After weeks of public hearings, the Sarasota City Planning Board has voted to recommend approval of a master site plan for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
On Thursday, a sold-out crowd heard speakers both for and against the organization’s $92 million plan less than 24 hours after it learned it would be able to move forward in the city's approval process.
Selby's proposal includes several new facilities including a welcome center and greenhouse, but it’s the vertical “Sky Garden,” a proposed five story parking garage with rooftop restaurant, that's drawn criticism from some nearby residents.
Opponents say the garage and restaurant would increase noise and traffic.
Dana Watts, a Sarasota attorney, has lived near Selby Gardens for 29 years. He said the facility is both out of scale for the neighborhood and unnecessary based on the number of visitors.
"It's a garden, it’s beautiful, but it's not Disney World,” he said. “You're not going to get people coming in from all over the world, so if there is a plan to increase it to 300,00 visitors, which they've said that they have, what is it? Are they planning on building a Ferris wheel? Well if they are, we need to know that."
Jennifer Rominecki, Selby's president and CEO, challenged the idea that the 14-acre bayfront property is wanting for guests.
“Last year we had 231,000 visitors come to Selby Gardens,” she said. Rominiecki also defended the planned structures saying many world class institutions offer such amenities.
"What the restaurant will do is help Selby Gardens to diversify revenues for sustainability for the long term,” she said.
“That is what drives the vitality of the institution,” Rominiecki continued. “That is what engages audiences. And that is what keeps the institution from stagnating and continuously attracting new people to the gardens."
Selby Gardens is seeking several different approvals from the city including rezoning and an amendment to the city's future land use map. The organization intends to implement the master plan in a three-phase process over the course of ten years.
The Sarasota City Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the master plan at city hall on October 28.