Sarasota Planning Board denies Epoch appeal

Article originally posted in The Observer by David Conway

The Planning Board unanimously determined a group of downtown residents lacked the standing to challenge city staff’s approval of a Gulfstream condo project.

A group of residents living on Gulfstream and Palm avenues did not qualify as aggrieved persons and were not able to appeal city staff’s approval of an 18-story project on their street, the Planning Board unanimously determined Thursday.

At a special meeting, the advisory board’s 5-0 vote brought an end to an attempt to challenge the construction of the Epoch condominium at 605 S. Gulfstream Ave. After city staff approved the project in April, 22 residents jointly filed an appealchallenging that decision.

The Planning Board meeting focused on a series of preliminary motions and a question about whether the appellants were “aggrieved persons,” the standard that must be met for someone to appeal an administratively approved site plan.

One of the definitions for an aggrieved person in the city zoning code is “any person or entity which will suffer to a greater degree than the general public an adverse effect to a legally recognized interest protected or furthered by the land development regulations or the comprehensive plan.”

Attorney Dan Lobeck, representing the appellants, said the project negatively affected the character of this segment of Gulfstream and Palm — something residents living in the area had an interest in preserving. During Lobeck’s presentation, a series of appellants spoke about the project’s purported incompatibility with its surroundings. They objected to the building setbacks included in the site plan, which staff determined complied with the city’s zoning code.

“I am aggrieved of this building going up on a half-acre lot taking 99% of the land,” said Alice Nelson, a resident of the Royal St. Andrew condominium building on Gulfstream Avenue that neighbors the Epoch site.

Attorney Robert Lincoln, who represented Epoch developer Seaward Development, argued Lobeck failed to provide any justification for the appeal. Lincoln said proximity to a project alone doesn’t qualify somebody as an aggrieved person, and the resident testimony did not show why the project would affect their rights more than any other member of the general public.

“They haven’t identified anything that’s an actual cognizable harm to a legally recognized interest that’s also protected by that code,” Lincoln said.

The Planning Board sided with Lincoln, finding nothing in Lobeck’s argument that merited moving forward with the appeal. Planning Board member Eileen Normile said she thought there were legitimate compatibility issues regarding the project worth discussing, but she did not think the appellants had met the aggrieved person standard.

“It has to be (a legally recognized interest) that they suffer above and beyond what the general public suffers,” Normile said. “And this is what we have — these statements talking about the streetscape. It’s tough.”

The rest of the board agreed the appellants did not qualify as aggrieved persons, bringing an end to the appeal before the residents challenging the project could make the bulk of their argument.

“They had to prove that burden, and I don’t feel like they did,” Planning Board member Damien Blumetti said of the appellants.

City approves Gulfstream luxury high-rise

Article originally posted by David Conway in Your Observer

On Friday, the city announced it approved a site plan application for an 18-story luxury condominium at 605 S. Gulfstream Ave., which could allow for construction to begin soon on another bayfront high-rise.

Seaward Development intends to break ground on the building on May 1. The project, called Epoch, will build 23 condominium units on the former site of the Versailles condo, which was demolished last year. Seaward Development is also responsible for the nearby 7 One One Palm condo project.

Michelle Young, Seaward Development’s vice president of operations, said units in the Epoch building are listed from $3.3 million to nearly $9 million for the penthouse. Young said other waterfront residential projects have not slowed interest in the development, noting about 40% of the units have sold.

“You just don’t have that much space on the bayfront that has this kind of view,” Young said.

Ahead of the city’s approval of the proposed development, residents on Palm Avenue had registered complaints about the building’s design. Palm Avenue residents have expressed ongoing concern about the character of development along the street, objecting to regulations that allow for 18-story projects built out to the property line.

On Dec. 18, Palm Avenue resident Barbara Campo sent an email to city officials listing her criticisms of the site plan as proposed. She took issue with the rear facade of the building on Palm Avenue, suggested more efforts should be made to preserve trees and said the project should include guest parking spaces.

“I find the architectural renderings submitted by the developer of Epoch to be not only incompatible with the beautiful visual flow of this street, but, quite frankly, evidence of a complete disregard for this street’s fine character,” Campo wrote.

In arguing against proposed projects, residents such as Campo have attempted to emphasize a provision in the zoning code requiring developments to be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. City staff members have said they take that standard into consideration when reviewing a proposed site plan.

Young acknowledged Seaward Development heard objections to the proposal, but she said they also received support from other residents. She said the company attempted to respond to resident input as it finalized plans for the building.

“We actually did quite a bit above and beyond what was required,” Young said.

Young said the developer attempted to enhance the façade of the building along Palm Avenue, adding landscaping and removing some design elements on the parking garage neighbors had specifically critiqued. She noted the building only goes up three stories before there is a significant setback to the structure’s main tower, which sits more than 100 feet away from the Palm Avenue property line.

Young said Seaward took pride in the building’s design and expressed optimism the public would come to support the project.

“When someone drives along Mound (Street) or on the bayfront, I think people are going to find this is going to be an incredibly beautiful addition to the neighborhood,” Young said.

Although Seaward plans to break ground on the building next month, there could still be one obstacle to overcome. The public has a 10-day window to file an appeal to an administratively approved site plan, which means a resident could still challenge the city’s decision until April 22.

Bob Hendel is a South Palm Avenue resident and member of the group SHOUT, formed specifically to address concerns about construction on the street. After the city announced the site plan approval Friday, Hendel confirmed residents were discussing their options regarding the project, but he said it was too early to say whether an appeal may be forthcoming.

“It’s preliminary for me to comment,” Hendel said.

EPOCH Sarasota launches into the future

Article originally posted at Your Observer by Amelia Hanks

EPOCH Sarasota is soaring to new heights with the recently announced launch, celebrated with a reception at State of the Arts Gallery on Dec. 6.

The luxury condo tower located at 605 South Gulfstream Ave. is located right on Sarasota Bay, with 23 condos in the building. B. Pila Design of Miami designed the interior of the building, DWY Landcape Architects designed the building and Seaward Development is building EPOCH. 

Move in dates are planned in 2021. Prices start at $3 million.