SHT Article about my neighborhood Arlington Park...
Neighbors praise condo plan they once opposed
By KEVIN MCQUAID
SARASOTA -- When Kalu Watanabe and his partners pitched their Residences at Hyde Park condo project last year, residents living close by were less than enthused.
Neighbors objected to designs that showed the 39-unit project practically looming over the street, ignoring required setbacks.
They disliked the way the condos were positioned on the land bounded by Hyde Park and Hillview streets and East Avenue, across from Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Some members of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association frowned on the Residences' planned 65-foot height. Others grumbled about trash Dumpsters that would jut obtrusively onto the sidewalk.
"The neighborhood absolutely hated it," Watanabe acknowledges.
Finding a neighborhood where residents hate the new development coming in is fish-in-a-barrel in Southwest Florida. But the way Watanabe and cohorts worked to try to make everyone happy might be a regionwide lesson for future dealings between developers and residents.
It wasn't just residents Watanabe and company were dealing with. City officials insisted that the developer preserve a grand oak tree rooted near the center of the 1.5-acre property where the Residences project was slated to rise.
Faced with the protests -- and the prospect that the city might reject a setback waiver request the developer needed to move forward -- Watanabe's Rand Hillview LLC went back to the drawing board.
The developers told architect James Soller, of Venice, to make numerous changes. Soller lengthened the distance of a proposed setback and slanted the Residences' three buildings on the site to make sight lines more pleasing.
He found a way to mask the trash Dumpsters, striking a balance between the city's need for access and residents' desire that they be invisible.
Soller's revamped drawings saved the massive tree, too.
Rand Hillview also pledged to install lighting and construct 8-foot-wide public sidewalks on Hyde Park, adding 3 feet of width. Its changes will also reduce storm-water runoff onto East Avenue by half.
Even with the changes, though, neighborhood leaders told Rand Hillview to prepare for further opposition.
But when Watanabe and company went back to Arlington Park residents in February, they were amazed at the reception: Neighbors praised the redesign.
"It was a very pleasant surprise," Watanabe said.
Just as surprising, residents thanked the developers for heeding their concerns.
"They've been very good about listening to us," said Sherrie Leman, an Arlington Park Neighborhood Association vice president. "We were very happy that they were willing to make concessions."
The Residences' example stands in contrast to the scene often played out in Southwest Florida, in which developers are often pitted against neighbors in battles royale over maximized density and preservation.
In a city -- and region -- contending with unprecedented growth and development, the Residences at Hyde Park could provide a model.
City officials also have been impressed with the level of cooperation between the sides so far.
"The developers have done a pretty good job of trying to accommodate the neighborhood's requests," said Qinghong Wei, a senior planner in the city's Planning and Redevelopment Department. "It seems to be a good project that will help shape that area."
That spirit appears to have become infectious.
Watanabe and his partners are now viewing the Residences at Hyde Park -- where units are slated to sell from $300,000 to $450,000 -- as more than just a real estate project.
To them, the $10 million development will be a pleasing visual gateway to the Arlington Park neighborhood.
"This will be the entrance to that neighborhood," Watanabe said. "And right now, it looks horrible. Horrible. We feel strongly that this will help the neighborhood aesthetics."
The neighborhood's attitude toward the Residences' project has changed drastically as well.
So much so, in fact, that the association wrote a letter to the city supporting Rand Hillview's request to waive a required 42-foot setback requirement.
The city's Board of Adjustment is scheduled to consider the issue April 28.
Sarasota's Planning Board is likely to hear the matter in June. If it and the City Commission approve the Residences' plan, Watanabe could begin construction by summer's end, and complete the condos by the close of 2007.
"It ended up being a win-win situation," Watanabe said. "They felt good, and we felt good. It was amazing. It was one of the most rewarding processes I've ever gone through in my whole life."
We hope they live up to what they told us... also we hope Mr Watanabe gets to have a little more fun in life...