Friday, December 30, 2005


Harold Bubil's blog from Dec 9, is titled "Enough Already" and takes a few shots at current architecture trends in Sarasota.

Of the Med-Rev trend, Harold says:
We've been there and done that.... It's time for something new. Are developers listening?

The new condo just proposed for 1740 Main St. in Sarasota is described as "urban Mediterranean" architecture -- whatever that is. You can't tell from the rendering.

Frank Folsum Smith is quoted:
"One of the unsaid things that architects across the board react to is this 'Mediterraneanization' or 'Californication' that we’ve been seeing happening in this city for 20 or more years," Smith went on to say.

Carl Abbott also weighs in:
"We want a diverse code. The Ritz is a reject Walt Disney building. And it could have been great. Some of the Ritzes are wonderful."We want a city that is vibrant and open to creativity -- and not faking some past period," said Abbott.

We're glad there is a discussion of the "Californication" of architecture in Sarasota. Our history includes a very exciting period of architectural excellence - the Sarasota School of Architecture. The good old days had some wonderful moments.........

Urban Mediterranean? Graphic from SHT.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

More on the Mews

This weeks Pelican Press editorial echoes our feelings about the proposed tower next to Library Mews:

Next Monday night, the city commission will consider allowing a 10-story tower to be built adjacent to the east end of Library Mews, effectively cutting off all privacy and sunlight from that direction, not to mention jamming another 200 cars a day into the alley behind the Mews.

If the commission approves this project, an elegant, prize-winning city living design will be dwarfed by a monster no one with a straight face can call attractive. In its zeal for developing “affordable housing,” the city commission has rushed into massive density increases.

Does anyone seriously believe the added density being requested for this 10-story tower will produce any affordable housing? Of course not.

Does the city commission have to approve this massive shaft, the equally massive “spa” at its base and the added density needed to enable it? Of course not.

There are many good reasons to preserve the elegant two and three-story neighborhood surrounding Selby Library. There are even more reasons not to disfigure it with the proposed 10-story tower.

We call upon the city commission not to maim a showcase downtown neighborhood, but to equally protect the property rights of the visionaries who supported downtown early, when that support was still a gamble – when frankly, most believed it was a risky investment.

First of all, city commissioners should do no harm – they should especially not allow the pioneers at Library Mews to be harmed by a frankly opportunistic development.

At some point the commissioners get the message: enough is enough. What has happened to human scale and compatibility? Squeezing 10 story and higher building onto tiny lots does not make sense.

[Note: we have just heard that this proposal will not be heard next week, we will post the new date when it is announced.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pineapple in the News

Kevin McQuaid's article in yesterdays SHT covers the Pineapple Square potential giveaway of public land and public dollars. As we have commented in previous posts, we think this giveaway would be in the range of $18,000,000.

While some may think upscale retail shopping in downtown Sarasota is worth this price, we do not. Sarasota has too many other priorities to give one retail developer this much money. None of the other retail centers in Sarasota has been "blessed" with this kind of handout and we don't see why Pineapple Square should set a new gold standard.

Kevin McQuaid says:
As part of its plan for Pineapple Square, a roughly $200 million project that would add between 30 and 40 shops, as well as 200 residences and more than 1,000 parking spaces, Isaac has asked the city for a sizeable amount of "cooperation."

Specifically, the city's cooperation would involve providing a one-acre, city-owned lot on State Street downtown that an appraiser has valued at $8 million, along with roughly $7.6 million to construct 350 public parking places within a Pineapple Square garage.

The developer also is asking the city to vacate -- read: close -- a swath of State Street from Lemon to Pineapple avenues. City officials say they have no idea what that largely unprecedented move would be worth.

But when city planners, in early September, sought financial and other data from Isaac related to its request, the developer balked. Isaac Chief Executive John Simon also ignored city Redevelopment Specialist Karin Murphy's letter requesting information on Pineapple Square in early October, according to Sarasota documents.

We do not understand Mr. Simon's spin on the question of what he requires from the city.

He wants the State St parking lot, he wants a block of State St to be vacated and given to him and he wants $7,600,000 to build parking spaces in his building. His spin on this indicates that the State St lot is "encumbered" because the city requires 350 parking spaces. His spin also says if the city wants the 350 spaces the city needs to pay for them. He also says that the air rights consumed by these parking spaces are more valuable than the air rights above the street he wants vacated (he would say "if you bring that up [vacating the street] you will lose that argument [the air rights]").

One thing we do know is that we already have 137 parking spaces in the State St lot and 14 spaces on the block of State St. that Simon is asking to be vacated.

We certainly hope none of the commissioners get sucked into his spin when it comes time to evaluate the proposal. Lay out clearly what the city is being asked to contribute, find out from other retailers around the city (ie., St Armands) what they think of giving Pineapple Square this much public money so they get parking inside their building, then ask the citizens of Sarasota if this is worth it. Finally think about Sarasota's needs (as opposed to wants), how does this project fit with affordable housing, how does it help the Newtown redevelopment project, how does it help traffic congestion, how does concentrating this much parking in one building help the rest of downtown.

We can't hear the spinning and sucking sounds too loudly yet. We hope it stays that way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Becoming Pedestrian and Bike Friendly

Recently I received the latest issue of "Land and People", the extraordinary quarterly publication of the Trust for Public Land. This publication is free and you can get a subscription through the TPL website.

The current issue has a great article about the Pinellas Bike Trail, "Biking to Florida’s Future." As Sarasota continues to move in the direction of being more pedestrian and biking friendly, our neighbors to the near north have much to offer in the way of examples:

Early on a fall Saturday morning, I swung my bike onto the Pinellas Trail near downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. A handlebar bag and rear rack held my belongings for a two-day ride. Stretching more than 33 miles north from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, through one of Florida's most urbanized coastal counties, the Pinellas Trail is one of the nation's most successful rail trails. An energetic cyclist could easily complete the distance in a day, but my mission was to explore how the trail had positively transformed the communities it traversed. I'd be traveling about three-quarters of the trail, stopping overnight along the way and talking to a variety of people about the trail's impact.

Sarasota County has acquired land for a bike trail and the city will be working on the MURT this year. We believe that the MURT (Multiple Use Recreation Trail) will prove very popular and we will soon want to expand this trail. If our benefits match those in Pinellas County, we will be in for a real treat.

Take a look at the article, it is on-line. Also consider getting a subscription to "Land and People" - remember, it’s free. And of course, consider supporting the Trust for Public Land as they are one of the premier organizations involved in preserving the best of America.

The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Preservation in Sarasota

An editorial in Monday’s SHT concerns preservation.

Specifically the editorial says the developer (Wayne Morehead) on whose land the Crocker Church and the Bidwell-Wood Church reside should contribute significantly to relocate and save these important historic resources. We agree.

The Sarasota City Commissioners have indicated support for this project. They have asked staff to look for ways the city could provide up to $200,000 for this project. We applaud the Commissioners for this action. Far too many of Sarasota’s historic structures have been lost and each year brings new threats to the memories of our past.

We would also like to see the Commissioners take a serious look at preservation.

Tony Souza of the Downtown Partnership is well versed in the benefits of historic preservation. He has a passion for telling us about these benefits. Our downtown still has a number of unique historical treasures. These buildings are much more interesting to explore than the new storefront towers now being constructed. Preservation of these pieces of our history will add to the fabric of our downtown and draw more visitors.

As the editorial says:

Nearly toothless preservation rules give the city little power to require much of developers whose projects threaten historic structures. The rules should be strengthened; county ordinances are tougher and could provide an example for the city.

Preservation is expensive, but smaller cities like Punta Gorda and Venice have made the effort. Sarasota should too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intensity, Density and Scale

The following is the substance of an e-mail recently sent to the Commissioners:

We eleven families who live in Library Mews are unanimous in our opposition to the proposed high rise project planned at 1335 Second St.

We believe there is an obvious compatibility problem when the proposed tower is more than twice as high as any other building in our neighborhood---and roughly five times the height of our own next door. Can you imagine what this will do to our sunlight?

We respectfully request, that, at your convenience, you [Commissioners] make a brief visit to Library Mews so you can personally understand our concerns about the impact of a 132-foot tower in such a small area and how it will impact our otherwise low to mid-rise neighborhood. We will meet you and show you what concerns us.

