The original article by David Conway appeared in the Observer on October 29, 2020
The Planning Board voted unanimously Oct. 21 to recommend approval of a series of zoning text amendments written to facilitate phase one of The Bay Sarasota park project.
If adopted, the zoning code changes would create new citywide regulations pertaining to the construction of civic boardwalks and piers, an amenity prominently featured in the city’s plan to redevelop more than 50 acres surrounding Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The amendments also include new provisions related to special events.
The proposed amendments come from The Bay Park Conservancy, the group formed to oversee the implementation of the master plan the city adopted for the bayfront in 2017. Phase one is planned for 10 acres north of Boulevard of the Arts.
Bill Waddill, The Bay’s chief implementation officer, characterized the changes as procedural in nature. Previously, the city’s zoning code did not have any regulations related to boardwalks or piers, so something new had to be added. The amendments related to special events were designed to update the code to reflect the permitting process the city already uses, Waddill said.
The proposed zoning text amendments drew opposition from residents of the Condo on the Bay building at 888 and 988 Boulevard of the Arts, just south of the bayfront site. At the Planning Board meeting, attorney Robert Lincoln spoke on behalf of three Condo on the Bay resident associations, raising a series of objections.
Lincoln said the design and environmental standards proposed for boardwalks and piers were insufficient as written. He said the lack of specific metrics in the code governing the development of a boardwalk invited fights over subjective aspects of future proposals.
Waddill said that because civic boardwalks and piers are not common structures, The Bay thought it made sense to build more flexibility into the code — especially because The Bay’s plans call for a variety of boardwalk and pier structures on the site.
Lincoln also raised concern about the lack of specificity regarding plans for special events on the park property. The Bay has said it intends for the phase one park site to serve as an opportunity to experiment with event programing to better assess what the community is interested in seeing there. Waddill said more concrete plans for events are still to be determined and subject to public input and the city’s permitting process.
Lincoln suggested that the events planned for the bayfront site represented an atypical use of park property that warranted higher scrutiny and more opportunity for public input from nearby residents. He said that unusually large events or events planned on a recurring basis throughout the year could potentially create problems for neighboring properties, especially depending on how the city and The Bay planned to handle such logistics as parking. As a result, he asked the city to require The Bay to obtain a separate major conditional use permit for the aspects of the park designed to accommodate events.
“It doesn’t matter how well the staff processes those special events permits,” Lincoln said. “It’s going to have a different impact.”
The Planning Board voted 5-0 in favor of The Bay’s proposed language for the zoning text amendments. The board also recommended the city explore the possibility of giving a higher level of consideration to events above certain size and frequency thresholds.
Waddill said The Bay is willing to discuss adjustments to events regulations for the property but believed the city already handles special events well. In response to Lincoln’s broad call for more scrutiny and oversight of The Bay plans, Waddill said the group is already going through a more intensive review than any other project in the city, despite already earning the commission’s endorsement and broad community support for the bayfront master plan.
“This is by far the most thorough process we’ve ever gone through to get from a master plan to phase one of a park built,” Waddill said. “We stand by the process.”
Waddill said the City Commission is scheduled to discuss the zoning text amendments at its Nov. 16 meeting. If the city adopts the amendments, officials will move on to consideration of the proposed site plan for phase one of The Bay project.