A question-and-answer interview with Gretchen Schneider, general manager of the City of Sarasota's planning and development department, regarding the zoning code as it relates to the Vue Sarasota Bay condominium and the adjoining Westin Hotel at U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue in Sarasota:
Q. When was the zoning code changed?
A. When I got here in 2004, it was already adopted. Downtown was rezoned in 2005 to the downtown zone districts. As part of that whole master-plan process that was done with Andres Duany, the concept there is to have buildings closer to the street so that there is a more walkable feel -- interaction with the building. There are window requirements at the ground-floor level.
Q. You use the terms “primary” and “secondary” street. What does that mean?
A. A primary street is one that is highly walkable, and where you want to encourage pedestrian activity and to make that pedestrian activity to feel comfortable. And 41 is really not a real good pedestrian street. It is more for people going to the bayfront, which is why the intersection at Ritz-Carlton Drive will be a more comfortable intersection.
Q. The Vue is being questioned by Sarasotans for its proximity to U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue. What are the setback requirements from the sidewalk?
A. For primary streets, you have a maximum setback of 5 feet. On secondary streets, there is no maximum setback, but it does allow for properties to be right up to the right-of-way line.
Half of the building (the Vue) is on a primary street, the other half is on a secondary street.
Q. It is not that the developer said, “Hey, I want to build it right up to the street,” is that right?
A. For a good portion of the building, they are required to have it up at that distance. Obviously, it makes it more complicated to build a structure that has varying setbacks, but it does meet the code.
Q. If it is all about being pedestrian-friendly, what is being done to make it so?
A. The sidewalk that was there before was 5 feet wide; they are widening the sidewalk — it will be 8 to 10 feet along U.S. 41 . We have also worked with FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) to allow for a nice landscape strip in the sidewalk area as a way to try and provide a sense of protection for the pedestrians as they are walking down the street. Typically, FDOT doesn’t like having trees close to the right-of-way. But they did allow that.
Also, for a good portion of the building there are going to be windows into the tenant spaces that the Westin will have. Part of it will not have windows ... where the secondary street aspect takes over; the 41 frontage is split between primary and secondary street. Along Gulf Stream, the sidewalk is 10 to 12 feet wide and at the intersection has been pulled back in order to accommodate a future roundabout. There will be a corner treatment with landscaping.
Q. Is Gulf Stream considered a primary street?
A. No. That is why they are able to do a wider sidewalk there, because the building is back a little more. It also terraces back; the swimming pool is on a lower level, and then it terraces back before it goes up, so there is not the full height right up against the street.
Q. That is not the case with the Westin.
A. It goes pretty much straight up. They do have a design treatments that may be changing the façade. There is going to be a skin to it that has a nice façade.
What people don’t realize, as well, is that there is a travel lane behind that (construction) fence (on Gulf Stream) for trucks to be able to pull in and drop off construction materials. There is more land back there than people realize. You get the sense that it is right up there; well, some of that street is being utilized (for deliveries).
Q. As U.S. 41 redevelops, should we expect to see more of this type of setback treatment for new buildings?
A. There is a requirement at Ritz-Carlton Drive/First Street for that intersection, a primary street intersection, so any new building that would be constructed at that intersection would be required to come up to the street. The rest of Tamiami Trail is not a primary street, but while they are not required to come up, they can come up to the street.
Q. It is all a part of the city growing up, as Duany said it needed to do when he did his study in the early 2000s.
A. A lot of this happened such a long time ago that a lot of our current residents are not aware. A lot of this follows what he recommended for the city and was adopted by the city commission, the zoning code with those requirements and limitations. A lot of folks just weren’t here then.