Clearly, Burns Square is not the only downtown neighborhood potentially endangered by speculative development with all the destructiveness of urban renewal

John Michel
Library Mews Homeowners Association

In the Comprehensive Plan there is a discussion of the kinds of things that need to be considered to ensure that a proposed use is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. This is the language:

the proposed use(s); intensity; density; scale; building size, mass, bulk, height and orientation; lot coverage; lot size/configuration; architecture; screening; buffers; setbacks; signage; lighting; traffic circulation patterns; loading area locations; operating hours; noise; odor, and other factors of compatibility are used to determine whether the proposed development is compatible with surrounding uses and the intensity, density, and scale of surrounding development

More information about this issue is in our Dec 19 post.

Our current pace of building in downtown, even with the new code limiting buildings to 10 stories instead of 18 stories, does not sit well with very many people. Issues like the Library Mews need to be addressed. The buffer concept that will be used around Laurel Park and other Downtown Edge neighborhoods is a step in the right direction, however our current effort are falling well short of the what most people think is needed.

We hope the Commissioners can find a way to address this issue.

Good Deal

Here is a tip passed on by one of our members:

Some of the local, downtown merchants have posted printable coupons on the web site of the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association. Click on the link then look for "Downtown Deals" on their web site.

Currently there are printable coupons for Mattison's ($10 off) and BK Wine (10% off) - in both cases you need to spend $25. These are good deals and support the local merchants.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Buzz

From a recent issue of SRQ's PAGE 1.

"At dinner parties, the tennis court or golf course, the only conversation I hear about the development in downtown Sarasota is negative. People in general lament the willy nilly construction and the loss of the atmosphere which made Sarasota so charming. Basically, in the last few years, the out-of-control development has destroyed the enchantment that was Sarasota. Can we save what is left?" -Sarasota resident Paula Holleran, in response to the Thursday, December 15 PAGE 1 quote by City Commissioner Ken Shelin.

PAGE 1 is a daily e-newsletter from SRQ Magazine. To sign up for it go to SRQ's web-site.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Lib Mews neighbor
Originally uploaded by

City of Sarasota Comprehensive Plan. Objective 4 - Neighborhood Compatibility

The City will promote compatibility of new and re-development projects within neighborhoods.

So says our Comprehensive Plan, that document that is to guide our development.

In the downtown neighborhood, on 2nd St near the library, is a block of small residences and commercial establishments. The most notable feature of this block is a row of 2 story townhouses, the Library Mews.

There is a small "historic" home - former home of A E Edwards - and John Carl's 3 1/2 story building.

Where the small, historic home sits, Joe Hembree, a Sarasota developer, has proposed to put a 10 story residential building containing 47 units. At 10,500 sq ft, the lot is less than 1/4 acre. Access to parking would be through a 20 ft wide alley at the rear of the building.

The residents of the 2 story Library Mews homes think this development is not compatible with their block or their neighborhood. It will tower over their homes, it is completely out of scale with the neighborhood, it will severely tax the alley that serves as the entrance to parking for their homes.

The sketch above indicates the scale of the proposed building in relation to the neighboring buildings. To the left of the hi-rise is the Library Mews, to the right is the 3 1/2 story Spa building.

This proposal challenges the concept of compatibility that is held by most people. It is out of scale with the block and the surrounding neighborhood.

How can this keep on happening in our city? This is the question we keep hearing everywhere we go. Of course the answer is that the City Commissioners are responsible for the decisions on growth and compatibility.

On Jan 3, the City Commission will conduct a hearing to determine whether this proposal is compatible. They will base their decision on testimony presented by citizens and whether they think the proposal complies with the Comprehensive Plan. It would be a real stretch to determine that this complies with the compatibility requirement of the Plan.

We hope many citizens of Sarasota pay close attention to this upcoming decision.

Save Our Sarasota

Today the Save Our Sarasota blogsite has reached the 10,000 page view mark.

We are pleased that many viewers find our postings interesting and stimulating.

Our mission remains the same: to be a constructive and positive voice for the preservation and enhancement of Sarasota. Our goals are to preserve, enhance, and promote:
  • Sarasota's uniqueness
  • Sarasota's ecological, cultural, and historic legacies and distinguished institutions
  • Urbanization that respects pedestrian scale and activities
  • Ecologically sensitive urban design
  • Economically responsible urban development
  • Integrity of public management
  • Current and new passive and active public places for human enjoyment, responsive to local characteristics (climate, vegetation, landscape, marinescape)
  • Affordable housing and necessary support amenities
  • Locally owned businesses and affordable commercial space
  • New businesses that respond to Sarasota's uniqueness and priorities.

We continue to pursue these goals and would invite all that are interested to join our e-mailing list by sending us a request.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Changing Downtown "Streetscape"

Are we really really making a great downtown?

We received this communication from a Save Our Sarasota supporter:

Just stopped by the Hallmark card shop on Main, just west of Lemon, and heard that they will be closing soon - their rent was just doubled to $4500 a month!!

Can't believe they were even making any money at $2200. This shop has always been very supportive of displaying Save Our Sarasota petitions and fliers. A lady shopping there was saying all the things we all think and was happy to hear about SOS.

For all you bargain hunters - all greeting cards are 10 for $10 and 70% off lots of other stuff.

Reminiscent of the Pastry Art shop.

Our unique, small businesses in downtown will be pressured more and more as the rents rise. Rents will rise because of increasing valuations of properties which are the result of the unchecked growth downtown. Apparently this is the price for changing from a small town with urban amenities into a "true city".

Soon we may only have the chain "fashion" stores downtown.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wannabe Moved?

Apparently the "Olympic Wannabes" sculpture by Glenna Goodacre will be moved. The Public Arts Committee has decided that a better location would be in Bayfront Park, near the children's fountain. The Commission is agreeable.

Galleria Selecchia's web-site indicates:

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County has received donations amounting to $180,000 from more than 240 community friends who made the donation of this joyful sculpture to the City of Sarasota possible. The Community Foundation is accepting tax-deductible gifts of $10 or more to assist with the landscaping expenses.

The Dedication of "Olympic Wannabes" and the installation of the Contributors plaque at Selby Five Points in downtown Sarasota for Sunday took place on February 9, 2003. Glenna Goodacre was in attendance for this major exhibition of her new work.

Ever since its arrival at Galleria Silecchia in November 2000, this carefree rendering of children has touched the hearts of thousands, with people consistently saying that they wanted to see the sculpture installed in the heart of downtown.

The "Memory Walk" piece will be removed from Five Points and placed in storage.

This is in preparation for a possible redesign of Five Points Park. John Burg recently told the Parks, Recreation and Environment Protection Advisory Board that the City intends to have a series of discussions about a possible redesign. He indicated that there is "one pre-conceived notion, that all trees would stay in place." He also indicated that it would be OK to leave the park the way it is, basically just rejuvinating it - it has taken a bit of a beating with the construction that has been continuing.

As of now, workshops are scheduled for Jan 30, 6-8:30 PM at Selby Library, to review the history and design of the park as well as get public input. Based on input the city receives, around March 30, Phil Graham, landscape designer, would present a specific design concept for discussion.

At the City Commission meeting discussing the move of "Olympic Wannabes", Commissioner Atkins indicated opposition saying that "these kids were the only kids that haven't been kicked out of downtown" and he didn't think they "wannabe moved."

[The editor agrees with Commissioner Atkins and thinks there may be more than a few irate residents and visitors when this sculpture is moved to the new location.]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

New Condos Proposed for North Trail

Check the IBSSA website for schematics and preliminary information about 3 new condo proposals for the North Trail.

The project developer is RAM Development Co., the same group that is doing the Broadway project.

Preliminary information indicates that all three new projects consist of three story residential units built to NT Code requirements. One of the projects includes 9 single family homes. Sites include the Mel-O-Dee/Best Western Motel, the former Asian Museum site (on the east side of the Trail between 46th and 47th) and the corner of 17th and the North Trail.

In all three projects a mix of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units with either 1 or 2 baths is proposed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Politics as Un-usual

Following up on our Nov 21 posting concerning the continuing give away of public space, on Monday the City Commission voted 3-2 to vacate a street dedicated to the city in 1947 in Tahiti Parkway.

