Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Public Benefit from TIF?

The recent column by Rod Thomson in the Sarasota Herald Tribune makes a clear case for questioning the give-aways city officials seem to think are required to lure developers to downtown Sarasota. This is something we have been questioning also.

What benefit does the public get by giving $9M for public parking to a developer who wants to build here no matter what? Yes, we know the spin that the developer will use: I need this funding to make my project pay, otherwise I can’t do it. And some of our officials will buy into this pitch.

That’s what happens when there is a limited vision for downtown - so far our vision includes more parking, a walkable and lively downtown and mixed use. We have also put limits on building height and design parameters. So as long as a developer promises to fit this limited vision he is free to pitch pretty pictures and should expect at least a majority of commissioners to buy into the concept. Our limited vision is an easy one to buy into.

We don’t have a plan or strategy on how to get there. We talk about public/private partnerships and investment in needed development. But how do we measure the result? What is the target?

What about affordable housing, diversity of residents, traffic patterns for getting to the parking garage, public spaces for lively activity, more businesses downtown, easy access to the bayfront, transportation (other than the car) that people will want to use, more green space in downtown? What is the relationship between the Quay site and downtown - how will this work? There are many issues that face us and it seems there is little effort at defining the issues and moving toward a consolidated vision of where we want to go. With a limited vision it is easy to acquiesce to the first request for dollars. Meanwhile our downtown continues its march toward a place where the wealthy visit for a few months during the year.

Thomson pointedly indicates that developers on the fringes of Sarasota will be paying for the increased strain they put on the infrastructure - mainly road improvement - as a cost of locating at a highly desirable spot. Downtown should do the same.

In a recent Argus Foundation Newsletter opposing the use of TIF funds (for fees, utility construction, landscaping) at the 1350 Main project, they indicated:

"the tax increment finance district was established to fund projects in the downtown that create true public benefit like parking, sidewalks, streetscapes, true "utility relocations," etc. If we approve, or encourage, this kind of public subsidy (i.e., for what 1350 Main wanted) we will have no money left from the tax increment to pay for the projects that are creating the public space of a vibrant downtown. "

We likewise believe that the best use of TIF funds is for required and necessary infrastructure improvements that will benefit all of downtown, public space that adds to the vibrancy of downtown, and parking if necessary (it should also benefit all of downtown).

We need to look at the long term for downtown - how do we insure a lively and livable downtown for the entire year and for many years. We need a long term vision of what makes a livable and lively downtown. Then we need a strategy to accomplish this and that will guide our decision makers as they review projects worthy of TIF funds. If developers are intent on cashing in on the wildly popular Downtown Sarasota Show (Thomson uses the term "event") let them pay for what they need. If they need a street vacation, what will they contribute to the public good? If they require parking, what benefit does the public receive for the $9M they want?

Oh yes, let’s not forget tough negotiating in the sunshine!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is Sarasota Becoming "Sky Box" City?

"Are we turning our cities into theme parks for the very rich?" That’s the question posed in an article by Beth Dunlop in the Miami Herald (you may have to register to view the article, but it is painless and well worth it).

In talking about the transformation of Miami to a city of luxury hi-rise condos, she notes that we are pricing out the people that make the city a vibrant lively place where people want to go. A topic we have talked about here on several occasions. The authors, artists, teachers, shopkeepers, social workers, public servants are all being priced out. And it is not just Miami; Sarasota is going down this same road.

Dunlop notes "A real city is filled with people of all incomes and interests, who spend their money in local stores and restaurants run by other local people, and their time out walking on the streets and playing in public parks, sitting in cafes, browsing and window-shopping, strolling and stopping -- after work, after school, after church or temple, before a movie, a play, a concert. That, more than mere commerce, is the time-tested engine that drives urbanism."

She suggests we may be building a "skybox" city - the urban equivalent of the pricey hangouts at stadiums around the country. Are the condos we are building just sky boxes for the wealthy when they want to see the Sarasota Show (the season)?

Sarasota’s downtown master plan is supposed to give us a lively, walkable downtown that meets the needs of the residents without requiring car trips. Is the current building frenzy with its targeted luxury market going to lead us to this vision? When I read articles like this one by Dunlop, I see Sarasota’s likeness embedded in the words. We are heading towards Miami, "skybox" city, built for the wealthy part time visitors, lured here by the adult theme park vision of upscale shopping, fair weather and a very busy social scene.

