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.