Proposal to Increase Building Heights, Density on St. Armands Circle Encounters Opposition

Residents of St. Armands Circle worry that the changes will make a bad traffic problem even worse.

By Kim Doleatto January 12, 2022

Outside the shops and restaurants of St. Armands Circle

St. Armands Circle.

Roughly a dozen residents didn't agree with Geoffrey Michel when he said, “We’re not asking for 10 stories. We're asking for 10 feet,” at a city meeting yesterday devoted to a proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment for the St. Armands Circle commercial area.

Michel is the owner of The Met on St. Armands Circle and a member of the St. Armands Business Improvement District. He led the presentation, along with local architects Mark Sultana and Dan Lear.

Lear outlined what the District is calling its Vision 2026 proposal, which includes increasing the maximum building height on the circle from 35 feet to 45 feet above ground level, allowing hotel development at a density of 150 units per acre and increasing residential density to 25 units per acre. Due to smaller lot sizes on the circle, "there won’t actually be 150 units in a single development," according to the presentation notes. Single-family homes on Lido Key have the same 35-foot height limitations.

During the discussion, residents pointed to traffic on St. Armands as their main concern and said the prospect of increasing height and density in the commercial tourist zone–the collection of commercial buildings that face the circle–would only exacerbate already growing congestion. It would also erode the circle's charm and pose safety issues in case of a call for evacuation, they added.

diagram of St. Armands Circle with CT zone highlighted

The proposed changes would be limited to the commercial tourist zone, highlighted in red.

"Any development that increases traffic here will be detrimental and dangerous," said resident David Kirshner at the meeting. "We need to understand, if this proposal passes, how are we going to mitigate it? We can't take more cars on St. Armands." Town of Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier said, "The circle is a choke point, and we've had two-hour delays reaching downtown Sarasota."

Since 2020, the District has been rewriting regulations on the circle to facilitate renovations and redevelopment in the commercial district. Its board members aim to accommodate hotel construction and more residential units to make it “a self-sustainable community that's not forcing people on and off the island,” said Michel. He added that increased height and density would help justify the rising costs associated with building.

Chris Goglia, the president of the St. Armands Residents Association, shared the outcomes of a recent association-led survey of all 125 St. Armands residents, revealing 75 percent of them were not in favor of raising the building height limits.

The height increase would generally permit buildings of four stories, allowing upper floor condos or apartments. In addition to hotels, the zoning changes would allow for commercial or nonprofit theaters and art studios, provided they are above a retail shop on the first floor.

The City of Sarasota is still considering potential similar changes being advanced separately from proposals to build a hotel on the Fillmore Drive parking lot site, also on St. Armands. 

Design standards accompanying the District's proposed changes include awning requirements and a six-foot building recess above the second story. It would also require that 70 percent of the first story must be glass and the building have parapets of 42 inches high to screen equipment from view, 12-foot minimum ceiling heights on the first floor and parking requirements of one space per residential unit or half a space for each hotel unit.

Next steps include adoption, revision or rejection by the District, followed by a planning board public hearing in the spring and then by a City of Sarasota Commission meeting.

If the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment is adopted, it would ultimately apply to only those parcels zoned commercial tourist. Lear said that if the new measure is eventually passed, development proposals would still need to undergo a traffic impact analysis and would be reviewed independently by city leaders.

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