What happens when we lose the diversity, the shopkeepers go to Bradenton where they can afford to have a small business and live close by? Or when professors, public servants and teachers go to other towns where they can afford to live?

These are troubling questions. Our city leaders need to take a step back and look at what is happening to Sarasota. We need to find a new road to travel on, moving us toward a different vision.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Little Ranting

Those of you that have been following this blog know that one of the issues we have pursued is the give away of public space (downtown) in the form of space above the sidewalk if the developer includes an arcade. See the March 13 blog entry for a graphic and description of arcades.

Apparently what happened is that the Duany Master Plan showed stepbacks of 12' required at the 4th floor level. This was to prevent the canyon effect that 10 story buildings will have when the front facade is at the sidewalk property line.

Well, the property owners and developers objected, saying this was taking their property rights. So a suit was threatened and a "secret" negotiation meeting was held with the city manager and the developer/owners. The result was that a new incentive was included in the code: the developer could keep his vertical space at the property line and the city would give the developers the air space above an arcade. This space will be habitable space that the developer can sell.

What a deal. Now we have a step forward instead of a step back. The canyon is still there but it will be narrower at street level. I’m sure the developers/owners are smiling all the way to the bank and the residents of Sarasota will be frowning on their real narrow streets downtown. No sunshine on Main Street and no sunshine when negotiating.

A simple calculation shows that the value of this give away could be $15M (yes million) for each of the first 3 blocks on Main - if arcades were built along both sides and an estimated $400/sq ft value (very conservative in today’s market) is used.

When we ask planners all over Florida about giving away air space above the sidewalk they are astounded when they hear this tale. We were told early on by our planners that West Palm was the model and pretty pictures of arcades in West Palm were shown in the recommendation for arcades with habitable space. The only problem is that West Palm’s arcades are on private property and no give away was required. In Sarasota we apparently have to have a new model to entice developers to come to our city.

The new building at 1350 Main (across from Sarasota News and Books) will show us what our future may look like. This building will have four floors of habitable space above the sidewalk - given as an incentive to include smaller units (not affordable, just smaller) with their increased density request.

Downtown Visioning

We see that the Downtown Partnership is starting a process to clarify their vision for downtown Sarasota. Recently they held a meeting entitled "Enough of the Plan … We Need a Vision.". An on-going series of discussions will include Community Redevelopment/ TIF funds, Parking/ Transportation, Workforce Housing, Retail, and Downtown Architecture.

This is encouraging. Save Our Sarasota encourages community discussion of the issues that face Sarasota. Too often developers sell their projects to Commissioners in a vacuum. There is no community vision against which the proposal can be measured.

True we have a "downtown plan" that identifies "downtown" and what kinds of buildings and uses are allowed in there. It generally follows the principles of "New Urbanism" so that it is pedestrian friendly. However, there is no big picture vision of how everything fits together or even what the citizens of Sarasota want their city to become.

Currently a pitch is being made for a large, high end, retail complex that would change a significant portion of downtown. Our City Commissioners are being pushed to approve the proposal and there is no vision for Sarasota that we can measure this proposal against. For now it is only the developer's ability to market his plan - "make the sale", if you will - to the Commissioners that will determine whether this goes forward. So far at least one Commissioner has been sold on the concept.

We would like to point out some excellent concepts for growth management (are we managing our downtown growth or is it wildly out of control?). As articulated by the organization, 1000 Friends of Florida, planning begins with a citizen based vision. A portion of their comments are given here:

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.

To promote vision-based planning, it is essential to:

Support and fund local governments to create vision plans at the neighborhood and community levels.
Provide additional funds, and additional funding alternatives and incentives, for local governments to use in implementing their plans.

We support the Downtown Partnership in their process to begin discussions on the vision for downtown.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Hyping Sarasota

Our Mayor is touting the benefits of the City of Sarasota to the retail development community at their big trade show this week in Las Vegas.

While it is nice to see the Mayor excited about Sarasota, we sure hope she and all the commissioners are open to citizen input concerning the new Pineapple Square project. Fast tracking this project in order to help one developer beat the competition may not be in the best interest of Sarasota.

