Saturday, April 30, 2005

Belle Haven in the News

Recently we learned that the Belle Haven has been sold to Patrick Kelly, the developer of the Quay project that surrounds this historic building.

Mr. Kelly has promised that the Belle Haven will be preserved, although it may be necessary to move the building to accomodate the new site plan. We sure hope Mr. Kelly is a man of his word and this beautiful historic structure will be with us for a long time to come.

Recently a friend sent the following about her personal encounter with the Belle Haven:

In the late 70s I lived on the third floor of the Belle Haven. I saw the sun come up and the sun go down. There were palm trees that waved outside my windows. High ceilings, thick walls and windows everywhere meant no air conditioning was needed. The place was bathed in light. The narrow Pullman kitchen was behind stained glass windows. The bathtub had feet. I had many happy days there.

There's no way this building can be moved.

The Belle Haven and the Ringling Hotel were my notions of the templates Sarasota could have used as her "style".

Another bite out of our history, my history.

A sense of place exemplified. Almost makes me think I was there. If it remains with us, maybe we all will have a chance to have a personal encounter with the Belle Haven.

The Belle Haven Apts. Circa 1940's.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Sky Has Fallen

This post is reprinted from the latest issue of CONA (Sarasota Council of Neighborhood Associations). It was written by Bill Zoller, past president of CONA and always active in preserving our quality of life. We are publishing it here because it echoes our sentiments and much of the message applies to the city as well as the county.

The Sky Has Fallen

A couple issues ago, I asked, "Is the Sky Falling?" I can now report to you that the sky has fallen… it fell 31 March 2005, at the Tiger bay Luncheon meeting. County Administrator Jim Ley, heading up a panel to discuss "Sustainability", pulled out the last prop holding up the sky when he blamed Sarasota’s woes on us, the citizens of the county.

From traffic congestion to high taxes, it is all our fault. He said that we (citizens) are the ones who want low density, who like to drive our cars, and all the other quality of life things that have, apparently, created all our problems. I stood up and, as best I could in a few seconds, told him and the assembled participants that the citizens of Sarasota have been engaged for years in innumerable workshops, charettes, hearings, etc., etc. as participants in the process. I said that we have told our leaders and planners at every turn that we could foresee traffic congestion and higher taxes and all the other ills that we now see around us. I said that we predicted the future that we now have, and that all our entreaties fell on deaf ears. We were called "Chicken Littles" and were told that "you can’t stop people from coming here… we have to plan for them…." and on and on.

We were told that Sarasota’s planning was recognized nationwide as on the cutting edge… as a model for other places … we are right out there in the forefront of planning. Right. Read the column on page 98 of the April, 2005 issue of Florida Trend, which is the business magazine of Florida….being in forefront of statewide bad planning may not be much to brag about.

This may sound as though I am a bit annoyed. The fact is, I am angry. I am angry that our administrator blamed the citizens for his administration’s failures. I am angry that the increased valuations here have brought in huge increases in revenue year after year, and yet we still cannot catch up or keep up with infrastructure deficits… yet our fabled planning keeps the welcome mat out. I have heard that our planning staff has been decimated and that morale is low… is this any way to run a county?

It is time to call for our elected officials to take a new direction. Jim Ley is exceedingly bright… and he can work the numbers with the best of them. Sarasota is not about numbers, though…. It is about a quality of community … it is about getting the citizens the future they want, not a future that is based on a Ponzi scheme that is doomed to failure. The citizens have spoken loudly and clearly for years, and the future we wanted seems to grow more and more distant by the day. It is time to reverse the trend and to find leadership that will secure our future.

Our elected officials are not off the hook, either, by any means. They set policy. We citizens are their bosses, though, and we can hire and fire them at the polls. It is said that we get the government we deserve… and I think we deserve great government that is responsive to the citizens…. So keep tuned as election season approaches next time. Let’s be sure we do get the government we deserve.

Note: to view the Florida Trend article you will have to register. The opening sentence says: "Growth management in Florida is a mess." This is an excellent article, highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

More ERA Discussion on Housing

During the ERA discussion with the City Commission concerning affordable housing, there was a comment about "form". Specifically the comment was that there is a need to show people what "affordable housing" looks like. It appears that the SHT took that suggestion to heart as they showed examples of what $200,000 will get you in today’s Sarasota housing market - to paraphrase Yogi Berra, this future ain’t what we expected (see Fredd Atkins’ comment in yesterday’s post).

Karin Murphy, Planning Dept Staff, also made some perceptive comments at this meeting:
When the Certificate of Occupancies are issued for all the new downtown condos, one wonders how many lights will actually be turned on. She also commented on speculators becoming landlords willing to rent at prices lower than cash flow cost, hoping value will rise. It was noted that this has led to specific problems in some neighborhoods.

As speculators bid up prices and part year visitors lock up the limited housing we have, the next buyer must pay a higher price to get into the game. And the upward price spiral continues. When you look at the completed condos around downtown it is amazing how few lighted windows you see.

