Selby Gardens staff vow to find new option for expansion

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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - After eight hours of presentations and public comment, the Sarasota City Commission decided to vote against the Selby Gardens Master Plan on Tuesday.

The $92 million project needed the approval of the City Commission for proper zoning before it could move forward.

Wednesday, President and CEO of Selby Botanical Gardens Jennifer Rominiecki said they’re feeling severely disappointed by Commissioners’ vote to deny the renovations that included a new parking garage and rooftop restaurant.

So what now? Selby staff said they must find another option to make the expansion work.

“We have to pave a way for the future and the status quo is really not an option," said Rominiecki.

Nearly three years of work went into the $92 million project to renovate Selby Gardens. It’s a private entity that would fund the project on its own, but needed the approval of the City Commission to change the comprehensive plan and create a new zoning district specific for the Selby Garden’s expansion.

“So on peak days, we turn away more than 200 visitors because we can’t accommodate visitors efficiently on our property due to a lack of parking. In addition, the world’s best, scientifically-documented collection of orchids and bromeliads are, right now, on the ground in the flood zone in aging infrastructure and they must be safeguarded.”

Tuesday, a sea of green and yellow filled the city chambers. People in green were showing support of the Selby Gardens expansion and those in yellow were showing their opposition.

“I felt that our concern was heard and the law was applied,” said Susan Chapman, a citizen against the expansion.

Concerns of noise, traffic and public safety on U.S. 41 is something three commissioners agreed with and two others did not.

“A parking garage doesn’t create traffic," said Mayor Liz Alpert. "It puts the traffic into a garage and off of the road.”

“I would love for you to go back and bring about a better compromise and I think a compromise can be worked out between the neighborhoods and Selby, but not as it was seen here tonight," said Commissioner Willie Shaw.

With the proposal shot down, supporters left disheartened.

“This is a continuation of the City Commission’s war on cultural institutions in this city," said Ken Shelin, a neighbor and supporter of the Selby Gardens expansion. "It’s destroying the fabric of this city, which is based on the arts and culture.”

Now Selby Gardens staff said they’re re-evaluating their options in order to protect the gardens for generations to come. One of those options could be moving from the site they’ve been open in for 44 years.

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