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Developer wants to vacate an entire downtown Sarasota street

Written by on Thursday, July 20, 2023

A developer who bought several lots at the southern edge of downtown Sarasota has big plans, and they appear to include swallowing an entire city street.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: July 19, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: A developer who bought several lots at the southern edge of downtown Sarasota has big plans, and they appear to include swallowing an entire city street. At a public workshop yesterday, some residents raised their voice against abandoning a public right-of-way. Ramon Lopez has that story.

Host: A vacation means a trip to Disney World in Orlando, but it also involves a move to vacate Cross Street from South Pineapple Avenue to South Orange Avenue. The so-called vacation of 0.62 acres worth of currently public street is part of a $32 million real estate development involving 3.1 acres of prime downtown real estate at the intersection of Ringling Boulevard and Orange Avenue. The deal involves Orange Pineapple LLC.

The new owners have been tight-lipped about the project, but the land is zoned to build up to ten stories and 50 residential units per acre, and more units if affordable housing are included. The zoning also allows for condos, apartments, hotels and retail space.

The public meeting was led by Phillip DiMaria, a land planner with Kimley-Horn, and William Merrill, a land use attorney, both working for the developer. DiMaria outlined the purpose of the community workshop.

Phillip DiMaria: This is the first step in probably a six-to-eight month process, where we’re really here to just gain general information, provide general information about the project, receive feedback. And for residents in the surrounding areas and business owners in the surrounding areas of what’s to come and what’s to be expected.

So, just a little bit more on process. Right-of-way vacations are an interesting development application, funds through are a required city process. Their standards of review, basically, providing information associated with the case for why this would be in the in the general public’s benefit, as it relates to vacating the right-of-way.

Cross Street and its current existence is kind of interesting. This is historic part of Sarasota where Ringling Boulevard and Cross Street kind of intersected, as part of this grid. Cross Street in its current form has about 15 public parking spaces, and it’s about 60 feet wide at its widest point. And runs one way off of Pineapple Avenue, directly to Orange Avenue, and it’s a little unique in that way just because there aren’t very many one way streets in the city.

Host: The plans for housing, hotels and retail stores remains sketchy. William Merrill.

William Merrill: What we are proposing would be a mixed-use project that’s consisting of multifamily residential hotel and retail uses on the properties. We are also proposing to do a unified plan and development to include Cross Street as well as both blocks so that all of that can be developed and planned together.

Host: Merrill also laid out plans for Cross Street.

WM: So the purpose of the proposal that we have today is to vacate Cross Street along the entire length from Pineapple all the way to Orange, and in exchange, we would give back a public access and utilities, so that would be vehicular and pedestrian access, to the public as well as public utility easements for this, for this area of Cross Street.

We believe there will be many benefits, and Phillip, I think, will get into some of the criteria. But one of the things that they talk about for a vacation of right-of-ways is for there to be benefits to the public. And we think there’s a multitude of benefits to the public. I think many of you know right now, Cross Street is only a one way street. It has, as Phillip said, about 15, I thought was more like 12, but 12 or 15 parking spaces along it. Many of those are used by the current users of these office buildings, or clients of theirs. And I’m very familiar with this whole area as well.

But again, we believe that by vacating it, what our owner is proposing to do would be to make it a two way street, not a one way street. So make it a two way street, which we believe will enhance the circulation. We would also—it would be a private street, we would be giving back a public vehicular and pedestrian access easement, as well as utility easement for all the utilities that are needed in that area.

Host: Merrill was asked why the developer needs to own Cross Street.

WM: The bottom line is that, what they want to be able to do is have control over this area because they want, they have apparently a property that’s divided by the road. So they would like to have control of the whole area to be able to develop it the way that they would like to and in a way that the city approves it. So they are talking about significant investment into Cross Street with the enhancements of landscaping as well as the streetscape and other things, and they’re anticipating a very high end development. So that is the primary reason for doing that.

Host: The developers’ lawyer said that street will remain open to the public.

WM: Would it ever be closed? I don’t think. We’ve not contemplated that. I think we would be able to address that with the city directly. But I don’t think we’re contemplating closing the street, no. But it wouldn’t be closed from—we’re talking about giving back a public use, public access, easement for pedestrian, vehicular and so forth, as well as utilities. We would anticipate that would remain open to the public.

Host: Many of the concerned citizens pointed out that street parking in the area is already a major problem. DiMaria said parking won’t be ignored.

PD: I would like to say that, as Bill mentioned, sort of the quote unquote “development program” incorporates some level of ground floor retail. And in order for that to effectively operate, parking will be important. So public parking will be important to this. I think they see, they want to be good neighbors.

Host: One local citizen was skeptical on the developer’s long term intentions.

Unnamed Citizen: I really would love to hear an argument where there would be an absolutely iron-clad guarantee of the beautification of what happens to Cross Street. [Applause]

Host: Another local said future street safety would be affected.

Unnamed Citizen #2: You’re taking this quiet, nice neighborhood and you’re taking a one-way street, and you’re going to put all this density, a hotel, which I don’t think any of us knew about. Originally it was going to be condos and retail. And you’re going to make this a two-way street with all this traffic. We’ve already had one death at this circle at Ringling. I don’t see where that helps our community. Downtown, I just see a lot of density and a lot of problems.

Host: Yet another area resident feels Orange Pineapple LLC is getting too good of deal.

Unnamed Citizen #3: So it seems like a very big gift to vacate that property.

Host: Phil DiMaria said this is a good deal for downtown Sarasota.

PD: This site’s really special. I mean, I spent a lot of times early in my life at the Burns Court Movie Theater and spent a lot of time downtown. This site’s vacant, it’s an odd hole in the middle of our urban fabric. And so any sort of development on the site is going to close that gap.

This is the belt buckle of our city. And this is an exciting project, I think, to provide life and energy to this part of town, but also to close the gap and provide something more than a bunch of vacant buildings.

Host: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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