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.