Article Courtesy of The Herald-Tribune
By Zach Murdock
Published February 19, 2017
SARASOTA — A panel debating the criticism of the Vue
Sarasota Bay condominium and hotel on Saturday highlighted the growing
tensions over downtown development booms, and changes that critics want made
to expand citizen input on major projects.
Towering over the
corner of Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41, the Vue has, fairly
or not, become the object of intense scorn among city
residents and neighborhood leaders who believe it is a prime
example of city development codes run amok without public
The Better Government Association of Sarasota County panel
on Saturday titled "The Vue: Model or Mistake?" sought to
explore whether changes advocated by groups such as STOP! or
the city's current procedure for administrative review of
projects are more appropriate.
But for the 100 attendees, the already tense discussion
devolved on several occasions, with audience members'
interruptions, shouting and sneering throughout the two-hour
Ultimately the panel broke little new ground on the subject
of the Vue's development approval process, and came to no
conclusions on the question posed in the forum's title.
At the heart of the debate on the Vue is a city process
known as administrative review, under which city planners
review and approve certain downtown projects without formal
public hearings if they meet existing downtown zoning codes.
The Vue Sarasota Bay and Westin, 1 N. Tamiami Trail,
features 141 condominiums, 255 hotel rooms and 14,000 square foot
ballroom. The developer is Kolter Group and the construction value
is $120.7 million.
The Vue is one such project, and many of the elements
that critics cite, such as its height, mass and proximity to the roads, are
requirements of the code, said panel member David Smith, the city's general
manager for neighborhood and development services.
The administrative review process originated with Andres Duany's work on the
downtown master plan in 2000. It was formally incorporated into city plans
in 2003 as part of a settlement with development groups who intended to
challenge the plan's restrictions on their properties, Smith said.
But STOP! leaders and panel members Mollie Cardamone and Jennifer
Ahearn-Koch argue the codes on which the Vue is designed are clearly flawed,
based on residents' reaction to the construction. Cardamone served on the
City Commission during Duany's initial planning and Ahearn-Koch is running
for a seat on the commission this spring.
"If so many people are so unhappy or disturbed with so many buildings ...
then there is something wrong with the code," Cardamone said. "We had a sort
of a mantra that we threw back and forth when I was on the commission that
we don't want to look like Fort Lauderdale, and I fear we are beginning to
look like Fort Lauderdale."
Ahearn-Koch presented her case against administrative review because it
bypasses opportunities for public hearings before she was interrupted by one
audience member who attempted to offer a counter argument, until someone
yelled at him to "sit down and shut up" as much of the audience turned
Panelist and former City Commissioner Ken Shelin later picked up where the
interrupter left off, though, by contending that the administrative review
process promotes "objective, predictable, consistent" criteria for
development approval. The result has been a booming and vibrant downtown
that promoted new commercial and residential buildings where many of the
critics in Saturday's audience now live, he said.
Panelist and Planning Board member Patrick Gannon added there are a slew of
other ways for neighborhoods and concerned residents to get involved,
whether working with city staff or the developer. Gannon, who is also
running for the City Commission this spring, heads the Downtown Sarasota
Condominium Association and offered several recent examples he was involved
in, such as pending changes to the tree mitigation rules and a new email
notification for new developments.
Residents also can petition the city to appeal an administratively approved
project to a public hearing with the Planning Board, and even up to the City
Commission, Smith said. Laurel Park residents successfully halted a new
loading zone on Rawls Avenue for the Woman's Exchange using that process,
and it also was used to fight a proposed Walmart at the Ringling Shopping
Center more than three years ago.
But that process costs $1,600 to initiate, and must be filed within 10 days
of the approval, putting the onus on residents to be engaged and fight a
project after the fact, Ahearn-Koch said.
She and STOP! leaders contend public input should happen on the front end of
individual projects, whereas Shelin argues the input should be made to the
zoning code itself to set those rules for all projects.
With the Vue still under construction, Smith, the city staff member, pleaded
with the attendees who remained until the end of the forum to keep an open
mind about the project. When the construction scaffolding is gone, it will
be flanked by much more open space, with a 12-foot-wide sidewalk on
Gulfstream and 12 feet of sidewalk, grass and trees along U.S. 41, he said.
The building is slated to be completed in about a year.
Shelin went a step further, eliciting a response emblematic of the entire
"I think the Vue is gonna be iconic in time. It is a major change and the
public generally has a negative reaction to major change," Shelin said over
audience members' booing. "I'm sure Michelangelo heard boos, too."