This strip of land was a seldom used "street" that a developer wanted to have vacated so he could have a walled subdivision. He needed the Street vacation so he could have 3 lots and qualify for a sub-division. He then got an agreement with an adjacent home owner to "join" the sub-division so the developer could qualify for a community dock (requires a minimum of 4 houses). The code does not specifically prohibit this but it had never been done before in Sarasota. The end result: a sub-division composed of 3 new luxury houses in a walled and gated sub-division, along with a home built in 1970 outside the wall.

The "street" could have provided emergency access to the back of the Yacht Center property; it could have been used in the future for a portion of the city MURT trail (although it may not qualify for federal funding, along with several other important sections of the MURT) to keep the trail west of 41 and as close to the bay as possible - a stated goal for the MURT.

Basically the Commissioners that voted for the developer's request, indicated that the increased tax dollars justified the requirement for a benefit to the city. Apparently tax dollars and developer profit count more than quality of life for our community.

This give away involved a very convoluted process with a number of amazing turns:
  • A quasi-judicial public hearing was held before the City Commission in July and the proposal was denied.
  • The developer lobbied several Commissioners and in response the Commission voted to rescind the original denial and instead voted to approve the proposal. The affected neighbors objected to the rescission saying that this was based on lobbying done after the public hearing and that the public was not notified of this process and not allowed to have input.
  • In a separate meeting with the Neighborhood Association president, the City Attorney and the Mayor it was determined that incorrect information had been used in making the decision to rescind.
  • In November, the developer completed the required paper work (that was supposed to have been completed in July) and the second reading of the approval vote was scheduled. The Commissioners decided to request more information prior to voting.
  • In December, the Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the proposal. During the discussion of proposal prior to voting, Commissioner Shelin stated one of the reasons he favored the proposal was that he "had hearsay information that the association, the Tahiti Park Association itself, will not formally protest this right of way vacation." When Commissioner Shelin stated this, the Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association president was in the audience and indicated by shaking her heard that this was not a true statement.

So what we have is a process that allows public testimony at a hearing to be denied by lobbying after the decision has been made, a process that rescinds a decision made after public testimony and the recission is made using wrong information. And finally we have a process that also uses false information that was indicated as hearsay (with no disclosure of the source of the information as required by quasi-judicial hearings) being used to make a decision. All included in one development proposal.

A truly astounding and amazing process.

And the Commissioners wonder why citizens question the decisions they make, wonder why participation in the process is low, wonder why people think that the Commissioners are too close to developers, wonder why voter turnout is low.

It seems only too obvious.

Sarasota Rising?

A few days ago there was a wonderful celebration, Rosemary Rising, an event to raise awareness of this changing neighborhood. The Rosemary District is indeed coming to life and Sarasota will greatly benefit as this happens.

However, Sarasota itself is also rising, this time on a list that may not be the greatest thing for our community. It is the list of most over-valued real estate areas. Global Insight/National City Corporation issued their 2005 3rd Quarter listing of "HousePrices in America" yesterday.

In the list of "Extremely Over-Valued Metropolitan Areas", Naples ranks No 1 with an "over-valuation" of 84%. Sarasota checks in at No. 20 with an "over-valuation" of 56%. Sarasota was No. 26 last year. We are rising.

Other FL cities on this list include Port St Lucie at No. 4, West Palm at No. 16 and Miami at No 21., right behind Sarasota.

Commentary on this was reported in the Naples Daily News.

Real estate people tend to discount this information, saying the market will determine the price and people are willing to pay a premium to live here. Speculators should be cautious, however, as over paying for an investment will likely make it difficult to achieve a return.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pineapple Square Shuffling

Recently the State St parking lot was appraised for $8,000,000 (assuming it is unencumbered by a requirement for public parking). The City has had a plan to give that lot to a developer if the developer would give back 350 parking spaces - at the same site - to the city. This seemed like a win-win for both the City and a developer in that even though parking construction costs have risen over the last couple years, the developer would get prime city center property to develop.

Issuing a RFP (request for proposal) for this arrangement had been the plan until the Pineapple Square proposal surfaced.

The first proposal from the Pineapple Square developers indicated that the city could give the lot to the developers and they would build 350 public spaces within the Pineapple Square building. John Simon, the development manager, also indicated to Save Our Sarasota that no public funding for parking had been asked for. The developer also indicated that the State St lot would be difficult to design parking and living units for because of the shape of the lot.

More recently the Pineapple Square developers have indicated that in addition to the State St lot they would now require approximately $9,000,000 in public funding for the 350 parking spaces in their building. It should be remembered that since the city already has 137 surface spaces at the State St lot, this would give the city only 213 additional spaces. A simple calculation indicates that the cost of this deal would have been approximately $17,000,000 (land and public funds) for an additional 213 spaces or $80,000 per space.

Now we learn that the developer has suggested that instead of buying the State St lot, he would be willing to "lease" the lot from the city. In lieu of money, he would give the city 175 parking spaces. He suggested the "lease" run through 2087, which would be 82 years. The developer also indicated the value of the 175 spaces was $4,360,000 or $25,000 per space.

The developer has also indicated that the public funding for the 350 spaces would be $7,600,000 which is $21,000 per space if 350 spaces is considered or $36,000 if the net 213 spaces is considered.

Confused? You probably should be and maybe we are all supposed to be confused.

If the city were to accept the current proposal, this would mean that the city would give up $8,000,000 in property (for 82 years) and $7,600,000, in public funds and receive 288 net parking spaces in return. This calculates to $40,000 per space.

However the developer does not receive the land, but instead gets an 82 year lease. Assuming the city would look at the current value of the land and its value over the next 82 years in order to determine a fair lease value, it is doubtful that the cost per parking space that we have given here would be any lower.

We would ask that the city carefully consider these costs as they examine this proposal.

There is another obvious give away of public property that needs to be considered: that portion of the State St between Pineapple and Lemon that the developers have asked the city to vacate. This land area has a value of $2,250,000 (using the same sq ft value as the State St parking lot appraisal). Apparently the developer will ask for a "pedestrian travel easement " instead of a "vehicle travel easement". The status of this request and what rights will be given to the developer and what rights will be lost by the residents remains unclear.

We would again suggest that the city take a serious and comprehensive look at using the State St lot to accomplish the priority goal of affordable housing in downtown. This lot could provide additional parking spaces as well as housing for people that work in or near (walkable) downtown. This would be preferable to more luxury housing.

We would also suggest that the city take great pains to make the Pineapple Square proposal clear and transparent. What are all the costs and benefits? Translate all these into current dollars so anyone can understand the deal.

We also think it would be wise for the city to determine what amount of public parking should be funded in Pineapple Square. Parking that is in the middle of a building does not promote a walkable downtown. In addition, this is a competitive advantage given by the city to one retail establishment at the expense of all other retail areas in the city: St Armands, potential Quay redevelopment, Burns Square, etc. This does not seem like good public policy.

A better policy would be to have smaller parking areas spread around the city. This would not give one retail area a competitive advantage and it would spread traffic around.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

More On Arcades

This week's column by Allan Horton in the Pelican Press continues the cry for more sensible growth. He also zeros in on arcades:

Abusive to pedestrians whose sidewalk spaces they overwhelm, the developers of its newest breed of high-rises now want license to capture leasable or salable, air-conditioned space within the volume of a building cube that confiscates and exploits a “canopy” or “arcade” touted as shelter, but which really is no more than urban cavern. By executing such architectural trespass, the developers automatically eliminate street trees – the single remaining element of the streetscape that lends grace, human scale and natural ambience to congested, concrete canyons.

Everyone should read Alan's eloquent cry against what is happening here.

We also need to let everyone know that the Commission hearing on the text amendment that would eliminate arcades will not be Dec 12 as we had believed. Since the Commission expects much input and discussion of many of the proposed downtown code text amendments, they have decided to cover these issues over three different meetings.

We do not yet know for sure when the arcades will be discussed but believe it will be Jan 17. We won't know for sure until the agenda for this meeting is published in the newspaper.

In the meantime we would ask that readers of this blog let the Commissioners know your feelings. We of course oppose allowing arcades to cover our wonderful pedestrian friendly sidewalks.

Commissioner contact information is found at the City web site.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"The city has really screwed up by listening to the public paper"

We also looked twice when we read that original statement. What kind of a statement is that? [As you can see in the comments, it was a mis-quote. We have modified this post to make sure that everyone understands that it was a mis-quote.]

