Working to Enhance the Downtown Experience

City News

  • Fri, January 26, 2024 1:03 PM | Robin Parsons (Administrator)

    Sarasota unveils its ambitious transportation vision for the coming decades with the 2024 Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization draft. The top 10 priorities under the Sarasota In Motion master plan include expanding the city's trail network, enhancing east-west corridors, extending the North Legacy Trail, implementing Shade Avenue as a complete street, improving core route transit, constructing a roundabout at Cocoanut Avenue and Second Street, transforming Fruitville Road and Main Street, upgrading Ringling Causeway and Coon Key bridges, and redesigning the Boulevard of the Arts. These projects, set for completion by 2045, have the potential to revolutionize how residents navigate Sarasota. Explore the detailed plans and contribute to the city's future transportation landscape. Read more:

  • Fri, January 26, 2024 12:59 PM | Robin Parsons (Administrator)

    The Sarasota City Commission grapples with proposed zoning changes for downtown establishments, seeking to redefine the distinctions between restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. The amendments aim to prevent potential misclassifications and ensure clarity in operations, hours, and outdoor seating. Notably, the debate revolves around Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch's stance on requiring an on-site kitchen for a venue to be classified as a restaurant and her concerns about defining outdoor bars based on activity rather than the location of the bar counter. Read more about the proposed changes and their potential impact on downtown establishments:

  • Thu, December 14, 2023 12:41 PM | Robin Parsons (Administrator)

    Sarasota City Commissioners have initiated discussions on the towing of vehicles from private parking lots in the city. This comes after numerous complaints from people who have had their cars towed from business lots. According to Sarasota Parking General Manager, Broxton Harvey, many of the complaints suggest poor signage or unfair parking restrictions. As such, the commission is exploring ways to address these concerns and ensure that towing activities are carried out in a fair and reasonable manner. While no decisions have been made yet, the discussions are a positive step in the right direction towards resolving this issue. Read full article here.

  • Thu, December 14, 2023 12:37 PM | Robin Parsons (Administrator)

    Residents of the City of Sarasota can now enjoy a quadrupled discount at Bobby Jones Golf Club. Additionally, they have the privilege to book tee times up to 14 days in advance. To avail this benefit, City of Sarasota residents should complete the verification form provided below and submit the required documents via email or traditional mail (refer to the form for further instructions). Read more from The Observer here.

    Download the verification form here.

    Situated in Bobby Jones Golf Club, the Nature Park offers 90 acres of magnificent urban green space. It offers various amenities including cycling paths, a historic park, a leashed dog area, parking, restrooms, trails, a walking path, and a water feature. Learn more by visiting here.

    Article courtesy of the Observer:

  • Thu, December 14, 2023 12:26 PM | Robin Parsons (Administrator)

    A proposed zoning amendment would, in theory, clarify the definitions of restaurants, nightclubs, bars, etc. to establish different rules under which each may operate.

    After gaveling in the Sarasota City Commission’s Dec. 5 workshop to discuss staff-proposed zoning text amendments for dining and drinking establishments in the downtown zoning districts, Mayor Liz Alpert suggested first tackling what she thought would be the easiest of the definitions — restaurants

    Rather than serving as the appetizer, it turned out to be a full-course meal as commissioners got bogged down in a debate over whether a dining room that brings in prepared food from off-site — or a “ghost kitchen” — is really a restaurant. 

    Planning Director Steven Cover, City Attorney Robert Fournier and City Manager Marlon Brown attempted to interject that where the food comes from and how the public perceives that is not germane to how a restaurant is licensed relative to alcohol sales, but that did not dampen the debate.

    “All they know is they go in, they order food, they get food,” Alpert said. "I don't think they care whether it's prepared on-site or off-site, so we make it way too convoluted and complicated by adding that you can't call yourself a restaurant because you bring in food because the public doesn't care.”

    Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch disagreed.

    What does the draft ZTA cover?