Makes you wonder what the big picture is all about. Is our downtown being turned into a big pile of investment chips. Stash some money in some hot real estate, hold it for a while, maybe spend a couple winter months there, and wait until a better investment comes along. The reality doesn't fit our plan for a walkable, liveable downtown. How do we get real people to really live downtown? Luxury condos is not the answer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Affordable Housing Action?

Last week the city heard from a consultant about what he would do to help with our affordable housing issue. Patrick Phillips works for Economic Research Associates (ERA) and has extensive experience in this arena. Basically ERA met with a variety of stakeholder groups, pulled together ideas and data about Sarasota. They will come back in June to present recommendations based on this input and their expertise, to the City Commissioners and recommend potential policy decisions that should help.

In his comments, Phillips noted that housing pressures are widespread; he mentioned Washington, DC and Miami as having rapidly rising housing prices that are creating issues like Sarasota is seeing.

His initial impressions included:
  • Affordability is a regional issue
  • The County is ahead of the City in dealing with the issue
  • It needs to be viewed and addressed as a regional issue
  • The city has local, acute issues including gentrification and displacement, neighborhood compatibility, scale and historic preservation issues
  • Loss of affordable rental units
  • Some mid-income families have limited access to funds for "fixing-up" and are facing pressure to sell

He stated that density is not the only answer to affordability, and that jobs, traffic and housing are inter-related. In fact he warned the commissioners that he’s wary of higher density overlay districts because they are not a guarantee of affordability and if not used properly could lead to less affordable housing and compatibility problems. Commissioner Fredd Atkins commented: "We are exactly who we wanted to be twenty years ago, and that’s become a problem."

We are pleased that the commissioners are addressing the issue. Sarasota has a long history of planning and discussion followed by indecision before taking action when it is long past due(remember the bridge?). We hope some decisive action is in our near term future.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Re-zoning Downtown - Property Rights vs Land Use Regulation

This week the Planning Board will be deliberating on information they have recieved concerning the mass re-zoning of downtown Sarasota. The re-zoning is the result of our new Downtown Master Plan.

A number of complex issues have been brought up. Some property owners will see "down-zoning" (less density or height), others will see a gain in development rights. Another issue is some properties will have split zoning - a parcel owned by one owner will cross over zoning lines.

As explained in the 1000 Friends of Florida website:

"The protection of private property rights is assured in the U.S. and Florida Constitutions. If government regulations (including those from Florida’s Growth Management Act) restrict private property to such an extent that all reasonable use has been removed, the regulation may be deemed a "taking."

However, the state has always retained the ability to limit property use when that use comes into conflict with the public welfare or harms the property of others.

In 1995 the Florida Legislature passed the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, which states that the actions of government: may inordinately burden, restrict, or limit private property rights without amounting to a taking under the State Constitution or the United States Constitution. The Legislature determines that there is an important state interest in protecting the interests of private property owners from such inordinate burdens.

The courts have not had enough time to interpret its provisions and the words of the Act are not very clear on their face. The Act has made local governments more cautious when making changes to their local comprehensive plans or land development regulations. However, it is the best interpretation of the Act that, while it does provide some increment of additional protection to landowners beyond that afforded by the Constitution, it clearly does not preclude a local government’s ability to strengthen its land use regulations or even "down-plan" or "down-zone" land for a valid planning reason."

Taken from "A Citizen’s Guide to the Nuts and Bolts of Florida’s Growth Management Process" by the 1000 Friends of Florida.

The property rights issue is complex and will weigh in heavily as our community tries to balance interests of land owners and residents as we move forward with growth control planning. Sarasota’s struggle with growth will continue as these issues get resolved.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Revisiting Laurel Park

A comment to a recent post (Apr 21) indicates that market forces will change Laurel Park no matter what. And the way to preserve some of the quality is to diversify - at least in living choices.

An interesting quote from the New Urbanist guru, Andres Duany: "Higher density housing offers an inferior lifestyle ... when it is without a community as its setting." The sentiment expressed seems to be similar, only Duany uses the term community rather than specific types of uses. Laurel Park is connected to downtown, it is part of the downtown community but it has its own community also. Perhaps it could be enhanced by allowing other uses.

I’m not sure I understand the writers economic theory of single use equating to high price. Seems like the downtown core property has the highest price and the most uses. As you get further away from downtown (unless there is a special attraction like waterfront or easy transportation access) the prices are increasingly lower. All over Sarasota land prices are escalating rapidly. The economic theory that most would subscribe to is that scarcity (implying high demand and low supply) leads to high value and therefore prices. In the case of Laurel Park, what is scarce is property close to downtown, it doesn’t matter what the use is. As the property value climbs, the market will determine what the best economic use will be. The question many people ask: is the economic value the only value?

