Below is City Commissioner Ken Shelin's response to Save Our Sarasota's recent Open Letter to him:
I value your support and ideas and I apologize for not responding to you sooner. I was out of town part of this past week trying to help a client on the east coast in major regulatory trouble.
As you know, I have been involved in the downtown code development and rezoning almost from the beginning, first as a member of the City Planning Board and now as a member of the City Commission. This process has been a very public process from the beginning to the end. It has been challenged both in court and during public hearings. The process for it has been debated openly and often and the rezoning delay just this year resulted from a need to amend the city code to assure we could do the rezoning legislatively and legally instead of property by property. Elaborate matrixes were developed at every stage documenting the staff, Planning Board, Commission and public comments on the code itself as well as the areas to be rezoned as the process moved along. The Commission has been responsive to concerns about the rezoning and in the case of Rosemary District we have delayed the rezoning in order to deal with major issues there. I hope that doesn't last long because it leaves Rosemary in limbo. In Gillespie Park, individual property owners came to us and wanted to expedite the process for their individual properties and we did that.
As you point out, the city is changing and as I said throughout my campaign, Sarasota is becoming a compact and cosmopolitan city. And I think it is especially important to manage that change carefully. To that end I have supported downzoning of Burns Court and that is what we have done. The City Commission, as I've said, has an obligation to take into account the views and needs of all its constituencies and the property owners in Burns Court have made their views known through many months of public hearings. They have asked for continuing the use of C-CBD which we can't do because of the adoption of the downtown master plan and code. They've asked for Downtown Bayfront which is clearly inconsistent with the new code, Duany's transect theory, and our desire to downzone the area. But, they have vested interests in Burns Court and their own properties just as property owners in Laurel Park, Gillepsie Park and elsewhere in the city. And we have an obligation to be responsive to them. We have struck a balance, in my view, between the desires of the neighborhoods adjacent to and outside Burns Court and those of Burns Court. As for Burns Court itself, it has had C-CBD zoning for over 30 years allowing for 18 story buildings throughout it. That zoning did not result in the construction of 18 story buildings or the degradation of the essential character of the area. Downzoning of the area does not logically lead me to a conclusion that Burns Court will be placed at increased risk - downzoning should decrease the risk.
As for the voting result and the way in which the vote took place, there had been multiple occasions when the City Attorney had publicly advised us on how the process would work and that changes could be made to the staff recommendation. In fact, the City Attorney had advised us that if we felt changes were desired they would more easily be made before the vote than after. We had had multiple public discussions about Burns Court including public presentations during public hearings that took a different view than the staff recommendation. As you know, we don't have to accept the staff recommendation. And the public often encourages both the Planning Board and the Commission not to do just that when they disagree with it.
My hope is that we can understand and accept differences of opinion. There is seldom a right way or a wrong way in matters such as these. It isn't helpful to demonize people or their motives in these discussions. I know and accept that differences in perspective create differences in beliefs, but I also strongly believe, as I know you do, that we all have a right to be heard and to expect our government to be responsive to us regardless of who we are.
I hope we can continue to work together discussing our differences along the way as they might occur.