What do we really know about the effect of this on our downtown and our community? We have lots of questions and we are sure that other individuals and organizations have questions. Things like the effect on other downtown businesses, traffic increases and traffic patterns, scale of the buildings, parking for workers as well as customers, does the requested TIF make sense, is it needed, does Sarasota need this much parking concentrated in one small area, will this magnify the seasonality issues we face as a resort destination?

Our commissioners need to start a process of involving the residents in the decision concerning whether to move forward with this proposal and if so, how fast. It seems like the newspaper favors the proposal (a recent editorial suggests parallel fast tracking for evaluating the PSQ proposal as well as an RFP for the State St parking lot) and we know the Mayor is gung-ho. We would have expected a more neutral response and analysis of whether the community really wants this large development and how our quality of life will change as a result of it.

We believe the recent commissioner elections made a call for change in our downtown building boom. We don’t think the change called for was a speed up of development or as the Manager of the Isaac Group put it - you haven’t seen anything yet!

How about less hype and more realistic thinking.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sarasota Magazine picture showing Lillian Burns inside John Ringling Towers. Photo by JB McCourtney, published Jan 2001.

Saving Some of Sarasota’s Past

Sarasota has had some wins and some losses when it comes to saving part of what is uniquely Sarasota.

Currently Tampa is struggling with saving the Belleview Biltmore - a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here we wonder about the fate of the Belle Haven. If it is saved, but moved, what will it look like and where will it be? Could it end up being jacked up on stilts above parking somewhere?

The newly announced Pineapple Square will undoubtedly result in changes to our downtown. Changes in scale, buildings, traffic patterns, light and air and many other aspects of downtown as we now know it.

Sarasota has two historic buildings - the Waterworks Building and the Times Buiding ( downtown) - that are in need of adaptive re-use. These unique buildings offer a great spaces that are in scale with the surrounding environment and keep important links to our past.

On the other hand we have recently lost the historic John Ringling Towers and the Bickel home which were located in downtown.

A city’s downtown is not just a place for commerce, it needs a wide variety of activities for many kinds of people. Sarasota’s downtown has changed and is continuing to change. Building residences downtown is a good idea - more people living downtown will bring diversity and enliven the area. However we continue to wonder how many people will actually live downtown (are speculators driving prices too high for year round residents?). Will our new downtown give us diversity and add to the unique character we have or will we be just another "anywhere, USA" with the same chain retailers we see everywhere.

The picture above shows Lillian Burns (daughter of Owen Burns - builder of this hotel) standing in the John Ringling Towers shortly before it was taken down. When you see the pretty renderings of our bright new world given to us by the developers, think about the reality of losing what is uniquely Sarasota. What will Sarasota become if we lose our past?

(Note: this picture was published in the Jan 2001 Issue of Sarasota Magazine. It was taken by photographer J.B. McCourtney and accompanied an article by Susan Burns).

Sunday, May 22, 2005

How Are We Doing?

I thought would reprint one of our first Save Our Sarasota™ blog entries (Mar 15, 2005) and ask readers to comment about how we are doing. While writing about issues doesn't necessarily result in an action, it does sensitize people to a view point that may be unknown or be opposite to your own view, or maybe even correlate with your thinking. Thinking about and discussing issues is the best way to find a common direction for all of us.

Please leave a comment - just click on the comment line at the bottom of this post and type in your view. Thanks!
From March 15, 2005:

Our mission is 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.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead, American Anthropoligist (1901-1978)

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Architect's in the Mail

Check Harold Bubil’s Blog for May 17 (link on the right side). He indicates a new postage stamp series is honoring architects. Included is Paul Rudolph, of "Sarasota School Of Architecture" fame, who started his career right here in our fair city with the small town feel and urban amenities.

You can buy the stamps now. Go to this web site to see the stamps with a link to the buildings they honor.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Try a Little Preservation

May is Historic Preservation month.

