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Skyscraper developer gets pushback in planning commission

Written by on Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Obsidian project is now likely headed to the Sarasota City commission, where it may get a cool reception.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Jan. 12, 2024

Host: A developer wants to build the tallest luxury condo tower yet, on a tiny lot in downtown Sarasota. After a rejection by city planners, the Obsidian was back before the planning board. It is rare to see the lawyers representing luxury condo developers getting fundamental pushback in public hearings, and, even less so, make their case with exasperation in their voice. Ramon Lopez tells us the story.

Rendering of the Obsidian, which would be the tallest tower in downtown Sarasota. It would be built on a small lot. Courtesy Obsidian

Ramon Lopez: On Wednesday, the Sarasota Planning Board rejected requested adjustments for the controversial downtown Obsidian condo tower. Board members ruled the 342-foot-tall condo would lack sufficient retail frontage.

But representatives of Obsidian developer Matt Kihnke argued that no building can be built at 1260 North Palm Avenue under current city requirements, and an appeal is likely to the city commission.

The reps laid out what adjustments they were seeking.

Noel Freedman: What we’re going to be talking about here is, we have three items. One is an appeal of habitable space adjustment requests. We’ve submitted a request of an adjustment from the planning board for the retail frontage requirement, and then an appeal of the denial by staff of the overall site plan.

RL: The developer’s attorney, Robert Lincoln, said an adjustment to the planned lobby was necessary.

Robert Lincoln: The zoning code requires that the entrances to buildings be from the primary street, be from the street frontage, and not from the garage. So any use here, whether it’s office, any use that you would have is going to have an entrance on to Palm Avenue. It’s all glass. The residential entrance area is indistinguishable from the street, on a street frontage basis, from how it’d be set up, if it was retail from an intent of the code basis. There’s no distinction. And again, we’re in a situation where complying with the code requires that we access from the street. And so we have to have an access there, the code requires it. So we’re having a situation … were really a lot of these reasons for having to have these adjustments. It’s compliance with the code. It’s inconsistent requirements with code, requirements of the code that are inconsistent.

RL: The Obsidian, which would be Sarasota’s tallest building, would be imposing.

Following hours of testimony from Obsidian representatives, city staff, affected parties and the general public, the planning board voted 4-1 to reject the requested adjustments. They said there wasn’t enough street-level retail and commercial space to comply with the existing zoning code.

Board Member Daniel Deleo, for one, didn’t like what he heard.

Thanks to a generous amount of ‘interstitial space’, the Obsidian would tower above all other buildings in downtown Sarasota.

Daniel Deleo: Surprisingly, to me at least, you spent the vast majority of your time talking about the limitations of your site. And what I want to know first of all, is why the limitations of your site should dictate what are, in my opinion, significant compromises of the public interest in the form of reductions in habitable space and retail frontage, just to name two.

Robert Lincoln: That doesn’t mean oh, gee, somehow your site’s so bad that you shouldn’t be able to get adjustments to build something significant on it. No, it’s exactly the opposite.

DD: So your argument then is, we should significantly compromise the public interest because you have a poor or limited site. Is that your argument?

Robert Lincoln: It’s not significant, no! Because when you look at the adjustment criteria, the adjustment criteria absolutely establish that granting the adjustments that meet those criteria do not compromise the public interest that’s represented by the code.

RL: Fellow board member Shayne Landry agreed.

Shayne Landry: My grandmother used to say, ‘If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck’. You guys probably heard that before, right? I mean, isn’t what’s really going on here, is that you folks are simply trying to shoehorn a massive project into a site that doesn’t fit. Isn’t that really what’s going on?

RL: The planned condo’s height wasn’t the center of attention at the Wednesday hearing. But it remains opposed by residents of the adjacent Bay Plaza and other concerned citizens. And the building’s towering height may be addressed as part of the developer’s appeal and other Obsidian hearings.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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