Building Up

St. Armands Circle's Hotel-Grocery Project May Have Competition

City of Sarasota commissioners voted this week to consider other offers to purchase the Fillmore parking lot.

By Kim Doleatto August 18, 2021

St. Armands Circle residents ponder the effects of possible future zoning changes.

An ambitious proposal for a four-story, mixed-use hotel, grocery and townhouse building on St. Armands Circle, first presented to the Sarasota City Commission in May, opened a conversation about the future use of the circle's Fillmore parking lot and whether the city should consider more than just that one, unsolicited proposal. At a meeting this week, commissioners voted 4-1 to consider other potential proposals for the site.

Rendering of the mixed-use project proposed for the city-owned parking lot on Fillmore Drive, off St. Armands Circle.

Developers now have 90 days to make an offer to purchase the property, but they'll also have to consider some big hurdles they must overcome before breaking asphalt on the two-acre parcel.

At Tuesday's meeting, city attorney Robert Fournier furnished the city commission with a report outlining contingencies.

Here are three hoops developers have to jump through.

Making up for lost funds from parking meters

The developer would have to make up for lost funds that come from the parking meters at the site, which is now a parking lot with 217 spaces and an additional 51 in the surrounding alley and streets. Those parking meter funds have been pledged to pay off the cost of the construction of the St. Armands parking garage that opened in 2019.

Zoning changes

The site would require a zoning change from governmental to a commercial tourist designation. There would have to be an amendment to the commercial tourist zoning to allow hotels with a density of 50 units per acre and to increase the height limit from 35 to 45 feet. The Environmental Protection and Coastal Islands chapter of the city's comprehensive plan, which has a height overlay district that applies everywhere on St. Armands Key, would also have to be amended to allow for the height increase.

A supermajority approval

To top it off, a comprehensive plan change would require a supermajority, which means four out of five city commissioners would have to approve the change.

Some commissioners at the meeting saw the value in the detail and work that the developer trio, John Meshad, Gavin Meshad and Dennis McGillicuddy, had put forth with their mixed-use proposal, and shied away from opening the floor to other competitive bids.

“This group has been involved in this for over 10 years," vice-mayor Erik Arroyo said. "They have designs and they have invested a significant amount of resources into it, and my concern is now their plans are public record. They put their cards out there."

Coincidentally, the St. Armands Business Improvement District is applying for changes in density, hotel regulations and height limitation increases from 35 to 45 feet high, a height that would enable the mixed-use project to move forward.

Guest commentator Kevin Hennessey, an environmental and land use attorney with Longman & Walker, called out developer Meshad for being on the board of the Business Improvement District.

“You have a bid headed up by the same individual who is heading up the unsolicited proposal to you,” he said.

Chris Goglia, president of the St. Armands Residents Association, is worried about residents being heard throughout the process. He is also looking at bigger impacts if amendments to the zoning are approved.

“We're not just talking about the Fillmore, the zoning changes will apply to all the existing commercial properties,” he says.

Goglia says, if approved, the zoning changes will result in taller buildings and increased density, increasing traffic and congestion, and reducing pedestrian safety and emergency vehicle access throughout St. Armands, Lido and Longboat Keys.

Ordinarily, St. Armands residents are invited to fill out an annual survey that covers local topics, but this year, Goglia plans to send it out sooner to collect and amplify resident voices on the matter.

“We hope that the commission will take residents into account and consider it to be an important factor,” he says.

A rendering of the proposed project presented to city commissioners in May shows a 98-room hotel, six townhomes and a 15,000-square-foot Morton’s Market (the first grocer on the circle in decades), plus 270 covered public parking spaces to replace the ones currently on the site.

The lower level of the public parking garage would connect to the grocery store. Six 2,100-square-foot townhomes would be three stories high and come with private garages. Outside the building would be a public plaza with water features and public seating. A rooftop would have a pool, a hot tub, private cabanas, a bar and a fitness center accessible only to hotel guests and townhome residents. There would also be public bathrooms and aesthetic elements; the design would hide overhead power lines, a drainage ditch and dumpsters that are visible today. Once finished, the developers would turn over the 270 parking spaces back to the City of Sarasota.

It remains to be seen if other developers will be able to bring forth other plans for the site within the 90-day window. A third-party appraiser will be tasked with determining the value of the Fillmore parking site.

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