    In summary, the draft ZTAs cover:

    • Modified definitions: Amend definitions for bars, outdoor bars, nightclubs and bottle clubs. The reason for the change is to amend existing definitions to better regulate evolving uses and update description of use categories accordingly.
    • Primary uses: Modify and create primary use tables and use standards for bars, outdoor bars, and nightclubs to allow them in certain zone districts. Reasons for the change are to update primary use charts for commercial, production intensive, special purpose and downtown zone districts and create additional use standards for new uses based on modified definitions.
    • Additional use standards: Apply additional use standards for outdoor seating and other outdoor areas of establishments to uses including, but not limited to, restaurants, bars, outdoor bars, nightclubs, brewpubs, microbreweries, craft distilleries and wineries. The purpose is to update standards to require outdoor seating and other areas of outdoor establishments to meet the same regulations required for outdoor areas of restaurants.
    • Use standards for sale of alcoholic beverages: Separation requirement for bars and nightclubs from a school or church/synagogue/sanctuary, a property residentially zoned, or another bar, outdoor bar, nightclub, or alcoholic beverage store within existing Downtown Exemption Area and expansion of exemption area. The purpose is to update separation requirement and expand exemption area to include redeveloping downtown commercial areas north of Fruitville Road and east of U.S. 301.
    • Non-residential accessory uses, buildings and structures: Some accessory uses require additional standards and should be designed to minimize any adverse impact on adjacent properties. The purpose is to require outdoor bars that are accessory to restaurants, hotels/motels and private clubs to be allowed by minor conditional use.

    “I think they do care. I think the industry cares. I think the businesses care,” Ahearn-Koch said. "If you walk into a restaurant and you sit down they say the only thing we serve is popcorn and olives, well you're not a restaurant and then they say, ‘No, we are because we went to Publix and we bought it, and here it is and this is our menu.’”

    Alpert responded, “If the menu is popcorn and olives nobody's going to think that's a restaurant where they can order a meal. I just think that the public doesn't really care where the food comes from.”

    Ahearn-Koch cited her example that the same definitions should not apply across the board. Hers was a consumer-facing argument that she also applied to fairness to restaurants that invest in kitchen equipment and food preparation personnel versus a dining room that imports food from a food truck or a commissary kitchen.

    “The point of doing all this was to add clarity to what's the difference between a nightclub and a restaurant and a bar, and if we start out by having a restaurant that's not really a restaurant, people will walk in and think it's one thing and it's another,” Ahearn-Koch said. “Just like with the nightclub/restaurant situation where the real intention was a restaurant and (was) being called a nightclub. That causes massive confusion and unnecessary conflict, and what we should try to avoid is to create more confusion.”

    Staff countered that Ahearn-Koch’s argument was outside the scope of the proposed ZTA, which is intended to clarify definitions of and draw contrasts between restaurants, nightclubs, bars, outdoor bars and bottle clubs and the different rules under which they may operate. Currently, those are determined by the state alcohol licensing permits that are inconsistent with the city’s definitions. 

    The initiative in part came about because of complaints that a small number of restaurants operate more like nightclubs after 10 p.m.

    “There is this assumption from some the feedback we received that that any future restaurants or bars are going to be bad. That's simply not true," Cover said. "When we presented this to discuss earlier in the process, they indicated that they have no problems with 95% of the bars and bars and restaurants that are in downtown. There are only a select few that are really a concern.”

    Recommendations in the ZTA include prohibiting establishments from opening doors or glass walls after hours and pumping amplified sound into the street. 

    Simply more complicated

    What began as an attempt to simplify the city’s code because some restaurants operate as nightclubs and vice-versa became more complex as it worked its way through the public process and the Planning Board.

    That became apparent to commissioners at its Nov. 6 regular meeting when, rather than voting on the ZTA decided to schedule the workshop for further discussion. As they debated what does or does not constitute an outdoor bar — more specifically an outdoor rooftop bar — and how their operations may or may not the disruptive to downtown residents, it became apparent the planning staff has more work to do before the matter comes back before the commission in January.

    El Melvin on Main Street has in the past opened its folding glass doors late at night, drawing complaints from nearby residents of loud music. That practice would be classified as a nightclub under proposed zoning changes. Photo by Andrew Warfield

    “I'm looking at the Oxford Dictionary and a 'restaurant' is a place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises,” said Commissioner Erik Arroyo. “Many restaurants would rather just have a food truck in the back and work in conjunction with each other. I think simplification is the key, but also maybe we can expand the definition of a restaurant.”

    Planning General Manager Ryan Chapdelain said staff perhaps missed the mark in its attempt at clarity while defining a restaurant.

    “Maybe it's not working,” he said. “It wasn't a major issue before. We thought we were helping to clarify but if it's that's not working, we could just take it out. We haven’t really had issues with the restaurant definition. Again, we're just trying to add a little bit of clarity.”

    Prior to moving on to discussing rooftop bars and an option to expand the exemption zone for bars and restaurants into emerging areas on the edge of downtown, Alpert summarized, “And I thought restaurants was going to be the easy one.”