Ever wonder what you might do? Here are a couple ideas - courtesy of the National Trust and Sarasota’s local Historic Preservation organizations.
  • Explore places where you and your family grew up. A town, a school, a church or some other place important in your personal history. Take a little time to re-connect to your past.
  • Take a walk or bike ride through your neighborhood or some other part of Sarasota (Laurel Park is a great place but all neighborhoods are great for a walk with a view). It is amazing what you see when you slow down. Walk through the Rosemary Cemetery and read the names and dates on the headstones. Think about life back then.
  • Shop on Main Street (and Palm and the side streets too). You will find many unique, local shops. These are owned and managed by local people that love their businesses. Say hello and chat a little with them. Take a look at the building architecture. Check out the historic Sarasota postcard reproductions displayed at Kennedy Studios (1472 Main).
  • Read a few books about Sarasota history. You can find them at bookstores (Sarasota News and Books is a good place to start), the library or the Sarasota History Center by the Visitor Center on the Trail.
  • Take in a movie at Burns Court - an historic movie theater.
  • Visit some of the older churches in Sarasota; First Presbyterian is 98 years old or maybe visit St Martha’s, it has a long history.
  • Check out the pictures at the County history web site
  • Consider joining one of Sarasota’s historic preservation organizations like the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation or the Historical Society of Sarasota County. They have great newsletters and very interesting meetings.

Take some time to immerse yourself in a little personal or local history. You will find it interesting and enjoyable. The people you will meet along the way are guaranteed to be wonderful!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Looking at Pineapple Square

After a day to think about the Pineapple Square development announcement, some of the questions that come to mind:
  • What value does Sarasota receive for vacating a portion of State St.?
  • Does this development require the city to give public air space above the sidewalks, if so what is the value of this?
  • The developer is asking for $9M in TIF dollars for 600 parking spaces (appears to be the same $15K per space we keep seeing), this is on top of getting free land from the city. What is the value of all this?
  • How will the use of TIF funds here affect our ability to use these dollars to fund the Newtown Redevelopment project?
  • The Isaac Group indicates that time is of the essence, that competition for the same major retailers is keen and Sarasota has to act fast to be successful. Of course "success" is defined as a unique downtown shopping area unlike anything else in the country and would put Sarasota on the map as a major retail destination. Is this everyone’s vision of success for Sarasota?
  • We hope time is available for stakeholder input and community discussion and decision making.

On a related subject, today’s CoolTown website has an interesting discussion relating job creation to fast growing businesses. This is linked to data on the top 25 women business builders and where they choose to live. The communities they live in all have a high "creative class index" (think Richard Florida), low cost of doing business and lots of affordable housing. They conclude with this statement: " Keep that in mind the next time you hear city leaders claim that investing in swanky stores and luxury apartments will be good for your city's economy in the long run"

Yesterday's topic at this same site featured Bradenton's new subsidized housing development.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Extreme Makeover in Store for Downtown?

Today the Isaac Group unveiled their plans for the make over of downtown Sarasota’s retail face. The plan includes 30 to 40 new retail shops at ground level, a 600 space public parking garage, additional 400 private parking spaces and 210 new residences. A total of 130K ft² new retail space is proposed.

One of the pictures below shows the frontage on Pineapple - interesting touch to include the First United Methodist Church in the picture. The developer indicates they need to move forward with plans now and while purchasing the church property is not required, they are still negotiating. Our understanding is that the church membership vote, on whether to sell, is scheduled for August.

Also shown is the footprint of the project, located primarily south of Main but also extending to both sides of Lemon, north and south of Main. The red colored area is the property owned or controlled by the Isaac group.

The unveiling was held at the Ritz Tuesday evening, with many members of the business community attending. Mayor Mary Anne Servian also attended and spoke briefly but very enthusiastically about the project.

According to the literature provided, the project includes a "large central pedestrian breezeway, the width of a street and thirty feet tall". It will have retail frontage and connect Pineapple and Lemon (at State). While the buildings are mostly proposed to be ten stories, they will be stepped back above the first couple of floors. Some arcades may be included and two urban plazas will be featured. It was indicated that all development would conform to the new downtown code.

Plans include targeted 60/40 percent mix of national chain to local/regional stores. This will include 80% fashion/soft goods and 20% dining/entertainment.

Apparently the national retail/developer trade show is coming up next week. This is where all the developers showcase their plans and hope to get commitments from the retailers. Competition is expected to be fierce in the Sarasota area with new major retail developments proposed for Lakewood Ranch, University and I-75 and a rumored Fruitville and I-75 project.

The plans were impressive and the use of the "dead area", south of the Main storefronts to increase pedestrian circulation throughout this part of downtown is an excellent concept. While the project is in very early stages the concepts and building step backs are encouraging. This will keep the open atmosphere and allow light and air to permeate the space.

