Letter From Home: The big question about the Vue


Jeff LaHurd, the well-known Sarasota historian, recently wrote in a Herald-Tribune article that Sarasota had lost its charm.

He should know, having moved to Sarasota with his family in 1950.

He remembers growing up here, as did I, but compared to him, I’m a newbie, having arrived from Rhode Island in 1958.

He remembers when kids had the run of the town and most people had the same good experiences of living in a town that had plenty going for it, without the problems of big cities.

It really started to change in 1968, five years after Florida passed its condominium act, when four high-rises were built on Gulf Stream Avenue. That started a cycle of downtown development that has completely changed the flavor of the city he remembers.

That cycle has had ups and downs, as is the nature of cycles, but it has resumed with a frenzy. Exhibit A is the Vue Sarasota Bay condominium, for which I constantly hear a question along the lines of “How did that get approved so close to the street?”

It wasn’t by accident, I respond.

The Vue Sarasota Bay, under construction. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-18-2016.

The Vue Sarasota Bay, under construction. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-18-2016.

The Vue is part of the The Kolter Group’s big development on U.S. 41 at Gulf Stream Avenue. Going up right next to it is a Westin hotel, and they are close to the highway, really close.

People want to know why.

I posted a picture of it on March 26 on my Facebook page, and that unleashed a torrent of criticism and debate.

“It’s a monstrosity,” wrote Brenda Terris.

“It’s overwhelming,” said former city commissioner Lou Ann Palmer, who served for most of the 2000s and started in local public service in 1973.

“One gets it right in the face,” wrote Joan McKniff.

“It is named the ‘Vue,’ apparently because it blocks everyone’s view,” wrote Richard Clapp, another former commissioner, and now executive director of the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership.

The vote of support came from Jon Mast, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Manatee-Sarasota: “Finally, Sarasota is growing up. I am proud to see it!”

The Westin hotel under construction on U.S. 41 in Sarasota. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-18-2016.

The Westin hotel under construction on U.S. 41 in Sarasota. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-18-2016.

The story of this maturation process has a lot of twists and turns, but in this case, it can be traced back to the city’s hiring of noted New Urbanist city planner Andres Duany in 2000 to come up with a plan to make the city more walkable, more urban and more modern.

As a result of his recommendations, downtown was rezoned a few years later. “As part of that whole master-plan process that was done with Andres Duany,” said Gretchen Scheider, general manager of planning and development for the City of Sarasota, “the concept is to have buildings closer to the street so that there is a more walkable feel with interaction with the buildings.”

The code for buildings on primary streets (those meant to be most walkable) calls for a maximum building setback of 5 feet at the ground floor, Schneider said. On secondary streets, there is no maximum setback, but it does allow properties to be built up to the property line.

“For a good portion of the building, they are required to have it up to that distance” from the sidewalk, Schneider said. “It does meet the code.”

She said the 5-foot sidewalk will be widened to 8 to 10 feet along the Tamiami Trail, and a landscape strip will be added to provide a “sense of protection for the pedestrians as they are walking down the street,” Schneider said.

As for the current outcry, Schneider said, “A lot of this happened so long ago that a lot of our current residents are not aware. A lot of this follows what Duany recommended for the city; the city adopted the zoning code with those requirements and limitations, but a lot of folks weren’t here then.”

Well, we are a big city now. That is what Duany said, when he suggested that we grow up, ditch the shorts and put on pants, and that’s what we wanted. Now we are getting it.

And if you are wondering what I think of the Vue, my motto is, “Never judge a building until is complete.”

Related: A Q&A with Gretchen Schneider.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: April 24, 2016
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