We couldn't agree more with the SHT editorial Friday concerning the stupefying decision made by a majority of the City Commissioners (Shelin, Atkins, Bilyeu) concerning the Burns Square zoning. After months of discussion, negotiations, resident and neighborhood input and commitment, suddenly three commissioners throw out all the hard work of hundreds of people and reverse the course.
Commissioner Shelin campaigned on the issue of "process ". Many of us believed his message that the commission at that time had drifted away from an inclusive process - listening to all points of view and making deliberative decisions, in the open, and looking for the best solution for the entire city. He promised to bring process back to the table. However there was no open and inclusive process this time - just the old fashioned back room, arm twisting that favors a few at the expense of many. We are sorely disappointed.
It's also surprising that Commissioner Atkins would support this rapid change in direction. He has always listened to arguments and input made by the public. He admonishes people at times saying "you only show up when you are against something, when are you going to be "for" something, and how about helping in my neighborhood?" Many people gave input on Burns Square. The input was overwhelmingly in favor of preserving the current unique nature of this neighborhood and that the way to accomplish this was to use the downtown edge zoning or look at a specific zoning that what help preserve the character yet listen to the property owners. Commissioner Atkins probably knows best that helping one neighborhood is the best way to get help when you need it. We'd like to think Commissioner Atkins would consider all of Sarasota neighborhoods and not just one small square when making far reaching decisions.
Commissioner Bilyeu has recently brought some persuasive insight to the table. His questions about the Orange Dolphin parking deal were critical. On this issue we think that the long term future of downtown Sarasota requires diversity and uniqueness. Replacing unique sections of our downtown with yet another 10 story condo hardly helps retain the charm we have.
Time after time we hear about a threat of a law suit. We must stop being afraid every time a lawyer says "I will sue". The people of Sarasota have a vision for their downtown. We elect representatives to achieve that vision. Sometimes that requires sticking to the task and not bending to special interests and their threats. We need to follow the processes we have established and if a special interest group threatens to sue, we should say OK and settle the issue in court. Many of us would readily agree to invest our tax dollars in defending the vision we have for a great city. Caving in to the pressure of special interests makes them wealthy and us poor - poor in the sense that we have a bland city, just another city, nothing to celebrate.
We do applaud the efforts of Commissioners Palmer and Servian. They understand the need to find a way through the Burns Square issue that preserves the downtown vision.
These are difficult and far reaching decisions. We must make the right decision. We have said before that making quick decisions (like the reversal on this issue by the other three commissioners) is not the way to run a city. We need better thinking than that. Special interest groups should have their say, but when their interest does not coincide with the community interest they should not be allowed to trump years of input, negotiation and commitment. This was a wrong decision and we hope reconsideration is in our near future.
Otherwise we might as well keep pouring the vinegar. A truly sour taste in Sarasota.