Save Our Sarasota will be closely following the development of this project. Initial discussion with John Simons, who will be managing this project, were open and encouraging.

More information at their web site.

Proposed Pineapple Square retail front on Pineapple Ave. - Sarasota

Pineapple Square footprint in downtown Sarasota

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Vibrant Downtown

In an article published in the Washington Post, architect Roger K Lewis comments about things that make downtowns vibrant. He says "downtowns, traditional or otherwise, do not succeed simply by virtue of higher density or improved street networks. Higher densities, rational street-block patterns and enhanced mobility are necessary but not sufficient."

Diversity is a critical element. Diversity of people, places, options.

"Vibrant downtowns also promote and sustain diverse tenants and uses. They are places where ... people can find jobs, housing choices, shopping, culture, entertainment and transportation. Even ample, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks don't make downtowns truly viable without a critical mass of attractive activities, amenities and infrastructure."

"Nevertheless, much of the charm of traditional downtowns is attributable to the aesthetic quality of the public realm: well-landscaped, properly proportioned plazas and urban parks; tree-lined, well-lighted streets and sidewalks; and pedestrian-level storefronts that enliven the streetscape. Make walking pleasant, and people will choose to walk instead of drive.

In making places desirably urban, the right mix of uses and good streetscape design can be more important than pumping up density. Look at Georgetown, Alexandria and the Bethesda Row area of Bethesda

We believe he is absolutely right. To make Sarasota’s downtown vibrant - which is everyone’s goal - we need diversity; diversity in the many elements that make up our downtown.

So far we have approved a number of mixed use developments, a grocery store and are in the process of adding parking. There's nothing wrong with this. The big problem is that the residential units are so pricey that few year-round residents live there. And most of those that do live downtown are retired (many moved over from Longboat). While these are great people it’s not a diverse mixture of young and old, workers and managers, thinkers and doers, etc. We have little room for entertainment, no affordable housing, no plan to attract business and to top it off we are making a canyon out of main Street.

How about some streetscape, plazas, urban park areas, shade tree lined streets (not mono-culture Hi-Rise Oaks to match the hi-rise condos)? Let’s make our downtown truly walkable. A place where people want to walk around. Let’s inject a strong dose of diversity into our downtown.

Density is not the only answer. It is a byproduct of creating a vibrant, interesting place. A unique spot with a strong sense of place. We have other great amenities: beaches, public waterfront, great cultural institutions. A vibrant downtown is also a great amenity. Our civic leaders need to take a look at what else needs to be in the mix so we achieve needed diversity and a strong, year round, vibrant downtown.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

New Life for the Sarasota Waterworks

Last week Historic Preservation Week was celebrated in Sarasota at the Sarasota Waterworks building. A large group of preservationists toured the building, sipped some wine and heard about Sarasota’s latest efforts to preserve the best of our past.

This wonderful building has been purchased by Frank Howell (Frank Howell Construction). It has been transformed into a space that is ready to receive a new occupant yet retains its historical significance. The restoration of the building was accomplished according to the Secretary of Interior's Standards of rehabilitation. Howell’s other historic restoration projects include Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach, Key West's Casa Marina Hotel, and the old Train Depot in Venice. Obviously they know what they are doing and they do it well!

The Sarasota Waterworks was built in 1925 and is registered on the National Historic Registry. Back in 1909 Sarasota’s water needs were served by an artesian well with a set of water lines. A devastating fire in the late teens resulted in the community deciding that a "real" water system was required. A referendum was unanimously passed to fund a construct the Sarasota Waterworks. The Sarasota Waterworks thus came into being and it was here that the pumps and a distribution systems were installed to serve the growing needs of our community.

Today, the old pumps and water lines have long been replaced by modern systems at a new location. The building remains, and is an excellent, open spaced structure. Mr. Howell is looking for tenant. If you know someone interested in a great space that can be arranged to meet most any need, ask them to contact Howell Construction. They too will be delighted with this building and its future possibilities.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Here We Go Again

Once again we are in the news, this time for being the second highest real estate market in the country when measured by how fast home prices are rising - can you believe Bradenton is first?

