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.

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