What is the vision for Laurel Park? This is the core question. Of course, very closely related is the question: who’s vision is it? Many different stakeholders have a vision for Laurel Park, most probably are somewhat different. The values that stakeholders hold will affect the vision they articulate. Right now my vision is that it’s a pretty cool and charming place and it would be great if it remained so. But there are undeniable pressures at work. Among these are speculation that comes with rapidly rising prices, Florida’s tax laws that depend heavily on real estate and give a break only to homesteaded owners, the location in a great city, the current economy with low mortgage rates and the low dollar valuation. The fact that the stock market tanked a few years ago and many people decided to put money into real estate doesn’t help either.

Does the vision include some of the current physical environment or would it be better if higher density and more uses were allowed? There is no clear cut answer. Whatever vision is finally settled upon there will be pros and cons, winners and losers. It is vital that all have a voice in determining the vision. If the vision is determined by "someone else", whomever that may be, it is unlikely that many will buy into the vision.

This seems to be where we are at the present time. The city staff are trying to determine a vision that residents and property owners can live with, or buy into. It also seems that there is a divide between the owners and the renters. Personal economics comes into play here. The city has also jumped the gun a bit by targeting Laurel Park as part of the Downtown Neighborhood classification with it’s code requirements.

Our hope is that many well meaning Sarasotans communicate their values, articulate their vision, listen to the vision of others and help make a decision about Laurel Park’s future that most stakeholders can live with.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

$17M for the Methodists?

Bob Ardren, in the Pelican Press, says that a good chunk of downtown’s soul may be priced at $17.1M. Apparently this is what the Isaac group is offering the First Methodist Church for the land they now occupy on Pineapple. The Methodists would be sent to the cultural desert of North Tuttle if they take the cash. Their soul would follow along.

Fortunately, the Methodists will take their time before making such a momentous decision. Originally it was reported a decision would be made near the end of April. No timetable has been reported now. Of course the Isaacs say that time is of the essence, if they don’t grab the coveted majordomo retailers, they will likely end up in Lakewood Ranch. Obviously, our loss.

Ten stories of jingling cash registers, the latest fashions and more condo speculator frenzy don’t quite make up for the loss of the quiet, contemplative place that First Methodist has provided for many, many years. We hope for the best. The Methodists will make the decision that is best for them. That is the way it should be. We may lose part of the downtown soul, but we know that the Methodists will carry on.

See the Apr 7 blog for more on this.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Value of Laurel Park

So what is Laurel Park worth to Sarasota?

We now have a very charming neighborhood with deep historical overtones that is seeing the effects of development pressure. Speculators have driven up the market price for property, housing has become less affordable and the city policy makers react by saying the answer is more density.

The city is considering changing Laurel Park to the more intense, more urban, "Downtown Neighborhood" classification in the new downtown code.

Compared to the current zoning codes, the change would allow:
  • much higher buildings (3 stories @ 14' plus roof and foundation vs current 30')
  • a "habitable tower" with no height limit
  • smaller lot size (3600 sq ft vs 4840 sq ft)
  • smaller setbacks (10' vs 30' in front)
  • increased density (12 units per acre vs current 9)
  • increased impervious surface coverage (no limit vs current 75%)

The City Code says "The impervious coverage standards are designed to help protect trees and other desirable vegetation and enhance the overall appearance within the yard area of single-family neighborhoods."

Is the pressure for development worth losing the charm and diversity of this wonderful neighborhood? Is hardscape more valued than vegetation and tree canopy? Will the speculators win the day with their drive for bigger buildings, more lot coverage and smaller lot size so that at the end of the day they can move on with fat wallets?

Decisions of this sort are made forever. We cannot bring the charm back once it is paved over. Laurel Park is another of the "Last Great Places" in Sarasota, one of the few remaining areas of unique homes and very unique sense of place. Will we lose this place? Will it be gone forever?

Many of the residents of Laurel Park love the place they call home. They value the uniqueness, the canopy, the charm, the diversity and the human scale. Laurel Park is very much like Burns Court and Towles Court - unique to Sarasota and long remembered by those who have visited.

Is Sarasota willing to give all this up in order to satisfy a "standard new urbanist" code? The discussion is happening now. If the speculators and developers win this day, Sarasota and the residents of Laurel Park will lose forever.

We all need to help in the effort to Save Our Sarasota.

Meandering in Laurel Park

This "walk to town" neighborhood is a wonderful treasure in Sarasota. Narrow, canopied streets with jewel like cottages, sprinkled heavily with historic homes, invite a meandering walk while your thoughts drift back to yesterday’s Sarasota, then marvel at how much of this treasure still remains. See the pictures below.

You notice a gated courtyard surrounded by two-story, pinkish rowhouses with green sashes and red tile roofs over the doors. The courtyard is lush with tropical greenery and meticulously maintained with a fountain, flowers and settees. Just to the north is the accompanying carriage house that has been converted into apartments.