While speculators think this is wonderful news (and real estate agents might think likewise), the more you think about this, the more you wonder how good this trend is. A look at the CNN story about this shows that Sarasota is 17th in the country when measured by median home price. At $326K, Sarasota trails 6 CA cities, Honolulu and a handful of large metro areas.

Compare this to a study about the effect of second homes on the economy of a resort city (Vail in this case). Among other things it seems that rapidly rising home prices are changing the community and the economy. Vail is seeing the emergence of three communities:
  • Those that own homes
  • Those that build the homes and provide service to the home owners
  • Those workers that serve the tourists

The home owners are mostly part year residents, thus increasing the effect of the seasonal swing in the local economy; the resort workers are increasingly foreign workers that work only for the season; and the local people that build the homes and provide services to the home owners struggle to find places to live in the local area.

This appears to be a story similar to what is happening in Sarasota. Home prices are high and rapidly rising. Homes are only affordable to people looking for a second home. Year round residents struggle to find affordable housing (unless you were lucky enought to have bought a home years ago). We are trying to diversify our economy, but success is difficult to achieve - although hope springs eternal. The attractiveness of our resort and cultural amenities attracts people with money and a desire to live (part time?) in a great, small city. Meanwhile the speculators are happy to try their luck at profiting in a "hot" market.

Sarasota and Manatee home growth also is driven by demand from people working in the Tampa area but wanting a better place to live - smaller city, more livable. Classic bedroom community.

We need to be aware of the changes that are happening and the implications of these changes to our current lifestyle. In a period of great change, many unforeseen changes will occur. We hope our leaders and planners are up to the task of thinking about the long range implications of the decisions they make or do not make today.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

What is “Old Florida”?

Below is a vision for the new version of "old Florida", a least that is what this advertisement claims. We all know how the marketing people try to create a vision in the potential buyer’s mind, a vision of a perfect world, a perfect place and a perfect time. A vision they hope you will "buy" into, literally.

While this particular vision may suck in some northerners, after you live here a while, you get a little tense when you see these ads or the start of a new monstrous building that restricts the view for all but a few, that leaves little room for native shade, is hard and glitzy, and makes everything look Disney perfect.

Old Florida, a slower time, brings a vision of grand oaks covered with moss and lots of shade, lazy, meandering water ways, single story homes, maybe up on pillars, down towns that served residents - not three month visitors. Well, you get the picture.

Today, Florida - at least along the coast - has changed dramatically. We have seen high growth, dramatic building booms and changing requirements for homes and buildings. We have closed off the outdoors. People have an indoor lifestyle. The Sarasota School of Architecture fit modern style homes into the environment surrounding the home. Inside and outside were connected in a seamless fashion, the environment was celebrated. Old Florida had a similar kind of style - homes were in scale with the surroundings; while there was a need for cooling and shade, this was found through design elements including roof overhangs, clerestory windows and cupolas to give air circulation, as well as trees. While we cannot go back to the past, there are truths that we can hang onto, visions of what could be and of course many lessons that should be learned.

Looking at the ad that claims "Guided by a Duany Plater-Zyberk master plan, an exciting new version of "old Florida" is rising on the historic (Fort Myers) downtown waterfront", makes one wonder what will become of Florida. I doubt this vision is even distantly connected to Duany's vision, let alone "old Florida". Is this just marketing hyperbole, or is it someone’s real understanding of a brave new world?

If this is to be the new, "old Florida", it is a sad future that is in our vision.

The new look of "old Florida"?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Refloating the Conference Center?

The proposed bayfront location for the proposed conference center has re-surfaced.

Apparently Tim Clarke, from the Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the Sarasota Economic Development Corp. and asked their support for the downtown bayfront location. City Commissioner Mary Ann Servian and County Commissioner Nora Patterson sit on the board of the Economic Development Corp.

When it came time to vote on Mr. Clarke’s proposal, Commissioners Servian and Patterson abstained. The remaining members of the board voted for the proposal.

Save Our Sarasota is strongly opposed to the downtown bayfront location - it is a very poor use for one of our last remaining great public spaces. In our discussions and talks with a wide variety of residents of Sarasota, we receive overwhelming indications that these people agree that a convention/conference center should not be located on public bayfront property.

We think that the reason the Chamber is continuing down this rocky road is that they know that funding for a privately owned site will make the whole convention/conference center idea a very tough sell, likely tougher than grabbing the choicest piece of public property available in Sarasota. This latest effort to grab public property should again be quickly sunk.