Today in the SHT we read about the Wednesday Farmer’s Market "start up" problems. Apparently some businesses in the Burns Square area are struggling with access and parking issues during the Market time:

City commissioners tried to address the parking issue when they put together a deal to buy the Orange Dolphin Galleria and replace it with a parking garage on Dolphin Street. But the commissioners backed out of the expensive and unpopular deal.

"The city has really screwed up by listening to the public paper and not buying the Dolphin lot," said Denise Kowal, president of the Burns Square Property Owners Association. "Commissioners have to wake up and put a parking garage in our area."

Elsewhere in the same edition we read about a proposed condo project biting the dust:

Sarasota Main Street LLC's decision to scuttle plans for Washington Place marks what some believe could be a market correction and a shift away from escalating land prices. Sarasota Main Street partner Michael Langton cited rising land prices and construction costs as the primary reasons for abandoning the 69-unit condo project, first proposed in July.

"What's happening in Sarasota is everyone has been getting inflated amounts for land, and it's gotten out of hand in the last six months," Langton said Tuesday. "That's what's killed this deal."

What’s the connection? It seems like the public was absolutely correct in believing that the Dolphin deal was too expensive. We are now seeing projects that are struggling because of high land costs.

We expect our City Commissioners to listen to the public. The public was vocal about the Dolphin deal and the Commissioners listened. Not listening to the public will always prove problematic to elected officials.

This happened recently when City Commissioners voted to give the land owners of Burns Square the Downtown Core zoning allowing 10 story high rise buildings, instead of the agreed upon Downtown Edge zoning that would have kept building heights to 5 stories. The public supported 5 story buildings in this historic area. This is what the public wanted when the Downtown Master plan was reviewed and accepted. This is what the public expected.

Instead, a different direction was taken.

As we have indicated previously, the city survey completed earlier this year noted that in response to the question "I am pleased with the overall direction that the city is taking", responders ranked Sarasota in the 13th percentile compared to cities our size - way below the norm.

In response to the question "The city of Sarasota government listens to citizens", the responders ranked Sarasota in the 27th percentile. Again well below the norm.

Is our government working to listen better? Do they understand why citizens are not pleased with the direction the city is taking? We hope this is happening.

Several important decisions about our city's direction will be made in the next couple months. The Commissioners will have the opportunity to listen and make decisions that will take Sarasota in a direction that is in line with what the public wants and expects. The opportunity is here now.

By listening to the citizens and acting according to the public's wishes, the Commissioners will be applauded. They will certainly not screw up by listening to the public.
The newspaper is a major voice in our community in commenting on public policy. As we all know there are many sides to the newspaper. The editorial side gives honest, well researched opinions about important community issues. The news side reports on issues and they take great care to present all sides of an issue while at the same time dealing with known facts - they do focus on conflict as this is what many readers like to read. It is likely that news stories about conflict are not pleasing to everyone. They do make interesting reading however. Another side of the newspaper is investigative reporting - in depth study and reporting on major issues in our community - large issues that need careful study and policy decisions that really address community needs.

While all of us take issue with the newspaper from time to time, it does serve the community well. It is a significant voice in the community and we would all suffer without this voice.

Rosemary Rising

The Rosemary District is having a Rosemary Rising Street Festival this Friday night, Dec 9, from 5-9PM. They will have:

More than 100 musicians, visual artists, performers, businesses and special events are part of the Rosemary Rising Street Festival, the Rosemary District's first-ever neighborhood-wide celebration.

This should be a great event in this historic part of Sarasota.

Why not join in the fun this Friday?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Voices We Hear

Here is one of the responses we received to our recent e-mail concerning arcades covering the sidewalks in downtown (showed picture of Main and a duplicate with imposed arcades).

As a 3rd generation Manatee Countian who moved in 1948 to the Crosley estate, I am diametrically and emphatically opposed to the direction the Sarasota City Commission is taking the city - straight to urban hell in my book.

I cannot imagine why anyone who has seen any of the Florida East Coast cities so full of fakery and high-rise glitz covet the same false values for Sarasota - unless, of course, they stand to profit from the tasteless greed that permeates the Med Rev and related "architectural" styles - which have as little to do with Florida climatic conditions as hollyhocks and igloos and even less to do with architecture, an art and profession which once I aspired to practice (ask Carl Abbott).

And, you can damn sure quote me.

Allan Horton, Pelican Press columnist.

At the Market

At Saturday's Farmers Market, Save Our Sarasota set up a small table and presented our case for removing arcades from the downtown code. We believe arcades have too many negatives to allow their use in our downtown.

Allowing arcades over the sidewalks and giving the space above them to developers as an "inducement" removes any possibility for trees; they give millions of dollars of sellable area to the developer with no return to the public; they make the street width narrower and produce a canyon like effect, they dramatically reduce the amount of time sunlight shines between the buildings.

We delivered this message to any and all that stopped by our table. The response was overwhelming in support of our position. In addition, nearly everyone commented unfavorably on the development that is currently underway in downtown Sarasota. There is a very great degree of dissatisfaction with our current state of affairs.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Masterful Charette

Day 3 of New College’s five day design charette was dedicated to neighborhoods and landscapes, as New College welcomed representatives from Indian Beach Sapphire Shores, the Uplands, Bayou Oaks and the Sarasota City Neighborhood Development Office to campus to discuss the development of our new campus master plan. [What was communicated?] Improve opportunities for neighbors to participate in cultural and arts events on campus, create more volunteer opportunities for neighbors to help beautify the campus and its environs, and continue to lead the way in developing pedestrian and bicycle friendly access throughout north Sarasota. The day ended with a seminar on campus ecology and landscaping.

This very successful Campus Master Plan Design Charette concluded on Friday, Dec 2, with an open meeting with all the community to present the results and the design concepts.

New College did an excellent job with this. The students, faculty, nearby neighborhoods and the wider community were engaged in the process. The design team listened to the community and in most cases immediately included the suggestion in the design.

The final design preserves the environment and preserves historic buildings while keeping a strong "higher education sense of place." The campus will become less automobile reliant and more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Traffic calming techniques are proposed for the streets and roads within and around the campus. Restoring the natural environment of the bayfront and preserving the large quadrangle as a natural, canopied space will make this a unique and wonderful campus.

Some of the underlying principles used by the design team in this process included:
  • First look at the carrying capacity of the land - what can be done and how can it be done?
  • Design must be for a place of learning.
  • Architecture must be of this place (ie., Florida, not Michigan), it needs to be human scale.
  • The resulting landscape must be beautiful, yet retain envoronmental and economic values.
  • Design for mobility beyond the car.

This is a Master Plan for the next 50 years. While it is indeed difficult to envision changes that may occur during over this time frame, the design team, with input from the community made a strong statement about the direction for New College. We can all learn from this process.

The pictures and some of the text are from New College 's web site.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

42 More Years for Marina Jack?

Marina Jack is asking the city for a 20 year lease extension. An article in the Pelican Press gives some details. This would lock up the bayfront and parking for the next 42 years.

Apparently Marina Jack has spent money on docks and now wants the city to guarantee a return on their investment.

A fair question might be: what other small business owners get such favorable treatment?

At this point in time many of the local small business owners are struggling with rapidly increasing real estate taxes and insurance costs. If they are leasing, the landowners are looking for ways to recover these same costs. Yet Marina Jack wants to be insulated from these increases.

We would like to see an independent analysis of the current value of this city owned property (including all the parking currently used exclusively by Marina Jack). What would be the tax for this land and buildings? What is a fair lease value for this land - considering it is prime waterfront land.

Currently the general public is excluded from parking; the bay views are blocked by boats (many from out of city); sidewalk space around the basin is used for boat lockers, utilities, hoses, bikes, etc. This is not a benefit to city residents.

The city should have a policy that periodic review of these lease agreements is required and that they be done by independent expert auditors. A fair market value lease should be independently established by experts. (We would remind readers of the two recent land value issues: the Orange Dolphin fiasco and the State St parking lot appraisal that apparently caught officials off guard as it was much higher than they expected).

