Selby Gardens scales back renovations, but not all neighbors appeased

Selby Gardens scales back renovations, but not all neighbors appeased
Selby Gardens staff draft new scaled back renovations (Source: wwsb)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - After more than 40 hours of public input and a dissenting vote against their proposed expansion, Selby Gardens staff said they now have a compromise.

It’s an attempt to address the concerns that many neighbors had about a new parking structure, additional traffic and noise.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is home to the best scientifically documented collections of orchids and bromeliads in the world, according to staff who also say they’re not able to treat them as such.

“Collections of orchids and bromeliads are right now on the ground in the flood zone in aging infrastructure," said Jennifer Rominiecki, CEO and President of Selby Gardens.

This is just one of many reasons why the Gardens says it needs renovations sooner than later.

“On peak days, we turn away more than 200 visitors due to lack of parking, so we very much need the infrastructure to accommodate our visitor base," said Rominiecki.

Their initial master plan was shut down when a room full of neighbors showed up to the City Commission meeting in November. People wearing yellow protested the renovations, while those in green were there to support them.

But now, Selby said it’s no longer seeking a change to the city’s comprehensive plan. This means no need for a new zoning district anymore. They’re scaling things back to try to compromise.

“The height of any structures will be limited to no more than 45 feet and any restaurant planned will need to be an accessory use and operate during the hours of the botanical garden,” said Rominiecki.

Staff said the planned restaurant will also be reduced from 185 seats to 110 and with the new parking garage at a four-story limit. They hope the neighbors concerns about traffic and noise will be eliminated.

“No!" Susan Chapman, a neighbor quickly refuted. "The reason I don’t feel better about it is, it’s still basically the same plan. It’s still commercializing what should be a botanical garden and making it into an event center.”

Chapman lives within 500 feet of Selby Gardens and has been openly critical of the proposed expansion, saying the parking garage and additional restaurant is simply unnecessary for a botanical garden.

“We as a neighborhood, we would like to work with them to find win-win solutions that don’t destroy our neighborhood peace and destroy the traffic for our neighborhood,” she said.

Staff said the first phase of the master plan includes the Welcome Center, the sustainable parking garage and a new recreational trail around the garden property.

As is, this master plan will still remain a three-phase project and staff said most of the money needed for Phase 1 has already been raised. The complete renovation is projected to take 10 years and cost $92 million.

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