You pass a clapboard bungalow with a name - Laurel Place - off yellow in color with a porch and white rail across the front. Next you spot a Spanish style home framed with palms. Further on, you come across a number of brightly colored, small wood frame cottages sitting on cement blocks. Were these the homes built for the Doll family, the famous Ringling "little people"?

In this corner of Sarasota, no homes are more than two stories, the trees here still reach higher than the roofs. Canopy rules! You walk by a home surrounded by a modest sized wall, as you peer in the yard you are greeted by a view of the rain forest. Every square inch is covered with trees, bushes, vines, and all manner of growing, clinging greenery. A visual treat just a few blocks from the hard-scape of downtown.

Around another corner you see several wondrous, shiny, metallic sculptures nestled into the lush tropical foliage. An artist lives here! You pass by a sign that proclaims "For Sale - Thomas Reed Martin’s Own Residence", a look at the home shows a perfectly restored, modest sized, brick red stuccoed building, with tiled roof. White block frames the darkened doorway with a bright inviting presence. You wonder what is inside.

Back near where you started, you note a large cleared lot with a chain link fence surrounding it. The Kanaya, says your guide. Fourteen stories, 35 units, Feng Shui building. You take a deep breath, sigh, your shoulders droop. Your walk is over.

Courtyard with a fountain and flowers.

Laurel Place - a home with a name.

Brightly painted cottages.

Tree canopy stretches higher than 2 story home.

Thomas Reed Martin Home

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Back to the Basics

Another letter to the editor zeros in on Sarasota’s unsolved issues. Without focus, energy and determination these issues will continue to cut into our quality of life. Kind of like Rome burning while Nero fiddled away.

Sarasota’s infrastructure needs attention and dollars, affordable housing must be addressed, traffic and the specter of round-abouts loom heavily, where did our small town feeling go?, are 18 story buildings consistent with human-scale vision?, will we continue recent improvements to Sarasota Bay or will it again face increased pollutants from our denuded, concreted and paved over city-scape?, will we shut off the remaining views of the bay with skyscrapers and plug the gaps with parking structures?

We too hope that our leaders buckle down and address the basic issues. Then they need to take a long look at what the residents want our city to be. Yes, we have pressures, not the least being more people wanting to live here. We realize that this makes the problem doubly difficult - if not managed well, more people create more issues. Maybe more backbone and less caving in to, or compromising with, developers is needed.

We need a course correction. For a while last year we were noted as having more high rise construction cranes than any other Florida city. Not too many resident were happy with this distinction. We soon may have more than any city in the southeast US. I know we are popular, but are we easy too? We need to move from the fast lane, address the basics and regain some of our lost quality of life.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Growth Pains

A letter to the editor (SHT) on the 16th, indicated some of the dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in downtown Sarasota. The writer said:

"I did not vote for Lou Ann Palmer or Richard Martin, the incumbents, because they let the Ritz-Carlton developers off the hook on their developer's agreement-requirement to build an express lane along U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue, to speed up traffic between the Ringling Causeway Bridge and Fruitville Road."

While growth will happen, we do have the ability to control it and we do have tools to manage the growth so we can all live with it. Our policy makers need to stay in touch with the needs of all the residents. We all know the devil is in the details, looking at only the big-picture ideas of a walkable, lively downtown, allows the devil to creep in.

We would like to see more attention paid to the real effects of the rapid growth currently happening downtown. With 2500+ new living units arriving downtown over the next couple years, how many new ways will the residents of Sarasota be be-deviled? Are our policy makers up to the task?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

New Soul On Main

Nice new landscaping at First Baptist on Main. Lots of lush tropical trees and shrubs. Makes the area really inviting. It is great to know that some of the Main Street soul is being maintained.

The hi-rise oaks near the curb are selected for their low maintenance requirements - their form being columnar and their growth rate being slow. They may be practical, but a city needs its soul.

Save Our Sarasota thanks First Baptist for saving a bit of the soul of Sarasota!

"Discover" the new landscaping on Main at the First Baptist Church

First Baptist new landscaping and hi-rise oaks on Main Street

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Downtown Action

On a bright note, the 1926 Sarasota Times building on First is featured in Harold Bubil's Blog - link on the right. The exterior restoration looks absolutely wonderful. The interior is waiting for the imagination of a new buyer.

You can see exterior and interior pictures at Ian Black's website.

Also check Joe Moraca's blog: a "hot off the press" picture of this AM's Farmers Market, and comment about the Downtown Partnership position on a Conference Center. We expect Conference Center discussions to continue even the bayfront location has been nixed. New Commissioner Shelin has indicated a preference for downtown, but a developer is pushing hard for the fairgrounds site. Save Our Sarasota still wonders about the need and benifits of a Conference Center and we would like significant private investment if it is to happen.

Flipping for Dollars

Lead article in today's SHT highlights property flipping. Seems it is hip to flip.

It also artificially drives up prices faster and higher than the underlying market will support. At some point the hip will drip as their investment gets squeezed.