As far as managing the mooring field is concerned, the city should establish what is required and ask for bids from qualified individuals or businesses. While Marina Jack may be the most convenient one to do this, competitive market conditions need to be allowed to operate here in order to get the best deal for the city. Any hint that Marina Jack would manage the mooring field in exchange for an extended lease agreement should not be considered. Agreements like this need to be clearly spelled out so that all citizens can fully understand the costs and benefits.

The same should hold true for Marina Jack as a whole. Ultra long term leases should not be established for anyone. Marina Jack can choose to take risk by installing docks or improving the restaurant, but the city should not be asked to guarantee payoff on the investment through a "sweet" lease arrangement.

Locking up the bay front and parking for the next 42 years is not justified. The current lease doesn't expire until 2027. This gives Marina Jack plenty of time to recover their investment.

It would seem that when the current lease expires that would be a good time to review the use of the bay front and determine whether we wish to continue with the same amenities (restaurants and boat docks) or whether some other use is more appropriate. A lot of things can change in 22 years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

WalMart vs Costco

Neal Peirce's recent column about Wal Mart and Costco has some very interesting commentary about how these two retailers operate and what benefits they bring to the communities in which they operate. We have all read the criticism of WalMart's operating practices. And even though WalMart supporters put a spin on the negatives while emphasizing the low priced products they sell, WalMart does not bring all the community benefits some would have us believe.

Some of Peirce's comments include:

Wal-Mart has become the poster child for an era of unfettered globalized corporate operations -- “a destabilizing business model, a dangerous detriment to America’s local and national economies and to the middle class,” in the words of critic Leo Hindery Jr., former CEO of the telecom carrier Global Crossing and an active figure in Democratic party politics.

Hindery, at a recent Washington conference organized by the Center for American Progress, noted that as recently as 1992 (the year of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s death), the Business Roundtable of top business leaders was asserting that corporations had a major responsibility not just to stockholders, but to their employees, society at large, and the nation’s economy. But now, Hindery asserts, the Business Roundtable, indeed most of the corporate world, focuses almost exclusively on profits for stockholders.

So what is the alternative? If not WalMart, then what? Pierce suggests looking at Costco. As he explains:

But the real choice, says Harry Holzer, former chief economist for the U.S. Labor Department, is between “lower-road” employer strategies focused, like Wal-Mart, on low wages regardless of high employee turnover, versus a “higher road” strategy by employers focused on higher worker productivity that’s supported by higher wages and benefits as well as training and promotion ladders.

The mass-retailer Costco, which competes directly with Wal-Mart’s Sam Club warehouse chain, has emerged as critics’ high-road model. While Wal-Mart fights aggressively to stop any union organizing whatever, Costco has agreements with the Teamsters for 16 percent of its employees and has extended most of the benefits to its entire workforce.

Indeed, a Business Week analysis shows Costco’s average hourly wage is $15.97, far above the Wal-Mart (Sam’s Club) $11.52 figure (even excluding the 25 percent of Wal-Mart workers who are low-paid part-timers). The yearly employer contribution to health care-- Costco $5,735, Wal-Mart $3,500. Of Costco employees, 82 percent are covered by the health plan, Wal-Mart 47 percent. Employee turnover at Wal-Mart is three times higher than Costco’s.

And then comes the clincher, suggesting the low-road approach may not be so clever after all: Costco’s profit per employee is $13,647, Wal-Mart’s $11,039.

Paying good wages and benefits, says Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, “is not altruistic; it’s good business.”

As we look at the WalMart question at MLK and 301 and ask what is best for the community, it is entirely possible that we are not setting our sights on what is possible. We continue along the path of letting others direct our future. Here we have done nothing until WalMart has come along with a proposal. Why have we not considered recruiting preferred businesses for this site? The Newtown Redevelopment Plan has identified this location as the site for an "anchor" business. However we have not actively recruited potential businesses and we do not have any competitive forces working to get the best option for Newtown and the larger community.

Based on Pierce's column, it would appear that Costco could be a very viable alternative (closest location currently in Brandon). Costco pays higher wages and benefits along with providing very competitive products.

Instead of considering WalMart vs. nothing, consider WalMart vs. Costco (assuming we can get Costco interested in establishing a presence in Sarasota). We won't know what is possible unless we try.

Toward A Healthy Gulf

The Healthy Gulf Coalition


“The Gulf of Mexico: Toilet or Treasure”

Saturday, December 10, 1 PM, Selby Library Auditorium
A forum for all interested citizens.
Panel and Audience participation.

Guest speakers include:

Frank Muller-Karger, Ph.D., Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, professor at USF.

Larry Brand, Ph.D. Professor of Marine Biology and Fisheries at the U. of Miami.

Captain Wayne Genthner whose first-hand observations of the “dead zone” brought attention to the Gulf’s deterioration.

Laurel Schiller with degrees in wildlife biology and ecology, she serves on the Sarasota County Planning Board.

For more information, contact Don Chaney at (941) 906-8176 or email: .

Please park on the ancillary streets or in the Whole Foods public lot rather than the Library’s lot.

(Rescheduled from an earlier date.)

Affordable Housing - Options

Dale White's article about affordable housing options in Palmetto indicates that if developers there don't build affordable units, they will have to pay a substantial penalty - 1 1/2 times the price of the required home.

Sarasota is still studying the options.

Last week, ERA Consulting appeared before the CRA Advisory Board and presented initial thoughts about the project they have recently started for Sarasota that includes a potential Comprehensive Plan Amendment for attainable housing. Comments and questions were given by the CRA Advisory Board.

Some of the these included:
  • Higher density must be acceptable to the community and must preserve profit for developers.
  • Will a series of options be presented or will only the preferred option be given?
  • What options are available for long term affordability?
  • Would ERA consider transferring building rights from historic structures, thereby helping retain historic structures?
  • Goal is to get affordable units built, not pay into a trust fund (echoed by most CRAAB members).
  • ERA recommendation would replace the current DROD.
  • One of the items (#7) on the preliminary list could be put in place tomorrow if anyone was listening.
  • Should look at all land available in city - like Water Tower Park. The cultural district was not allowed to have housing thus taking away available land.

We have indicated before and will say it again, Sarasota has two properties downtown that could provide affordable housing: the parking lot behind the opera and the State St parking lot.

Currently our commissioners have put a higher priority on retail (mostly upscale) and luxory condos and thus have not considered how these city owned properties could help make downtown truly vibrant by assuring a diverse residential mix. If the commissioners were serious about affordable housing downtown these properties present a real opportunity.

Commissioner Shelin apparently has been listening as he has suggested that the option of some affordable housing be considered at the opera lot.

It will be interesting to see what kind of amendment will be placed in the Comprehensive Plan. Based on recent experience with the Downtown Code we are not holding our breath.

"We're trying to tell developers: 'You have to do this,'" Tanya Lukowiak, the city's community redevelopment director, told the [Palmetto] City Commission on Monday night.

Pineapple Effect

Rod Thomson's column yesterday echoes the same points that we have been making about the Pineapple Square proposal. While it may bring needed retail to downtown Sarasota, there are lots of unanswered questions.

Thompson asks three questions:

City leaders have specifically said the next great need for downtown is retail. Two mega-retail developers are at the plate. But the questions remain: Can the area sustain two such huge retail developments, what role should the city play in helping them, and could they spell a downturn for St. Armands?

We have asked these questions, as well as questions about the high price the city is being asked to contribute to Pineapple Square (see yesterday's post), what effect will these proposals have on traffic, how will these proposals affect our current independent downtown retailers, and assuming this affect will be negative, is it fair to contribute such high funding dollars at the expense of the smaller, local retailers?

These questions need to be satisfactorily answered before deciding what, if any, contribution Sarasota should make toward these proposals.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pineapple Square Parking Cost

We noted with interest last Monday's SHT Business Section article by Kevin McQuaid profiling John Simon, the manager of the Pineapple Square project.

Of interest was the tally for what Simon is now telling the city he will require in order to move forward with Pineapple Square.

He wants the city to give him:
  1. The State Street parking lot, recently valued at $8,000,000
  2. Approximately $9,000,000 for municipal parking
  3. The vacated block of State St between Pineapple and Palm that has a value of $2,250,000 (using the same sq ft value as the State St lot).

Thus the Pineapple Square project will require the city to give them public property and cash worth $19, 250,000. The city will receive 350 parking spots in return. These parking spots will be conveniently located in the middle of Pineapple Square.

