Bernstein: Selby Gardens plan would have historic traffic impact

Bernstein: Selby Gardens plan would have historic traffic impact

Baypoint Park Neighborhood Association

What affects the Bayfront affects all of Sarasota. For its new “Master Plan,” Selby Gardens is applying for one of the most intensive land-use classifications allowed under the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a classification normally reserved for airports, hospitals and major entertainment venues.

If allowed, this plan will place an enormous traffic burden on the Bayfront and is a recipe for gridlock from Gulfstream Avenue to Orange Avenue. The first $40 million phase of this $100 million project does not include the addition of a single orchid.

One of Selby’s stated objectives (page 8, “Selby Gardens Strategic Plan”) is to turn the Gardens into a “premier Bayfront entertainment location,” potentially bringing up to 468 cars, multiple times a day, to a six-story garage (almost large enough to park a 747 aircraft) between Gulfstream and Osprey avenues.

The 75-foot-tall, massive garage has a footprint of one acre — as large as or larger than the State Street and Palm Avenue garages, in a residential area currently limited to 35-foot heights.

One hundred and 11 trees, including five grand oaks, will be destroyed to create this concrete garage.

This resulting increased traffic dramatically impacts the traffic of Longboat Key, Golden Gate Point, Lido and St. Armands as well as the historic, quiet neighborhoods to the north and south of Mound Street. The worst impact will be the backed-up traffic at the already congested Bayfront, on one of Sarasota’s most important thoroughfares.

Selby Gardens’ public justification for its ambitious plans is the need for more parking to support its multiple party/event venues and a 10,000-square-foot “destination” rooftop restaurant.

To achieve a bay-view height, for which many other hotels and businesses paid handsomely, the Gardens’ leadership proposes the seven-story garage. The restaurant will operate independently of the Gardens, as a for-profit entity, well beyond the Gardens’ operating hours.

It will be one of the largest event spaces in Sarasota and a principal use for the site, competing with the private sector under the tax advantages of a not-for-profit organization on tax-free land. Selby Gardens also is seeking taxpayer funding from Sarasota County and the state to pay for the Master Plan.

The restaurant will be operated separately by restaurateur Michael Klauber, who will leverage his reputation for events, creating daily traffic havoc, noon and night. The Selby garage will only have two lanes of ingress and egress; traffic from those events will be directed onto Mound Street and south Orange Avenue, a designated neighborhood street that already is over-burdened by traffic and an intersection operating at Level Service “F” (the worst), according to the city of Sarasota’s Thoroughfare Plan.

The Gardens’ claims that the additional traffic, including tour buses and numerous food/beverage/event truck deliveries, would have no impact on the Bayfront and the neighborhoods. Restricting all traffic exiting onto Orange Avenue to left-hand (northbound turns only) is an ill-conceived nightmare.

The current land use and zoning for the Selby property is compatible with surrounding land uses and fulfills its role as a transition/buffer between the existing single-family and limited multi-family residential areas to the south.

The “Metropolitan/Regional” designation for which Selby Gardens is applying belongs in the urban core — not adjacent to existing, established neighborhoods. If this commercial, intensive zone is allowed south of Mound Street, the rest of the areas south of Mound will come under the same pressure.

The city of Sarasota and its residents have spent the last decade putting into the Comprehensive Plan and codes protection for neighborhoods. Granting Selby Gardens this new designation would destroy those protections in one action.

Selby’s parking needs can be accomplished with a much smaller garage. A small, accessory-use restaurant is reasonable; it does not have to be an enormous business with a high-altitude bay view.

Selby Gardens’ plan completely changes the character and purpose of the Gardens to a commercial event/party enterprise, a far cry from the Gardens that, until recently, has peacefully coexisted with surrounding neighborhoods.

It also is an egregious departure from and perversion of Marie Selby’s stated wishes that the property she was gifting be “a public garden for the people of Sarasota”.

Selby Gardens will become a party venue for the well-heeled, since public access to any of the property will be limited to those who can pay for admission, parking and an expensive restaurant.

This is not a simple matter of “not in my backyard” or “not wanting change.” Intensive commercial development with its intensive traffic does not belong at this already stressed intersection or in any neighborhood.

Robert Bernstein is president of the Bay Point Park Neighborhood Association.