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City commissioners reject current Selby Master Plan

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After months of negotiation, the Sarasota Planning Board held its long awaited meeting to finalize the city commissioners decision for Selby Gardens’ “Master Plan” on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at Sarasota City Hall. A supermajority vote from the city commissioners was necessary for Selby to move forward with the plan but Selby received only two out of five votes.

The Selby Gardens Master Plan is a $92 million, three phase plan to improve existing infrastructure and add new infrastructure like a herbarium, a library and a parking garage with a restaurant on the roof. Selby unleashed the plan in 2017, but has dealt with backlash from local residents with qualms about neighborhood livability. Selling Out Selby, a community organization formed of “concerned neighbors,” was formed in Jan. 2019 to voice these opinions. 

In order to implement the Master Plan, Selby Gardens requested a change to its land use classification, moving from “Community Office/Institutional” to “Metropolitan/Regional.” Then-Mayor Liz Alpert and Commissioner Hagen Brody voted for the land use change, while commissioners Jen Ahearan-Koch, Willie Shaw and Shelli Freeland Eddie voted against it. These three cited increased traffic and other aspects of the plan that Selling Out Selby similarly pointed to. 

The Planning Board heard again from both sides of the equation: Selling Out Selby and Selby supporters and staff. According to the recording on the City of Sarasota website, the meeting lasted about eight hours. Shortly after the commissioners’ decisions were made, Jennifer Rominiecki, the CEO of Selby Gardens, and Ty Hall, a supporter of Selling Out Selby, both submitted op-eds to the Herald Tribune. 

Rominiecki reflected on the process Selby Gardens underwent through the negotiations with the public and Selby’s hope for future interactions with locals in regards to the Master Plan. Both op-eds accused the other side of antagonistic behavior.

“The individuals responsible for launching smear campaigns they called ‘Selling out Selby’ and ‘Flowers Not Towers,’ and claiming to ‘love’ Selby Gardens, took it upon themselves to disparage Selby Gardens’ employees, board members, volunteers and the Master Plan itself,” Rominiecki wrote in her guest editorial piece published on Monday, Nov. 11.

In Hall’s response to Rominiecki’s op-ed, he cited Lolly Daskal’s “The Leadership Gap,” spelling out four key points of advice for Rominiecki in her leadership position. 

“In Monday’s op-ed, Ms. Rominiecki specifically assigned blame to an ‘extremely vocal minority of citizens who successfully chose to use incivility, fear mongering and circulation of false information to get what they want’ and implied that we have ‘defaced the property,’” Hall replied in a Guest Editorial published on Wednesday, Nov. 13. “The Selby management team’s actions over the past week call to mind Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

In a phone interview, Hall stated that he has never had a one-on-one meeting with Rominiecki. 

“We’re optimistic that Selby Garden’s board and management team will engage with its neighbors and work out a Master Plan that is compatible with the community and their current zoning that will help them achieve all of their goals,” Hall said. 

Sarasota Herald Tribune columnist Carrie Seidman commented on the ardent feud that developed between Selby and it’s opposers in an article titled “What we should learn from Selby Gardens’ battles” on Thursday Nov. 14. 

“The rejection of Selby Gardens’ master plan should serve as a warning that it’s time to find a better way to resolve Sarasota’s contentious battles over growth issues,” Seidman said. “Over the past decade, as recovery from the recession has spurred a quantum leap in Sarasota’s development, both natives and newer residents have become increasingly alarmed by the pace with which the local landscape is changing, and increasingly defensive and protective of their surroundings.” 

Although the decision has been made, Selby can make alterations to the plan and present it to the Planning Board in its own time. 

The entire Planning Board meeting can be viewed at the City of Sarasota website under “Special City Commission Meeting (Afternoon)” on Tuesday, Nov 5.

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