Each of these parking spots will cost city residents $55,000.

We can remember back in the good old days (a year ago) when parking places in downtown condo developments (aka public/private partnerships) cost about $15,000 each and people questioned why the cost was so high.

We cannot fathom how such a deal as this can be justified. Residents were recently astonished when commissioners voted to purchase the Orange Dolphin property. This deal is five times that price and gives a huge parking advantage to Pineapple Square - at the expense of every other retail shopping area in the city. Do we need to give away almost $20M so we can have upscale shopping downtown? What will the Irish American Partnership ask the city to do for them at the Quay?

Meanwhile, what about the real city needs such as affordable housing (both the Palm Ave lot and the State St lot could be significant contributors to affordable housing downtown)? What about the Newtown redevelopment project? What about public housing in Sarasota? All of these needs are priorities. Downtown Sarasota seems to be developing at a rapid pace with little help from the residents - in fact most residents think the pace is too fast.

Why would we consider giving Pineapple Square land and dollars when the needs elsewhere are so great?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Hiaasen on Urban Boundaries

The usual suspects will be on hand Monday when the Miami-Dade County Commission considers taking the first step toward trashing the Urban Development Boundary and obliterating the vital green barrier between urban development and the Everglades.

This is the opening paragraph of Carl Hiaasen's column this past Sunday. We know that we are not the only area in Florida facing extreme pressure from developers. We read about it every day.

Apparently politics and lobbying rule the day in South Florida to a much greater degree than here on the Suncoast. In a small way we can be thankful for that this week. We should not believe that we are off the hook though. There are plenty of developers waiting for a chance at undeveloped property east of I-75. And the pressure is relentless.

Hiaasen's column is excellent and should be read by everyone that values the quality of life we are losing slowly but surely, as the developers march toward more and more land being put under concrete.

His answer: make sure your officials know what you want, you must show up at hearings and meetings when these decisions are made.

Why should you go to these meetings? "The best reason to be at the meeting is because the lobbyists and the politicians they own don't want you there. They don't want anybody spoiling their party."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

More Clowns

Harold Bubil's blog discusses the Downtown Partnerhip Association's recent breakfast gathering. Part of his blog entry refers to comments made by Frank Folsum Smith and Carl Abbott:

Referring to no building in particular, but many new Sarasota high-rises in general, Smith observed that the debate over clown sculpture on the streets of Sarasota was a little late.

"We already have clown architecture," he quipped.

He also said good urban planning creates interesting streetscapes that can frame buildings of any style.

Abbott continued to deliver his message: Diversity is good, and a design code will only stifle creativity and mandate mediocrity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Follow Up on Rescission

Yesterday we commented on an issue before the City Commission that concerned rescinding and reversing a decision made in a quasi-judicial hearing where competent and substantial evidence was given by many citizens. After the project was turned down by the Commission, the developer lobbied Commissioners two of whom rescinded their votes and then voted to approve the project. This reversed the original decision.

We, and many others, objected to the process involved, as well as the fact that the rescission was based on inaccurate information.

At the City Commission meeting yesterday, the Commissioners needed to vote on the "second reading" of the decision. When Commissioner Bilyeu made a motion to approve the project, no one seconded the motion. Commissioner Palmer made a motion to deny and Commissioner Atkins seconded.

A discussion followed. Comments included the thought that the entire process should start over since it was not straightforward, questions of whether this property might connect with the Yacht Center property, whether the "Right of Way" in question was owned by the city or the developer (it had been dedicated as a street to the City of Sarasota for municipal purposes by the subdivision plat in 1947), etc. Commissioner Bilyeu said he was "dumbfounded" that this would not be approved.

In the end, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to wait until December 12 to vote on the motion. They hope the developer will present a new proffer. Commissioner Palmer voted not to delay the decision.

We again ask the Commissioners to do the right thing: go back to the original quasi-judicial hearing and affirm the decision made when public testimony was taken. The developer has the opportunity to re-submit his plan with any changes he feels are appropriate.

This complicated and complex issue goes well beyond the ramifications to this small neighborhood - Tahiti Park. Every issue deserves attention to a process that will provide for maximum transparency and citizen input.

Negotiating with the developer after the public hearing, in public or behind closed doors, is not good practice. Citizens lose confidence in the process and in their leaders when this kind of decision making is practiced.

Monday, November 21, 2005

New College Campus Master Plan Charrette

The New College Campus Master Plan Design Charrette is continuing next week. A complete schedule of the events and time is given on their web site. This will be an excellent opportunity to interact with world class designers and input into the process. New College's invitation is below:

We've hired some of the world's leading experts on urban, campus, environmental, and residential design to help lead and inspire a process that is the College’s most visionary review of its campus master plan since New College was founded in 1960. In nearly every dimension, the College is willing to consider solutions not commonly seen or discussed elsewhere, and we would appreciate your input.

We hope you'll join us as we engage in a master planning process that is educational yet fun, creative yet iconoclastic, and playful yet genuinely productive.

Follow this link for a complete agenda of scheduled activities on each day:

Or Call 941-359-4312
All events are free and open to the public!

Giving Away Public Space

We have spoken in the past about giving away public property to developers with out any benefit to the citizens. The space over the downtown sidewalks and the arcade issue is a prime example. The developer would get very valuable space to sell and the public gets a narrow street with concrete edging. Good for the developer, bad for the citizens of Sarasota.

Another issue has been "smoldering" recently. The basic story is that a developer proposed a project along Whitaker Bayou, but needed the city to vacate a public street (small and little used) in order to build 3 houses instead of 2 houses. The immediate and nearby neighborhood associations objected to the street vacation for a variety of reasons including: removes potential MURT connection, removes access to and from the Yacht Center property and no public benefit was shown, as required. The developer would gain the ability to build and sell another $2M house if the street was vacated.

At the public hearing (quasi judicial) for this proposal, three commissioners voted against the project.

The next day the developer began lobbying for reversal of this decision. At the second reading, Commissioners Servian and Shelin rescinded their votes and the Commission voted 4-1 to approve the project. This happened with no public input allowed.

Today the commissioners will vote again (second reading) on whether to allow this project to go forward. In the past couple weeks, the Tahiti Park Association has persistently asked how the vote could be changed without public input and they have determined that the rescission vote was based on inaccurate information.

Below is an e-mail sent to the commissioners by the Tahiti Park Association as the Commission gets ready to vote on this issue:


I wanted to thank most of you for having met with or spoken to, both Pola Sommers and/or myself in the past couple of weeks about the street vacation in the proposed Whitaker Views property in our Tahiti Park neighborhood. As you may recall. A request was made for a street vacation in this area.

A public hearing was held and the City Commissioners voted NOT to vacate the street.

Today, Monday November 21, 2005 there will be a second reading of an ordinance for a rescission vote. I ask you to not allow this rescission to go forward.

The original rescission vote was called based on a misunderstanding. It is all a little confusing I must admit.

Please consider the following points:
  1. The original intention of the City Commissioners was to not vacate the street.
  2. This street could be designated as an emergency an exit for both Whitaker Landings and Tocoboga Bay. In the past three years, there have been at least two instanced where the one and only entrance and exit was blocked by a large fallen tree during storms. Why give up a potential emergency (fire/ambulance) entrance or exit to these subdivisions? What if someone were in need of emergency care and we had no alternative route because the City gave it away!?
  3. Consider the adjacent Yacht Center Property. This property is still in transition. The Boat-a-Minimum has neither been approved nor denied, they are in the beginning stages of the process. Their application to become a boat club has been denied because the proposed use is one of a marina and not a boat club and the zoning is not Commercial Marina. Residential use has not been ruled out either. We have no idea if this property will become residential or commercial. Either way, the street in question could prove useful to our neighbors who might want to become boat club members in the proposed commercial project. At least one of our Tahiti Park neighbors has expressed their desire to access the proposed boat club through the street in question (should it go forward) in our neighborhood. The boat club representatives have expressed a willingness to consider such a request, a back entrance of sorts.
  4. If you give this street access away now, in the midst of so much transition, we can not take it back. We can, however, vacate the street later, if necessary, in three months or three years.
  5. There are still too many unanswered questions about the property. Is the street’s square footage included in the square footage of each parcel of land, ie should the street be moved, would the aggregate property square footage still allow for three houses? What about the mysterious street vacation of Palmetto lane down to the Bayou? Still under question!!!
  6. One of the main goals of the City Commissioners is to protect neighborhoods. Why allow the further segmentation our old, established neighborhood, and others like ours, by creating, not only a precedent for fake subdivisions, but a trend towards unnecessary walls, gates and innumerable boat slips.
  7. Last but not least, the burden of proof lies “on the petitioner” to prove how this will benefit the public. The developer has not given one single valid reason how this will benefit the citizens of Sarasota. There are plenty of arguments about how this will benefit the developer directly, but not one about how this will benefit the citizens of the City of Sarasota. Tax money is a moot point. He has made it clear that, should he not have the right to build three houses where two once stood, he would make a “larger foot print” and develop two super mega houses instead of just three mega houses.

