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Old Englewood Village Association want to help businesses, artists

Published in the Englewood Sun
By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH STAFF WRITER​,  Updated 

ENGLEWOOD — An outdoor meeting at the Open Air Studio kicked off what members hope is a new era for the Old Englewood Village Association.

At 37 years old, the association is one of the oldest organizations in Englewood. Originally started as the Englewood Merchants Association, the nonprofit still functions to gather business people and others with investments in the heart of the community.

In recent years, the association’s been known for hosting the yearly Halloween Safe Walk and other holiday events.

But without an ability to get permits for those events in 2020, its members had to rethink their approach. They sponsored house-decorating contests at Halloween and Christmas, while encouraging people to come to the business district to check out the shops and maybe get a bite to eat while voting on the decorations.

OEVA bought the gift certificate prizes from local business owners.

In 2021, the association’s board wants to continue out-of-the box thinking while promoting local businesses and artists.

Arts overlay delay

At their annual board meeting this week, members talked about the Englewood Community Redevelopment Agency — which hasn’t met in nearly a year — and its plans for an Arts Overlay District.

Sarasota County set up the district in 1999. Encompassing several blocks around Dearborn Street and McCall Road, it’s designed to re-inject tax dollars into projects that improve the area and gradually increase property values.

The CRA and Sarasota County planners were gearing up for a street-wide parking and sidewalk redesign last year, and an engineering firm submitted designs.

The agency, which includes a volunteer advisory board, is also working on a Arts Overlay District for the central part of the district. The arts district is centered on West Dearborn, Elm Street and Old Englewood Road. Inside it, some county zoning rules are relaxed. Artists’ homes can have open houses as galleries and sell their work. A two-chair hair salon could offer haircuts and other styling services. Internal sidewalks and pathways are encouraged.

The mixed-use component is designed to allow office spaces in homes and apartments above or behind shops and is intended to encourage home-based office, art gallery, artist studio, and bed-and-breakfast establishments, as well as low-intensity office, professional and institutional uses that attract visitors, residents and more businesses.

The concept, members say, works well in other communities and could in Englewood.

But some members complained that government is moving slowly to set up the district.

“This is something we’ve been working on for 10 years now,” board member Evelyn Dales said.

“The problem is you never get the same answer from one county planner to another. We have to iron out the zoning. We have to have a budget for the project. We have to work closer with the county,” Dales said.

Understanding there’s new representation from a Sarasota County commissioner who lives in Englewood, members said they will reach out to Ron Cutsinger for help in moving forward with the Arts Overlay District.

Members wondered when the CRA will begin having meetings again. The office has been closed since March due to COVID-19.

They also hoped Sarasota County will issue permits for more events on Dearborn Street. Currently, the county allows for farmers’ markets along Dearborn Street, while most other activities are on hold until the virus abates.

“We have had no luck getting insurance coverage during the pandemic,” Nancy McCune, board secretary. “So even if we wanted to sponsor events, we would have a difficult time insuring them. We hope to return to normalcy later this year. For now, we can’t even get event permits from the county.

“We are looking to engage artists working in all media be it visual, musical, literary or culinary.”

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