Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bayside Moves Forward

Last night the Planning Board reviewed the proposed Sarasota Bayside (Quay) development. After lengthy presentations and questioning of each other by lawyers for the Hyatt and Sarasota Bayside, the recommendation for approval of the street vacation and site plan was approved.

The developers, Irish American Partners, presented the vision of "compact, cultural seaside town. The scale was compared to Cannes. The problem their designers faced was that downtown is detached from the bayfront.

They indicated that 65-75% of the retail would be national chains with the remaining being local. At this point, since there is no schedule for the proposal there are no commitment from retailers. However, the developer is confident that the commitment will come.

Everyone that testified indicated that the proposed project was great and would do wonderful things for Sarasota. But issues of traffic, the effect of construction and the lack of an agreement over details with the Hyatt were the focus of most of the discussion.

While Sam Freija, city traffic engineer, has determined that the proposal complies with the TCEA requirements (apparently determined by calculating what the current Quay allowance would be) testimony submitted by a traffic consultant for GWIZ disputed the data. In neighborhood workshops, residents of 888, 988, Beau Ciel and Marina Towers apparently raised traffic concerns as the most important issue for them. The issue of not considering the impact of all the proposed projects together was also raised - there is great concern that when all the projects that have been approved along the 41 corridor (including downtown buildings that will also pull traffic) are built this section of 41 will have major traffic problems.

The Hyatt raised a number of issues that could affect their daily operation: truck access (loading dock area), potential noise and construction activity. The Hyatt also noted that the proposed buildings would be higher (260 - 270 ft) than any building currently approved in downtown - 90 ft higher than Five Points building - and that their pool would be shaded during at least a portion of the day from November to March. The Hyatt representatives said "we do not want this to become another 1350 Main", referring to the horrendous construction issues that Palm Ave merchants have faced during the long construction of that building.

The Hyatt noted that the model that the model of the proposed project that Sarasota Bayside produced "has been very helpful in trying to understand the project."

Some of the public benefits of the proposal would be; the Belle Haven will be saved, there will be public water front access, new sections of the MURT will go through the project, the large "piazza" will be excellent public space, the "pedestal" design of the building complexes will allow stepbacks for the towers thus making the pedestrian experience more "human scale", and the design and architecture is quite strong - much different than the downtown buildings we have seen so far - and present a much needed new look. The Bayside group is actively looking for ways to provide better connectivity across 41 to downtown.

Bottom line: everyone agreed it would be a good project for Sarasota, but like all projects the devil is in the details. There could be many devils with this project but at least the Planning Board agrees that it should move forward.

The SHT story about the meeting is here.

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