One wonders how much of the current downtown boom is driven by investors that have no intention of ever living in the property they acquire. The flip mentality (aka greed) also has spread into the residential neighborhoods where it causes other issues - more absentee landlords - when the resale time begins to stretch.

Apparently impatient investors in the stock market boom of the 90's are now seeking to profit from real estate markets. The same run up in prices that happened in the stock market is now seen in selected real estate markets. Aren't we the lucky ones.

Of course this market will also correct itself at some point. In the meantime it is really difficult to get year round residents to come here to live. Some good people will leave, others will not come in the first place because they cannot afford to live closer than 20, 30, or 40 miles away.

But the flippers don't care, they want to make a buck. Are the hip flippers shooting us all in the foot?

Friday, April 15, 2005

More Development

In other news, yet another development complex was announced for downtown Sarasota. This time at the corner of 301 and Fruitville. The wrinkle here is that one of the partners owning the property may sell out first. Apparently a New York investor may be willing to pay $43M for a share of the property.

In the background, the city is in the process of mass re-zoning all of downtown. The new zoning codes result from the Downtown Master Plan and its attempt to balance the need for some downtown growth (make it more lively) while controlling growth.

This attempt at balance is tipping precipitously as many developers try to get project applications into the pipeline before the new codes take place. Some parts of downtown will have lower density under the new codes and could cost some landowners significant investment potential, thus the rush to the feeding trough.

The rapid and significant growth in Sarasota is causing much concern among the residents. What is causing this change, who is allowing it, why here, why now? Many residents came to Sarasota because of the unique combination of a lively cultural scene, mixed with beaches and golf courses all wrapped in a small town atmosphere. The changes are causing increasing concern.

One result was the election this week that removed an incumbent commissioner in favor of a newcomer who promises changes including communication of his vision, control of growth and traffic and emphasis on affordable housing. If he continues to listen to constituents and shows the leadership he promises he may be able to ease the concerns expressed by an increasing number of residents. We hope so!

Plaza Verde

In the news is the continuing saga of the development of the parking lot behind Sarasota News and Books (one of downtown's favorite places - uniquely Sarasota). Developer Ali Ebrahimi asked the commissioners (sitting as the CRA) to allow his project to go forward even though it was different than the proposed project.

The second place developer, in the race to see who got access to the property, was still parked on the sidelines, hoping the commissioners would disqualify Ebrahimi on the basis that the revised project did not meet the proposal agreement.

In the end, Ebrahimi convinced the commissioners that it was essentially the same - this took an opinion by the city attorney and an opinion by the director of zoning concerning the definitions of re-development and remodeling. Of course a couple commissioners were pushing to finally get this property developed into something with added public parking. The current proposal being the third try (previous two ended up in the gutter) was about to slip off the edge, but the need for added parking won the day. Thank goodness for all the cars in our walkable downtown.

A little drama unfolded when the co-owner of the Golden Apple Theater indicated her thoughts that the developer always intended to have a smaller project than proposed - the story line being the proposal was only a ploy to win the bid, spiced up with a sub-plot about getting screwed.

Much of the discussion surrounded the private talks between the developer and two adjacent landowners (opera house and Golden Apple) concerning whether they would become part of the development and at what cost. Early in the process commissioners had reservations about these discussions not being open to review. The final outcome left them wondering what happened and why. They also wondered if they process was significantly slowed because the "negotiation" between the developer and the landowners took many months and in the end produced a big zero.

Can we all learn from this example?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

One New Leader, One Continuing Leader for Sarasota

In today’s run-off election, Ken Shelin garnered the most votes, with incumbent Lou Ann Palmer also securing a seat at the commission table. Incumbent Richard Martin finished third.

There has been discontent with the fast building pace in downtown Sarasota and the added traffic. It is apparent that this dissatisfaction translated into votes for Shelin.

Shelin’s promises for change will be closely watched by many factions within Sarasota. Whether his ability to effect change and whether the resulting change will be acceptable to voters remains to be seen.

We do have new leadership, and we congratulate the elected commissioners. We hope their visions are well articulated, well communicated and are in tune with the vision of the residents.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Great Places in Sarasota

Joe Moraca's blog has a great series on walks in Sarasota. Lot's of pictures and excellent comments about "walkability" and some of the great places in Sarasota.

Hopefully these great places will still be here as our city moves closer to its future. We hope that we don't experience what Yogi Berra once said: The future is here and it ain't what it used to be.

Affordable Housing in Sarasota?

Today's entry at the Bayciti Blog refers to the affordable housing efforts in Manatee County and gives a little dig to Sarasota - he mentions the ongoing problem of where to put Sarasota's maids and lawnworkers. Nice shot. North Port is a long drive.

See the original article in the SHT.

