Neighbors are upset over plans to expand Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. They’ve made signs and passed them around the neighborhoods surrounding the Selby Gardens hoping to send a message.
"Selby gardens, not Selby garage,” said Helga Williamson.
She and others say plans to build a 475 space parking garage, plus a rooftop restaurant will add too much traffic to South Orange Avenue and compromise safety.
"Instead of people just going to see Selby Gardens, we will now have a restaurant with its employees, with trucks delivering food and it turns into more of a commercial operation,” she said.
Robert Bernstein, the Baypoint Park Neighborhood Association president doesn’t feel owners are actually listening to neighbors.
"They think they’ve solved of the problems that are issues and from our perspective they have not,” he said.
Wendy Deming, the Chief Operating Officer says they’ve added an extra 1.5 million dollars in cost to address concerns and have held 15 meetings over the course of 2 years to let neighbors in on the plans.
"I think change is hard for people and this is going to be a difference in the Sarasota community for sure,” she said. "But we think the benefits that this project brings to our community far outweighs any of these challenges.”
"They say oh we’ve had 15 meetings with neighbors, there’s only been three that have been with this neighborhood “advisory committee“. The rest of them have been so I’ll be going out to condos and buildings and civic organization is selling their master plan,” said Bernstein.
Deming says the main reason for the expansion is to protect their collection of orchids and bromeliads from rising water and hurricanes. But parking is also a big issue.
"We have about 200,000 visitors every year and on peak days were turning away hundreds of visitors because our parking lots cannot accommodate all of the cars that our visitors are arriving in,” she said.
Deming also points out two traffic studies done by the city of Sarasota that shows traffic from Selby gardens contributes about 4% of traffic on Orange avenue, and with new lanes being added as part of the expansion wait times at key intersections will be reduced by 20%.
Bernstein says he and other neighbors aren’t buying it.
“We have hired our own consultants, we’re gonna do our own traffic study to really validate what they’ve done because we feel in no shape or form are their projections accurate to what the traffic is going to be,” he said.
Deming says they are taking their plans to the City planning board in May… and plan on meeting with neighbors before that.
Deming says they’d like to break ground on the project in the fall.