An Open Letter to City Commissioner Ken Shelin
This letter is written on behalf of a great many city residents who voted for you in the most recent election because you were going to put "process" back into city government. We believe your motion and leadership in rezoning historic Burns Court to Downtown Core was an abrogation of those campaign promises.
An entire community understood there was to be a study of Burns Court zoning and more public input and discussion, after which that area would be readdressed. No one dreamed that on a second reading the zoning would be changed, least of all your supporters, who know you champion "process."
As you would be first to remind us, process is not what is strictly legal/allowed. It is procedures that ensure deliberative, considered, fact-based public decision-making. What happened Wednesday circumvented that process with what looks to a stunned community like a backroom political solution to a complex issue.
We understand that, in part, you were reflecting the concerns of the City attorney as to possible exposure to lawsuits. However, following the process for review that we believed you had put in place would not have jeopardized your legal position. Indeed, two commissioners with much longer tenure on the commission than yours were not worried enough about potential lawsuits to follow your lead, and voted against your proposed changes. They had the courage to follow process. Further, we want to tell you emphatically that many of us would support our taxpayer dollars being used to fight lawsuits that protect our right to make this a great city.
We are told no matter what anyone does, Sarasota is becoming a "city." We know that. But the issue is whether it becomes a "good city," a "great city," or merely "a city." That decision rests with the commissioners. To date, we see only a "city" rising. We want something better.
We have heard too often of the venerable John Nolen’s vision for Burns Court in his 1924 city master plan. However, in that same document he cautioned, "A good plan is one that does not attempt to bind the city too far into the future." If Nolen were here for wise counsel, we believe he would ask you to consult with your current planners. Mr. Duany recommended Downtown Edge for Burns Court with buffers for abutting neighborhoods. The city planning department has consistently supported that recommendation. How could all of that study and process be overturned on a second reading?
If you truly have a sense of the pulse of this community, you will know that voters are close to the point where, as in the movie Network, they threw open their windows and screamed "I’m sick and tired of this and I’m not going to take it any more!"
So, Ken, what we are asking you is, in the interest of process, and respect for those who elected you, to bring this issue back to the table and ask for rescission. We ask this with trust and hope that the Ken Shelin we spoke with on the campaign trail is the Ken Shelin who serves us at the commission table today, tomorrow, and into the future.