Meanwhile in the business section we see that a Sarasota developer, flush with cash is plunging ever deeper into the high end residential and commercial markets in Sarasota, Palmetto, Tampa and Las Vegas. More maids and lawnworkers required. Of course they can always double up if they can't find a reasonable place to live.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Speculating About Homes and Taxes in a Hot Market

An interesting article in the SHT today about part time residents that own property, complaining about the rapidly upward escalation of real estate taxes. The cap on real estate tax that permanent residents enjoy is causing non-homestead owners to make their dissatisfaction known.

It seems that every new property owner contributes to the issue, as speculators and well intentioned visitors bid higher and higher for the available homes, the values and therefore the taxes go higher and higher.

Non-residents ask why should the permanent residents get the advantage at the expense of all others. Although I did not live here in 1992 when the "Save Our Homes" law was passed, it was done to protect those on limited incomes from the rapid escalation brought by speculation and inflation. Seems like it is doing that. Anyone is free to establish Florida residency and thereby take advantage of this law.

Previous articles in the press have talked about some resident feeling they are "trapped" in their current home, since they also would face much higher property taxes if the sold their current home and moved to a different one.

One can only speculate about all the ramifications.

A View of the Future?

What's the future of Saraota? Maybe present day West Palm Beach gives some insight.

Eary this month, the West Palm Beach Post reported on a forum to discuss the success of West Palm's 9 year old downtown master plan - also put together by Andres Duany.

From the Post:

"Mayor Lois Frankel has never shown much enthusiasm for the 9-year-old master plan guiding downtown development. Thursday afternoon, she showed no enthusiasm for it at all.

And she dismissed the notion forwarded by several members of the panel that the master plan has contributed to the city's current boom in growth. "The city is hot not because of the master plan but because people want to build all over in South Florida," Frankel said.

As envisioned in 1995, the 71-page master plan capped building heights at 15 stories. High-rise buildings would be limited to main thoroughfares, with the rest of downtown limited to two to five stories.

Three major amendments were added over the years, including incentives for building residential units and the option of taller buildings under certain circumstances. For instance, the 26-story Opera Place won extra height by agreeing to build a new venue for Florida Stage.

In 1996, voters made an amendment of their own, passing a ballot measure capping building heights east of Olive Avenue.

Today, the downtown master plan area is flooded with 4,800 residential units. Another 1,300 are under construction and 2,800 are on the drawing board.

Developers riding the crest of this construction wave are pressing for taller buildings, especially along Quadrille Boulevard and Okeechobee Boulevard. Frankel has questioned whether the master plan crafted almost a decade ago can still meet the needs of a fast-growing city.

"This is no longer a small town," Garvin said."

I seems that Sarasota is following this same path. We are allowing 10 stories, with 2 exceptions for 180 ft, the Bayfront area will be allowed to have 18 story buildings, we have a couple thousand units either under construction or on the drawing board, many people are asking if this is the small town we envisioned.

Next week (Apr 13), the Planning Board will have public hearings to discuss elements of our new downtown code. This is everyone's opportunity to give their views on our growth control plan. We hope many residents take the opportunity to sound off.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Tree Trimming in Tampa

Sarasota isn't the only place in Florida worried about saving trees from developers desire to keep their costs low (and profits high). A Tampa developer has found himself in hot water for not paying attention to agreements (or blatently disregarding laws).

Apparently one of 12 remaining grand trees in downtown Tampa is to be no more. After 100 years of service, this tree also suffered for being in the way of a condo development.

Maybe we should say "butchering by the bay"?

Growth Management

Last year, the "1000 Friends of Florida" organization issued a white paper titled Growth Management for Florida's Future. Many excellent ideas are presented in this paper.

An excerpt from this paper:

"Encouraging vision-based planning, starting at the neighborhood level.

Adequate, directed funding is crucial for effective growth management. Equally important is determining how a community wants to grow. Citizen-based neighborhood planning should be the foundation of a community's comprehensive planning process. Neighbors (citizens representing a mix of residential, school, civic, office and commercial areas in geographic proximity) gathering together with local planning staff can evaluate current development policies and recommend alternative growth scenarios.

Local governments should build on this neighborhood process when creating community-wide visioning strategies. The collaborative process of visioning should be consensus-driven and articulate the desired future of the community. Policy statements on the quality of life and graphic representation of the community's physical form and land use patterns should have the support of the public and politicians.

To ensure accountability, the vision document recommendations should be incorporated into the comprehensive plan, land development regulations and capital expenditures. It also should clearly define the steps for implementation. Additionally, the document should explain why, how, and when amendments to the community's plans are sought. Above all, it must provide for accountability so that measurable implementation is achieved"

While Sarasota probably is further along than most Florida localities, there is still room for improvement when measured against the statement above. A local vision tied to the comp plan, land develoment regulations and capital expenditures would provide focus for our leaders and measures of accountability. Save Our Sarasota supports these concepts. Citizen involvement and leadership accountability are needed to make Sarasota a truely great city that brings a vision of a "small town with urban amenities" more clearly into focus.

