking garage. Former City Commissioner Susan Chapman, who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to the Gardens, said that’s an intense level of parking more appropriate downtown. Moreover, she fears the creation of a zoning district specifically for the needs of Selby Gardens would create a means for similar development. “If you want an intensive restaurant and an urban style, why not just become a botanical garden?” she said.

Supporters of the Selby plan said allowing a renovation and redevelopment on the 15-acre site was critical to the institution’s future, and thus would benefit the entire community. “You cannot assess this project in a vacuum,” said former Mayor Suzanne Atwell.

Jennifer Rominiecki, executive director for Selby Gardens, said the master plan for the Gardens, billed as a compromise with significant scaling back of uses compared to the proposal presented publicly last year, boasted far more supporters than dissenters. “We have done everything we can to address concerns,” she said. “Thousands have expressed their support.” The plan itself at this point has been scrutinized in more than 80 community meetings and over the course of 40 hours of Planning Board and City Commission hearings.

The vote Monday isn’t the final say. The creation of a zoning district allows for Selby Gardens to apply for the actual rezoning of the 15-acre site and to prepare a more detailed site plan for consideration in the future.

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