We appreciate our elected commissioners stance on preserving this bayfront property for the benefit of all of Sarasota’s residents.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bay Water

At the commission meeting Monday, new Commissioner Ken Shelin commented on discussions he has recently had with Dr. K. Mahadevan, President of Mote Marine. As Commissioner Shelin reported, Dr. Mahadevan shares a concern about the water quality of Sarasota Bay. While this interest may have recently surfaced because of the infrastructure failures at the Hudson Bayou pumping station, there was an offer from Mote to conduct periodic water quality sampling and testing in and near Hudson and Whitaker Bayous.

Both of these bayous receive storm water runoff from a wide drainage area and have been the focus of study by the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program as well as Mote Marine. Both bayous also have toxic sediments that have been there for a long time and are related to lead in gasoline, pesticides, boat anti-fouling chemicals and other causes. Mote would conduct additional studies and compare current results with historical data they have conducted.
It didn’t take Commissioner Shelin long to start asking questions about the health of our "signature" resource - Sarasota Bay. A renewed focus on water quality improvement here would be welcomed.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Laurel Park's Future

Save Our Sarasota supports the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association Board’s position that the recently completed zoning designation RSM-9 is more appropriate for Laurel Park then the DTN zoning being proposed for consideration in the E.A.R. process.

We believe Downtown Neighborhood zoning would increase density and building heights, diminish the neighborhood’s vital tree canopy, increase traffic on narrow streets, hasten the destruction of historic homes, and compromise the quality of life in this residential neighborhood.

A city treasure has been preserved and enhanced by an exemplary neighborhood rehabilitation. We believe rezoning to DTN will jeopardize the great accomplishments that have been achieved in Laurel Park and urge you to retain the RSM-9 zoning.

As an important aside, we note when Andres Duany was last here (meeting with the architects), he made the comment that every ten years you go to the neighborhoods surrounding the urban center and ask if they are ready for more density. [not impose, just ask]. Per Duany's advice, Laurel Park has been asked and they have replied "No!"

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Laurel Park Speaks Out

The following was sent by the President of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association. It clearly indicates the desire of the Laurel Park residents and owners.

Recent postings have discussed the future of Laurel Park. Now that the results of the city's Land Use Survey have been published, we know what residents and owners themselves want for the neighborhood. Survey participants, by a large margin, want to keep the existing RSM-9 zoning, according to results from the city administered Land Use Survey held at Payne Park on April 16.

The city is currently considering the issue of the most appropriate land use classification for Laurel Park as part of its review of the city’s comprehensive plan. Extending the downtown’s "new urban" land use classification to Laurel Park would allow increases in height and density, and possibly more commercial uses.

The survey, which consisted of 18 photos and statements, was designed to measure respondents’ desires for future development in Laurel Park. For example, in addition to one and two story houses, participants were asked to rate the desirability of three story rowhouses, two story live-work arrangements, and so on. Some 85 people took the survey, including resident homeowners, investors, and renters.

According to city figures, 71% of respondents voted to retain RSM-9, Laurel Park’s existing zoning. In addition, participants favored a maximum two stories rather than three, no increase in density, and no new commercial development. The exact questions and percentage figures are as follows:

Land Use Survey Questions
  • I want the City to retain the current RSM-9 zoning that is in place today. 71% YES
  • The number of residential units on individual lots should be increased in Laurel Park. 80% NO
  • I would like to see a limited amount of commercial retail and office development in Laurel Park (i.e. corner stores and offices located in housing structures. 69% NO
  • Non-residential land uses (i.e. offices or stores) should be allowed in historic structures in Laurel Park. 65% NO
  • New buildings in Laurel Park should not exceed two stories in height. 75% YES
  • New apartment buildings should be allowed to be built in Laurel Park. 67% NO

The city’s results do not break out the views of resident homeowners as a separate category, but the survey did ask participants whether they had a homestead exemption. As a group, homeowner residents voted even more strongly in favor of retaining the existing RSM-9 zoning, along with its lower height, lower density, and residential nature.

The city will continue its comprehensive plan review process--of which Laurel Park is just one element--through the summer. Public hearings will be held on June 22 (the Planning Board) and July 25 (the City Commission.)

Kate Lowman, President, Laurel Park Neighborhood Association