More on Election Contributions

We like the Pelican Press' editorial comment concerning the Plaza Verde group's multiple contributions to Richard Martin's campaign - namely that he should recuse himself from any decision involving this developer.

In our own research of the campaign contributions (reports from the City Clerks Office), we find that Martin and Ken Shelin both receive received $2500 from principals with the Plaza Verde group. We would suggest that whomever gets elected, recuse themselves from a decision involving Plaza Verde. Lou Ann Palmer received no contributions from this group.

We also note that Martin received $4000 from the developer and apparent principals in the proposed Sylvan Drive multi-family townhouse and Palmetto Lane sub-division projects. We would also suggest a recusal by Martin if this developer appears before the commission for projects now in process. This investor group did not contribute to any other candidate.

Further, we note that the Yacht Center investors contributed $2100 to Martin, $1000 to Palmer and $500 to Shelin, and that the Isaac group (downtown property owners and developers) gave a combined $1000 to each of the 3 candidates.

Although developers/investors have every right to contribute up to $500 to any campaign, we question not the legality, but the propriety, of multiple contributions from principals interested in the same project, in several cases coming from other states and often received on the same date,. In the case of the Plaza Verde project, for instance, wives and other family members, contributed to these multiple gifts.

We note that two years ago Mary Anne Servian and Carolyn Mason returned contributions to a developer with a project coming before the City Commission. Carolyn Mason’s accompanying letter said that it was her policy not to accept contributions from developers with projects that were before, or going to come before, the City Commission.

We applaud that philosophy. It is time for all candidates to either refuse multiple contributions from developers with pending city projects or pledge to recuse themselves in cases where they wish to accept these contributions.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Downtown Losing It's Soul?

Yesterday a news story on Channel 7, indicated that the First Methodist Church on Pineapple was considering a developer's offer to buy the church property and transform it into a massive retail area in the Orange to Pineapple area.

Butch Isaac has made an offer that includes enough cash to retire the church's debt, purchase a suburban location (near Tuttle & University), build a new sanctuary and office/class room space and have money left over.

First Methodist has been part of downtown Sarasota for 108 years, providing a place where visitors and members can practice their faith. The programs that First Methodist provides have been a vital thread in the Sarasota fabric. Now, however, the "market" is speaking. Will the "market" speak loud enough to chase this Soul of Sarasota to the suburbs?

First Methodist leaders and members will make their decision on April 24. Stay tuned.

The mantra of "let the market forces decide" may not be the best decision for Sarasota. Does Sarasota really need retail at the expense of a major downtown church?

We trust the members of First Methodist will make a good decision. They are in a tough postion having to deal now with very difficult decisions as change works its way through our society. We recognize that what is best for First Methodist may not match the views of others in Sarasota. We do wish them the best in whichever future path they choose.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Interesting Quotations

A couple of interesting quotations from New Urbanist resources:

David Mohney Dean, College of Design University of Kentucky: "The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size."

Andres Duany: "Amateurs accustomed to emulation made great places. It is the professionals of recent decades that have ruined our cities and our landscapes with their inventions."

Vince Graham (developer): "Hilton Head island is 30 thousand acres and is choking on one million tourists a year. Charleston is one thousand acres and gracefully absorbs 5.5 million tourists a year."

What could Sarasota be with continued resident involvement? In order to keep our livable, small town atmosphere, we need input from everyone. Participating in the local government process is the key to a future Sarasota that may be more like Charleston than Hilton Head. We all need to keep our decision makers informed of our vision for Sarasota. Take the time to get involved. In the long run, it will be well worth it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Developer Contributions to Commission Candidates

An article in the March 31 issue of the Pelican Press, by Bob Ardren, summarized the contributions that each City Commission candidate has received from supporters. It also details the contributions to each candidate that were the maximum allowed ($500 per individual), and specifically from developers with pending downtown projects.

Richard Martin collected contributions from only 29 contributors, including 10 that gave the $500 maximum. Five of these came from people related the planned Plaza Verde project (Ali Ebrahimi group). Martin’s total (for the run-off) was $5679.32 from 29 people. This is $195.83 per contributor.

Lou Ann Palmer had 39 different contributors and of her 5 maximum contributions, none came from downtown developers. Palmer’s total of $3073.29 calculates to an average of $78.80 per contributor.

Ken Shelin had 77 contributors. Of his 6 maximum contributions, again, none was from downtown developers. Shelin’s total of $3493.77 calculates to an average of $45.37 per contributor

While there is no implied link between contributions and future support for a project, we think that all candidates need to be cautious about developer contributions. The appearance of support is enough to generate questions.

We like the broad based support for Palmer and Shelin as shown by the small average contributions.

We would also like to ask all residents to support their candidate by giving some funds. If enough residents give even a small amount, there is less need for candidates to rely on special interests. Those candidates that have no special interests asking for support are likely to be open to all concerns equally.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Downtown with Human Scale?

