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Neighbors criticize proposed Payne Park development

Written by on Thursday, December 14, 2023

Developer wants to fill block with townhomes, cut grand trees.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Dec. 13, 2023

Host: A proposed townhome development at a prime location near downtown Sarasota is coming under fire, and WSLR News reporter Ramon Lopez has more on that.

Ramon Lopez: A new luxury townhome development to be built beside Payne Park was brought before the Sarasota City Development Review Committee last week, much to the ire of a local community environmentalist who is a vocal opponent of the project.

The proposed townhouse development takes up an entire block between US 301 and Payne Park.

The proposed Payne Park Townhome project would be built on a two-acre block off South Washington Blvd., just South of downtown. The site is currently home to a half-dozen retail and office buildings, one residential building, and parking lots. They would be demolished and replaced by 50 rental townhomes and over 9,000 square feet of ground floor retail space fronting US 301.

Opa-Locka LLC of Fort Lauderdale owns the property where the mixed-use project will be built. The four-story, two or three bedroom townhomes will be along the perimeter of the block. Each townhome will have outdoor deck areas at the second and fourth levels. There will be a community pool within a landscaped courtyard.

Opponents of the townhome project include Laurel Park resident and activist Kelly Franklin. She is upset over the fact that there has been no community engagement on the building plan. Moreover, she says the project will “roll up” an entire block and “clear
cut” it. She says the existing trees there are in fine shape and are essential to the character and health of the neighborhood and the park. She told county officials that “it is beyond disingenuous to claim the design is ‘context-sensitive’ when asking to kill even more trees by a park bereft of them, or ask for special favors, while granting NO affordable housing, and not even the courtesy of a neighborhood workshop”.

The current setup of the block owned by Opa-Locka LLC.

Kelly Franklin: The proposal they submitted to the city – and an accelerated proposal they submitted to the city at the end of October – proposes clear cutting all of the trees on that acre or two acres in front of Payne Park. So it’s particularly insulting that by Payne Park, a proposal would come in that says ‘We’re going to ignore the trees and the surrounding and the context. We’re going to basically take the maximal theoretical allowed by rolling up all these formerly single-family zoned structures on one side of the street and small scale businesses with big setbacks for parking on the other, and build the maximum saleable square inches’. The only protection left to the residents under our current city code is the things that are written into law. And one of those things that is still written into law is that grand trees, which include older, well-established oaks, canopy trees throughout that area, [are protected]. What they submitted to the city shows clear-cutting all the trees. Nothing in our city plan calls for clear-cutting in order to redevelop. It’s an insult to the neighborhood. It’s an insult to the city. This is not going to be a sustainable city if we don’t protect our trees.

RL: Phil DiMaria with Kimley Horn says only two protected grand trees would need to be chopped down. He says one is diseased and dying, and the other would be in the way of utility and power lines. City approval is required before the long-standing grand trees are chain sawed down.

Rendering of the proposed townhouse project.

View of the current setup from US 301. Photo: Google Streetview

But Franklin said dozens of trees would actually be removed to make way for the planned townhomes, retail shops and parking lots.

KF: He’s talking about taking down dozens of trees. They can’t take down a grand tree. It’s disgusting, but they can do it, and the city can’t prevent it under our loosened tree ordinance. There’s an entire corner of beautiful foliage at the entryway to Payne Park. That’s all going to be gone. He’s clear cutting this site.

RL: Opa-Locka’s hired private landscape architect Phil Smith says the trees must go. City arborist Don Ullom will do a detailed survey of the grand trees’ condition, and is keeping an open mind on the issue.

Project opponents are hiring a private arborist to get a third opinion, which they hope will save the trees in the end. Franklin, who calls herself a “tree of life preserver”, said “Smith has never met a tree he doesn’t hate if it sits in the way of a developer’s desire to reap maximum benefit at the expense of the public”. She says the existing trees must remain there no compromise is possible on that.

KF: Sometimes, you don’t compromise. Our laws are not compromisable. Except they have been compromised. Those tree ordinances were written with the objective and desire to protect trees for the benefit of all of us, today and tomorrow. This is one step in many skirmishes and battles. I’m having to fight, because I’m in Laurel Park, and we’re surrounded.

RL: DiMaria told the DRC panelists that “the addition of a mixed-use development will complement the momentum currently
being experienced on the east side of downtown Sarasota and contribute to the character of the surrounding area. Additionally, this project will serve as a bridge to the beautiful, expansive Payne Park. The public realm will be improved with street trees and wide sidewalks and consistent with the city’s long-term planning and zoning code”.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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