Please do not allow the vacation of this street, at least not just yet. There are still too many unanswered questions and this was not your original intention to allow for this street vacation.

Please just honor your original decision to not vacate the street in Tahiti Parkway.

Thank you so very much for your time.


Jennifer Ahearn-Koch

It appears that our process for making important community decisions has been compromised. Here, a decision was made based on competent and substantial evidence (as required) at a quasi judicial public hearing. Lobbying by the developer, after the public hearing and in private, convinced two commissioners to reverse their votes. Subsequent meetings between commissioners, the city attorney and the neighborhood showed that inaccurate information had been provided in the decision to reverse the original vote.

This is not the way to run city government and it is not the way to gain public confidence in the process.

We hope the commissioners do the right thing today and go back to the original decision. If the developer wishes to re-submit his plan and follow a public process, he is free to do so. Lobbying commissioners behind closed doors and rescinding decisions made in a quasi judicial public hearings is wrong.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Unchaining Sarasota

Andersonville is a north side neighborhood in Chicago. Recently the Andersonville Development Corporation, with the support of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, conducted a retail study of the local area. The implications of this study clearly apply to Sarasota.

In a study comparing the economic impact of ten Andersonville businesses and their chain competitors, it was found that:

Locally-owned businesses generate a substantial Local Premium in enhanced economic impact.
  • For every $100 in consumer spending with a local firm, $68 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • For every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, $43 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • For every square foot occupied by a local firm, local economic impact is $179.
  • For every square foot occupied by a chain firm, local economic impact is $105.

Consumers surveyed on the streets of Andersonville strongly prefer the neighborhood over agglomerations of common chain stores.

  • Over 70% prefer to patronize locally-owned businesses.
  • Over 80% prefer traditional urban business districts.
  • Over 10% of respondents reside outside the City of Chicago.

The study points to clear policy implications.

  • Local merchants generate substantially greater economic impact than chain firms.
  • Replacement of local businesses with chains will reduce the overall vigor of the local economy.
  • Changes in consumer spending habits can generate substantial local economic impact.
  • Great care must be taken to ensure that public policy decisions do not inadvertently disadvantage locally owned businesses. Indeed, it may be in the best interests of communities to institute policies that directly protect them.

As we ponder the effect of the proposed Pineapple Square development in downtown Sarasota, we suggest that the Sarasota EDC and Chamber of Commerce look at this study. There is evidence that as chains move into an area, fewer dollars remain in the local economy. This results in a weakened local economy.

We must make sure that policy decisions do not disadvantage our locally owned businesses. We should not be giving added benefits to the Pineapple Square development such as street vacations or publicly funded parking inside the Pineapple Square building if it is likely to disadvantage local businesses either downtown or elsewhere in the city.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Blogging Is A Grimm Thing

Our thanks to Mike Peters for showing the truth in blogging. His Mother Goose & Grimm comic is carried in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Value of Parks

From the recent Otis Civic Strategies Report:

Money Grows on Trees
The Value of an Urban Park

Ask people to value an urban park and they might talk about the benefits of recreation or how green spaces can keep city air cleaner and temperatures cooler in summers. Or they might talk about social capital and how parks offer gathering places for conversation and celebrations. But Chicago's new downtown park, Millennium Park, is adding another value: that of cold, hard cash.

Millennium Park opened in 2004 with two big strikes against it. It was four years late. (It was supposed to have opened in the millennium year.) And it was embarrassingly expensive. Originally budgeted at $150 million, the park's final cost was $475 million. But when people laid eyes on this 25-acre jewel of a park, which is part green space and part art space, none of that mattered. Since opening day, crowds have been drawn to its stunning sculptures and playful architecture.

And, it turns out, so are real estate developers. A study this year by Chicago's planning department estimated that Millennium Park would create $1.4 billion in residential development in the next decade. How? Because the park has created a huge demand for apartments and condos nearby. "Millennium Park has become a status symbol, a focal point, a magnet for the surrounding neighborhood, making properties around the park extremely desirable," a real estate analyst told the Chicago Tribune.

Why not think of the money we have recently "found" for the development of Payne Park, as an investment? Let's invest in green space. Find ways to make this a signature green space in Sarasota. The returns should be terrific.

We do not need to change the land use or the zoning around Payne Park to increase value to the city. What we need to do is make Payne Park a very special place.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Cost of Affordability

We learned in the Pelican Press that the city is fast tracking a proposal to get "attainable housing" in downtown Sarasota. The proposal is to quadruple density (from the current 50 units per acre to 200 units per acre), in return for "attainable" housing.

While this getting more affordable housing is laudable, like everything the devil is in the details.

A meeting of the Alta Vista neighborhood association tonight showed little support and brought out lots of questions about a last minute decision to include two current proposed developments in their neighborhood into this density plan. Quadrupling the density in this area (Ringling Plaza and former Scotty's site) could bring an additional 2000+ new housing units to a neighborhood that currently has 500 homes.

In the case of the Alta Vista neighborhood, what is the reasoning behind changing the land use to City Center? While it gives the developer a bonus in land value, what do the city and neighborhood get in return? Can the city infrastructure support such uses in this neighborhood?

The Pelican article said: "The last two properties were added to the proposal the morning after the commisison meeting, after the mayor and city manager met with the city’s planning staff."

Fast tracking a major change like this with little public input may not be a wise approach.

The Palm Beach Post editorializes on the problem:

The county has just awakened to the fact that voluntary efforts to persuade builders to erect affordable homes do not work. As housing prices outpace earnings and more workers move to the Treasure Coast, where rising prices are creating similar pressures, Palm Beach County devoted half of a two-day economic summit to housing.

Meanwhile, for three decades, affordable homes have been required as part of even the ritziest housing developments in Montgomery County, Md.

In the Washington, D.C., suburb, a single parent earning $40,000 a year can afford a new home. In exchange for setting aside 15 percent of new homes as affordable, builders get to build 22 percent more homes. The idea is that added density will produce profits to cover lower-priced housing.

The other idea is that affordable housing doesn't destroy property values. Since 1974, Montgomery County has produced nearly 12,000 affordable homes, about 7 percent of the county's housing stock.

That's just one model commissioners can consider. They will face the typical hurdles from builders who, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, pledge to resist mandatory programs.

Note the math in the Maryland example, 15% affordable homes gets the developer 22% increase in density. The proposal here is for a 400% increase in density. What will the community get in return? Will it be the same 15% affordable homes? This seems like quite a deal for the developers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Is Art, Anyway?

"The fact that no one understands you doesn't make you an artist" - anonymous.

Art and culture have been a foundation for Sarasota going back at least to the days of the writer's "colony" that thrived here in the 40's. The "art of the circus" or the "art of the deal " predate this however.

Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped this iconic photograph at the end of World War II.

This photograph is immediately recognized around the world and brings exhilaration to all those who see it.

Now this image has been transformed into a towering sculpture currently on our bay front. It is immediately recognizable although it still startles us because of its size.

Apparently the transformation of an iconic image (maybe a work of art itself) into a monumental sculpture makes it a work of art for sure. After all, it is included in our International Exhibition of Monumental Works of Art (formerly known as the Season of Sculpture).

Since we have a firm grasp on "what is art", we will turn our attention to the current controversy over the Hospice idea of having a "clown art" exhibition/fundraiser in Sarasota. Modeled after the famous cow exhibit in Chicago a few years ago, Sarasota would have fiberglass clown figures painted by local artists ..... well you know the rest of the story.

Alas, this ignited a local controversy that is apparently in all the state newspapers. At least somebody is laughing.