    What the zoning text amendment isn't

    Sarasota Planning Director Steven Cover started the zoning text amendment workshop with a monologue about what the proposed redefinitions of restaurants, nightclubs, outdoor bars, rooftop bars and bottle clubs is not.

    He said:

    “It's not about public sidewalks or sidewalk cafe activity.”

    “It's not about smoking or public sidewalk on our public sidewalks.”

    “It's not about special events in the public right of way.”

    “And particularly, it's not about noise. This is the one thing that keeps coming up over and over again. It has nothing to do with noise, has nothing to do with decibel readings. And it has nothing to do with enforcement of those decimal readings. I just wanted to make that clear.”

    Cover also took exception to a characterization distributed via email that Sarasota is among the most dangerous cities in the state with regard to deaths by DUI, and that any regulation that may be perceived to relax permitting for alcohol service will only exacerbate the problem. 

    During the workshop, Cover produced data to refute that assertion.

    "This is a report we received from our police department indicating that over the last four years, we've only had four total fatal crashes resulting from DUIs, and this year we have had zero, he said. "So I have to say if we're the most dangerous city in the state, this must be an awfully safe state.”

    According to the Sarasota Police Department, out of 46 traffic fatalities from Jan. 1, 2020 through Nov. 28, 2023, four were from crashes involving DUIs; and out of 14 deaths through November of this year, none involved drunk driving.

    What it is

    According to the city of Sarasota planning staff, the zoning text amendments:

    • Clarify definition and uses for bars, outdoor bars and nightclubs. Tying definitions to state licensing is not a reliable way to determine how an establishment will operate, which has resulted in establishments being classified as nightclubs that do not operate as such while those classified as restaurants operate as nightclubs into the evening.
    • Regulate components of activities based on the new definitions and the intensity of the establishment including amplified entertainment and operating hours.
    • Clarifies and expands existing additional use standards to apply to outdoor areas of alcohol-related establishments.

    Article courtesy of The Observer, submitted 12/14/2023 
    Author: Andrew Warfield

  • Thu, December 14, 2023 12:24 PM | Robin Parsons (Administrator)

    DSCA Comments on City of Sarasota Events Street Closure Approval Policy

    On March 20, 2017, the City Commission discussed a proposal from the City Attorney for Ordinance 17-5207, which would have provided new guidelines for who gets to vote to approve street closures related to events in Downtown Sarasota. The background material related to that draft ordinance proposal can be found here:

    The public hearing on the proposed ordinance options concluded as follows:

    Mayor Shaw noted Commission consensus for the City Attorney’s Office to consult with Staff after they have gathered input and information from the stakeholders and to come back before the Commission to present a report at a later date.

    In June 2017, DSCA asked its member condos to provide comments on a proposal for a solution to the City Events Street Closure Approval process. Those comments resulted in a refined proposal which was subsequently reviewed with the Downtown Sarasota Alliance (DSA), the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association (SDMA) and the Palm Avenue Merchants Association (PAMA) to seek consensus on a proposed solution. The following is the proposal which is being submitted to City Staff:

    Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association

    Recommended Changes to Proposed City Ordinance 17-5207

    All businesses and residential property owners whose premises are located on a street proposed for an event-related closure of between 6 and 72 hours are deemed “Affected Parties”. Concurrent with the filing of an application for street closure, all Affected Parties shall be sent through the mail a “Notice of Proposed Street Closure” setting forth the name of the event and its sponsor, the date(s), and the location and duration of the street closure. The notice will further state that Affected Parties who have opinions on the proposed closure can communicate those opinions to the City Special Events Office within 30 days of receipt of such notice and both a mailing and e-mail address will be provided for that purpose. Public comment will be a significant factor in the decision by the City to approve or deny the closure application.

    Event-related street closures of any duration that prevent vehicular access, including limited vehicular access, to any residential building are prohibited under all circumstances except where 100% of the Affected Parties who are constrained by that condition have agreed to such closure.

    Event-related street closures of up to 6 hours that result in limited vehicular access to any residential building are permitted provided that i) such access is managed with mechanical or electronic means, such as stop and go lights, or by an official person charged with that responsibility; or, ii) where the nature of the event is such that reasonable intermittent access is afforded without the need for active management.

    Event-related street closures of between 6 and 72 hours cannot occur at any given location more frequently than twice in four consecutive weeks and twelve times in twelve consecutive months.

    Download the DSCA Comments on City of Sarasota Events Street Closure Approval Policy

About DSCA

The Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association (DSCA) is the designated neighborhood organization to represent the interests of the condominium associations, townhomes, apartments and their residents, that are within the greater Downtown Sarasota.

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