An excellent letter to the editor in the SHT today. The author talks about "human scale" development. Examples in St Pete and West Palm Beach are cited. Sarasota, on the other hand keeps planning higher and higher structures such as the newly announced 15 story building at 1740 Main.

Sarasota has always been a city with a small town look and feel. True, we have our hi-rise condos along a portion of the bayfront. But in general the small town atmosphere has been retained and that is the what draws us here.

What will be lost if we keep listening to the pitch of the developers for higher and higher buildings? Is a view of concrete and steel and glass what we want? Stretching to a faint glimpse of blue sky? Do we want to see sunshine for 15 minutes a day as the sun passes from the back of one skyscraper to the back of the one across the street? Do we want a downtown devoid of trees, plants and flowers (except under grow lights)?

Without a vision of what downtown Sarasota could be, without a vision of an excellent, walkable, human scale dowtown Sarasota, we are left with the pitches of the developers. The developers package their pitch in fantasy looking drawings designed to sway the viewer to buy into their vision. Lacking a vision of our own, the elected officials then make a decision, yea or nay, on the proposal. Since no developer will come to us with a human scale design that attempts to relate to our sense of place, we never get the chance to move in this direction.

A solution? Our elected officials must work hard to determine what the residents want in our city. Yes, we have determined that a walkable downtown is what we want (Duany Master Plan and Code) and that we want some growth so that downtown is a lively place. Save Our Sarasota believes that we also want excellent streetscape, human scale, light, air, open spaces and unique shops and restaurants - like we now have.

This starts with the vision. Do our elected officials share this vision? Will we save what is unique and special about Sarasota or will we rapidly become a city of hi-rise canyons from curb to curb? We hope that all of Sarasota's residents make their views known.

If you would like to become part of our organization, send an e-mail to Help us develop a vision for Sarasota that we can all live with.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Questions to City Commission Candidates

Recently the SOS Steering Committee sent four questions to the three candidates involved in the runoff for City Commission at-large seats. We’d like to share their answers with you.

Despite several attempts to get a response from Richard Martin, none was returned.

The following questions were sent:


The original Duany plan called for property owners to step back their buildings at four stories. Developers challenged this taking of the air space above the four stories, and won their battle. The city then found a way to achieve the step backs with the gift of public space: an arcade over the sidewalk and three stories of the air space above, deeded to the building owner with no compensation to the city.

1. Do you approve deeding this public space to private owners?
Lou Ann Palmer ------Yes*
Ken Shelin -------------No
Richard Martin -------No Response

2. Will you vote to allow trees on public property to be cut down or removed for the development of private property?
Lou Ann Palmer ------Yes**
Ken Shelin -------------No
Richard Martin -------No Response

3. Will you vote to eliminate the downtown Traffic Concurrency Exception Area (TCEA) and require developers to pay for the increased traffic their projects generate?
Lou Ann Palmer ----Did not directly answer***
Ken Shelin -----------Yes
Richard Martin -----No Response

4. Would you vote for public bayfront land being used as a site for a convention/conference center?
Lou Ann Palmer -----No****
Ken Shelin ------------No
Richard Martin ------No Response

*Already adopted as part of downtown code as recommended by unanimous support of the Planning Board & City Commissioners.
**However, policies and procedures re: tree removal & replacement changed based on the Ad Hoc Committee Tree recommendations.
***Won’t change TCEA unless other options are in place to deal with transportation & congestion management.
****City Commission unanimously supports removing consideration of the cultural center as a site for the conference center.

Our cause requires consistent advocacy, and the strongest action you can take is to vote for the person who best represents your views. You can vote now at the Supervisor of Elections Office at 2001 Adams Lane in the Terrace Building, or go to the polls Tuesday, April 12. Even if you didn’t vote in March (very few people did), you are still eligible to vote in this election. This election is now the most critical, where even ONE vote carries enormous weight, and will influence our city for FOUR MORE YEARS. We only have to spend one-half hour to choose the right person for FOUR MORE YEARS. The benefits of this half hour investment are enormous.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Unique Sarasota - The Gator Club

A story in todays SHT indicates that the Gator Club on Main St. has ben sold. The new owner indicates that he will continue to operate this great night spot and may look for ways to build on the success that has been achieved here over the years.

The Gator Club is a unique Sarasota institution. It is great that the new owner intends to countinue this establishment. Too many places succumb (dumb down?) to the easily replicated franchise establishments.

While franchises may present a lower element of risk, they significantly reduce the uniqueness of a street or town. As we all know, it is difficult when driving down a throughfare to determine what city or part of the country you are driving through. Everything looks the same as everywhere else.

Sarasota still has unique places, streets and establishments. This is part of the fabric that makes Sarasota. We applaud the statements of the Gator Club's new owners indicating that it will continue to exist on our Main Street.

Maybe we all should stop in and raise a toast to unique Sarasota.