Up and Down the Trail

| April 1, 2017

Large biomedical center receives initial OK

A biomedical center that could include medical research, office buildings, educational facilities, a hotel and conference center, and residential, retail and commercial buildings at State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Blvd. has cleared a hurdle. The biomedical center project earned an initial approval vote in a 6-1 Manatee County Commission vote March 2.

The developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch received initial approval for it’s "CORE at Lakewood Ranch," a proposed biomedical research park that could collaborate with other institutions in the master-planned community. Partners could include Manatee Technical College and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. An acronym for “Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration,” CORE is designed to provide high-paying employment opportunities in the life-sciences sector in an area that otherwise would remain approved for traditional retail, office and residential uses.

In a 6-1 vote, the County Commission amended the county's Comprehensive Plan and land use map for the project within a 300.6-acre area off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. According to previous media coverage, Bradenton Area EDC officials project that the biomedical industry could grow by 10 percent in the region — if the project is built. Jobs in this field pay upwards of $70,000 a year on average.

The Comprehensive Plan change isn’t final yet. The proposed amendment and map change will be forwarded to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for its consent and come back to the Manatee County Commission for final adoption.

Three challengers advance in city runoff

During the March 14 Sarasota City election, voters chose three candidates who will advance to a May 9 runoff in the race for the City Commission’s two at-large seats, which represent the entire city.

Topping the votes were, Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, attorney Hagen Brody and businessman Martin Hyde, none of whom have previously held elective office, who will all advance to the May runoff. The lone incumbent, Susan Chapman, narrowly missed the cut in the crowded primary election.

Chapman placed fourth behind Hyde by 52 votes, just outside the margin to trigger an automatic recount, according to officials with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections. Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, a neighborhood leader, former Planning Board member and STOP! co-founder, placed first, earning a vote on 37.8 percent of the ballots cast. Attorney Hagen Brody got a vote on 34.9 percent of ballots. And Businessman Martin Hyde, a political newcomer who went on the offensive against the current commission and administration, narrowly beat out incumbent Commissioner Chapman for the third spot in the runoff. Hyde received 26.1 percent of the vote, while Chapman earned 25.3 percent. In total, 7,186 votes were cast.

New Venice hotel planned

A new hotel is not a common occurrence in Venice. But now a California-based developer wants to bring a Sheraton-flagged hotel to two parcels on Tamiami Trail, just south of the Richard's Foodporium on the island of Venice. If built, it would be the first hotel within the city limits in two decades.

The proposed four-story hotel would have 103 rooms and a restaurant but also back up to four homes in a single-family neighborhood.

There are still several zoning hurdles to clear, and growing concern among some residents, following a March 2 neighborhood meeting. Some residents are concerned about the height of the project and it’s proximity to single-family homes.

New hotel could replace Sandcastle Resort

The venerable Helmsley Sandcastle on Lido Key was bought and renamed Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach in 2014, and now the owners want to redevelop the six-acre site into a 304-room contemporary hotel.

Preliminary plans are underway to redevelop the Sandcastle Resort into a larger and more contemporary waterfront hotel. The plans call for a new 304-room hotel spanning two curved towers that will be nine- and 10-stories tall on the Gulf side site on Ben Franklin Drive.

Built in 1953 and expanded in the '60s, the resort is one of the oldest beachfront hotels in Southwest Florida. Supporters and local tourism officials were elated to hear that a hotel will be developed on the site – instead of losing a tourism use to condo development. The acreage is zoned for residential units and the hotel is a non-conforming use, so the application for the new project would include a rezone to formally designate the property under "waterfront resort" zoning.

City officials reviewed the initial proposal and discussed it at the Development Review Committee March 15 at City Hall. The pre-application is simply a technical review of the project proposal and formal site plans, designs and renderings will follow this summer, Franklin said.

The project will require public hearings and input before the city's Planning Board and City Commission, which the owner hopes to present before the end of the year. The owner and planning representatives are reaching out to the Lido Key Residents Association to discuss the preliminary plans with members of the organization.

Raucous crowd confronts Rep. Buchanan

Our local congressman got embroiled in the national debate over the direction of the government when a fiery crowd confronted Congressman Vern Buchanan at a Saturday morning rally.

About 1,800 constituents filled the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for the town hall held by Buchanan on March 18, and the backlash was covered in several media outlets including the Washington Post.

The crowd, mostly critic of President Donald Trump, seemed to rally against Buchanan at times, joining together in boos, cheers and chants. Many questions from the audience focused on effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, but they also ranged to issues from gun control to climate change and Social Security. The booing started just after Buchanan appeared and continued to the end of the event. Similar town halls held by Republican elected officials across the county has drawn outspoken critics of the new president and the direction of the government.

Sarasota dock improvements

Improvements to the City of Sarasota’s boat docks at the 10th Street boat ramp, located in Centennial Park, have begun.

During the project, the aging decking on the docks will be replaced with pressure-treated composite lumber, which can withstand continual exposure to surf, rain, sun and wind, city officials announced last month. The project is expected to be completed by mid-May.

The area will remain open to the public throughout the duration of the project except for two days and nights in early to mid-May, a city news release stated. That closure will allow the resurfacing of the parking lot, the release adds. “Prior to the temporary closure, signs will be posted in the area to notify the public,” the release notes. The release also said that, as part of the project, crews would begin dredging the boat basin. Over the years, the basin has filled with silt, the release notes, so “it needs to be dredged for the health of Sarasota Bay and to maintain marine navigation.”

MURT improvements underway

A wider multi-use pathway is coming to the bayfront area near Coon Key and Bird Key. Construction work started on what Sarasota city officials called a much anticipated improvement project connecting Marina Jack to Coon Key and adding pedestrian safety to the area.

The Multi-Use Recreational Trail (MURT) will be extended on the south side of John Ringling Boulevard from Bird Key Drive to the east side of the Coon Key Bridge, in a project that started March 6. With a width of 10 feet, the extension will be user-friendly and will include lighting and landscaping. “This connectivity will enhance pedestrian safety and encourage a healthier lifestyle for those who want to exercise along the Bayfront, over the Ringling Bridge and across Bird Key,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in his March 3 newsletter. Simultaneously, the median at Bird Key will be spruced up with enhanced landscaping, irrigation and pavers. Travel lanes will not be closed for either project, Barwin said. Some barriers may be placed in the area to provide a safe work space for the contractors — and that only will be done during non-peak drive times.

The next phase of the MURT — coming soon — will connect Coon Key to St. Armands Circle.

Longboat to search for Public Works director

Longboat Key Public Works Director Juan Florensa has been involved in many projects on the island. After serving as public works director since 2001, Town Manager Dave Bullock announced at a March Town Commission meeting that Florensa intends to retire next year.

Longboat Key town staff were already set to begin the search for a new public works director. The search is starting this early because of the skills and expertise the position requires. Florensa oversees a staff of 20 members who are responsible for beach management, utilities, town facilities, solid waste, parks and streets.

No major damage after tornado warning

A stormy night last month resulted in some downed power lines in the Osprey area, and minor damage, including a home’s damaged pool area on Manasota Key, but there was no major building damage reported, according to Sarasota County officials.

But the area did receive some rain, with the Gulf Gate area receiving several inches of rain the evening of March 12.

The warning, issued at 8:08 p.m., stated a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located 18 miles southwest of Sarasota. The warning said the storm was headed east and will be near Gulf Gate around 8:35 p.m., and the tornado warning for the county expired at 9 p.m., the National Weather Service in Ruskin reported. Radar indicated a possible tornado coming ashore in South County.

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