This leads us to another idea. Why not take another iconic photo and turn it into a giant sculpture?

I'm thinking about Emmett Kelly's Weary Willy character.

This could work on a number of levels. Of course everyone immediately recognizes Emmett Kelly's most famous character. And what better image than a clown to recall Sarasota's long relationship with the circus. (We give full credit to Hospice for this idea.)

This particular image would also conjure up images of the homeless we have right here in Sarasota - the best art does have a cutting edge you know. And finally, the sad face might even make some people think about the recent major changes in Sarasota's landscape. Growth that seems out of control, the transformation from a town to a city, the "working class" being priced out of a home in town, an extra long bout of red tide. It's enough to make anyone sad.

Now think of a huge Emmett Kelly sculpture completely filling the new green grass space next to the Sarasota One building where everyone driving into Sarasota would see it. This would make quite a statement. Gulfstream and 41 would never be the same.

This would be art for sure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Affordable Housing Policy

Affordable housing keeps getting more and more attention in the news. The city commission has hired a consultant to look at options available to the city and to recommend some of the better options according to their understanding of Sarasota's needs.

Recently Commissioner Ken Shelin has taken the lead in pushing for new ways to look at affordable housing. He has suggested that a portion of the Palm Ave. parking lot, that the city owns, be used for affordable housing. This is a laudable strategy for addressing the predicament in which we find ourselves.

However, what we need is an affordable housing policy before we start discussing strategies. What is our policy? We have over 2500 new condos either already built or in some phase of approval or construction. None of these would be considered affordable at this point. (Some may say that the city gave the 1350 Main project developers a density bonus so they would provide affordable units, we remain skeptical of this scheme). At this point we do not have a policy. We do have strategies, for instance, that include requiring a developer to pay if he does not include affordable housing. So far we have not seen any increase in affordable housing downtown.

In the past I have heard commissioners say that land is so expensive downtown that we should not even be thinking about affordable housing downtown. Maybe this is our "unofficial" policy.

A official policy might say something like: It is the policy of the City of Sarasota to create housing units in the downtown area that are affordable for professional and service workers who are employed in the downtown area.

This type of policy statement would then lead to a variety of strategies that would make this happen. One type strategy should include measurement of results to determine whether we are moving toward the policy objective. We do not have this. Maybe we will get there as a result of the ERA Consultant group input. On the other hand, since we have no way of knowing where we are or where we are heading, how will we know if we get there?

In the meantime the Commissioners spend their time discussing ways to get more affordable housing but have yet to define a vision, policy or measurable objective.

We have some objectives and strategies that might help to achieve the policy suggested above.

Objective: provide housing opportunities in the downtown area such that 10% of all new housing is affordable to entry level professional workers (4 year degree required) currently in downtown jobs.

Objective: provide housing opportunities in the downtown area such that 10% of all new housing is affordable to service employees working in the downtown area (clerks, waiters, etc.).

Strategies to achieve these objectives might include:

Utilize both the Palm Ave parking lot and the State St parking lot for a mix of parking and affordable housing. The land could be put into a land trust and modest (non-luxury) housing could be built. Controls on resale such as the Downtown Partnership has suggested could be utilized.

If further affordable housing is needed to meet the objective, other strategies could be developed. For example, require non-affordable condo builders to pay for all required parking, including public parking for retail in their building as well as employee parking. Do not use TIF dollars for parking, instead use public dollars only for additional affordable housing until the objective is reached.

Instead of giving developers incentives to build affordable housing, or allowing them to opt out by paying a fee, require them to build affordable units. And require them to develop techniques to assure perpetual affordability.

Another strategy might be to find new areas close to downtown that would be suitable for affordable housing – the Burns Square area might be such an area. The area east of Washington may be another area. These areas have either been given increased density (compared to the Downtown Master Plan) or are asking for increased density. Until affordable housing objectives are met, we should not be giving “bonuses” or “exceptions” to developers. The operative question is “what does the community get in return for an exception or bonus?"

When the affordable housing objectives are met, the strategy for further development could be adjusted as meets the city's vision, policy and objectives at that time.

Affordable housing is one of the most important issues we face at this time. We need our Commissioners to look at a policy and subsequent objectives that will address this issue.

This kind of action by the commissioners is difficult to undertake. Even though all of us indicate that affordable housing is a critical issue and we believe our quality of life will deteriorate unless it is addressed, politically this is tough for the commissioners. Unless they really hear the voice of the citizens, they will continue to try to please every one (particularly the special interest groups) and accountability will continue to fall by the wayside.

Monday, November 14, 2005

17th Street and Accountability

Why widen 17th Street? Why do we need to punch it through to the trail? That scenario has upset the residents of Central Cocoanut and Commissioner Fredd Atkins. We are also upset.

It would seem that in the rush to populate downtown Sarasota with luxury condominiums, fill the bay front marina with out of town boats, ratchet up the height of condos on Golden Gate Point, add new 18 story buildings downtown and at the Quay, bring in a major shopping mall in the middle of downtown Sarasota while giving away public space and making sure all the developers are happy by providing everyone with exceptions to the established rules, we continue to have a traffic problem - and it is getting worse. Who could have guessed?

But not to worry, we can fix the traffic by punching through 17th to US 41. No need to worry about the residential neighborhood, this is for the good of everyone.

Now that we are well on our way to satisfying the wealthy and the developers, it is time to make the residents pay. So what if a four lane road divides an established neighborhood, they will have plenty of time to get used to it.

Monday’s SHT editorial asks the same questions, albeit less bluntly. Bahia Vista has divided the Pinecraft neighborhood and crossing this road on a bike can be deadly. Webber and Proctor now divide residential neighborhoods.

Growth brings people and their cars. Our commissioners have not required traffic concurrency in downtown Sarasota. Our policy is to encourage downtown development by giving incentives. There is no policy to utilize public transportation. Instead there is a strategy to build more parking lots. This strategy includes giving public property to developers so they will build the lots (aka public/private partnership). Developers are asking for TIF funds to build parking in their developments also. This makes driving a car to our "pedestrian friendly" downtown even easier. Everyone drives and the complaints about lack of parking rise as high as the condos.

But what about the neighborhoods? Is it their job to just step aside while we build more luxury condos for people that want to move here? Should they pay for a lack of foresight by our policy makers?

Recently Commissioner Shelin held a series of forums on government accountability. At the session I attended very little was said about accountability (although I did push on this). Mostly the sessions ended with a list of what’s wrong with Sarasota - traffic, lack of parking, too much development, etc.

Now we have a real accountability issue. Who will accept responsibility for the traffic situation in which we find ourselves? Who do we hold accountable? Right now we have five commissioners, all of whom have pushed hard for downtown development yet have done little to make sure the infrastructure has kept pace with the development. With five "equal" commissioners it is difficult to hold any one accountable.

Our commissioners continue to make it easy for developers to push through projects that are flawed to one degree or another - we make exceptions in order to be sure the developer builds here. We have delayed the implementation of the new downtown code allowing many developers to file under the old code (apparently one is trying to get in under the old code now, having bought his piece of Sarasota on Oct 31), thus allowing for more 18 story buildings. We have yielded to the pressure of a small number of property owners in Burns Square, giving them 10 story buildings when the community had decided that a lower density and height was more appropriate for this downtown edge area.

So now Central Cocoanut has to pay the price. Most recently it was Laurel Park that had to pay the price, getting to have 10 story buildings loom over their backyards. Who will be next on the list? Will it be Indian Beach Sapphire Shores if someone decides that Bay Shore Rd would be a good way to relieve traffic from Bradenton into and through Sarasota? Will it be Amaryllis Park and Bayou Oaks when we need more east-west arteries (Myrtle) to service the new WalMart at MLK & 301? Can we split Alta Vista by punching Wood straight through to Tuttle and connect it with Mound? Or maybe in Arlington Park, Hyde Park St could be made into a four lane road all the way to Tuttle, thereby relieving downtown even more? Is this the path to urbanization that we are taking?

What does our future hold? Will the commissioners see the light and consider the effects of their continued pandering to the automobile? The citizens that live in our city have the ability to hold the commissioners accountable. The citizens are also not happy with the development pace and do not believe that commissioners listen to them. The recent survey of city residents indicated that loud and clear. We think our future needs a strong sense of accountability.