Thursday, September 29, 2005

Is Pineappple Square a Square Deal?

Apparently the Isaacs want the city to give them the State Street parking lot along with that portion of State St between Pineapple and Orange. In return the city will get 350 public parking spaces.

The city is currently negotiating with the Isaacs to see if a “deal” can be made. The city has decided to bypass their original decision to issue a “Request for Proposals” for the State St lot from interested developers that would include 350 public parking spaces on that site along with retail and stay within the new downtown code requirements. Since rescinding this decision, the city decided to instead negotiate directly with the Isaacs to see if an agreement could be reached.

Save Our Sarasota would like to make sure that the city considers the following issues in this negotiation process. Too many times in the recent past, problems have resulted in the “public-private” partnership proposals and the use of TIF funds. We would like assurance that all issues are fully accounted for prior to completion of negotiations.

Currently the city has 137 parking spaces on the State St lot. For comparison purposes, what would it cost the city to build a parking garage and add 213 spaces?

The appraised value of this lot (for” highest and best use”) is reported at $8M. There is discussion concerning the value of the requirement for 350 parking spaces, e.g., what is the cost of these required spaces and therefore what is the residual vale of the lot. A figure reported in the SHT is $7.2M as the cost of the parking spaces. (or $20,571 per space). The appraiser also has indicated that with the requirement that the parking be provided, the value of the lot is $6.4M. How the math works here is anyone’s guess.

We would suggest that the city go back to the RFP process and determine what anyone, including the Isaacs, would be willing to give for this lot. Make this an open process, not a closed negotiating process ending with a take or leave it “term sheet”, with the developer saying if you don’t take it now, the window of opportunity will be gone.

An alternative would be to auction the lot, unencumbered, to the highest bidder (minimum bid is $8M) and use these proceeds to build 350 parking spaces near by. Some could be included in Pineapple Square if the developer and the city can agree on the quantity and price.

Currently the city has approximately 17,800 parking places downtown, with a peak usage of 10,900. This leaves 7000 excess parking spaces. Why do we need 350 public spaces inside of Pineapple Square? This will surely be a big benefit to the Isaacs, but what is the benefit to Sarasota. Remember we already have the 137 spaces in the State St lot, and there are spaces on that portion of State that could be vacated. What is the justification for 350 spaces inside of Pineapple Square?

Apparently the Methodist Church has negotiated for approximately 300 spaces for their use as part of the deal that allows the Isaacs the use of Methodist lot on State. Possibly the city could negotiate with the Methodists to use some of their parking during time when the Methodists are not using the full 300 spaces.

The questions are how much parking does the city really need? Where is it needed? What would it cost to fulfill these needs? A Downtown Parking Master plan has been completed but not yet discussed, debated or accepted. We open processes to discuss and answer these questions. It is not good practice to listen only to one developer’s proposal.

If the city moves forward with the Isaac’s negotiation, we would like to see an accounting of alternative concepts for the state St lot. For example, what would be the benefit to the city, say over 20 years, if this lot were sold and it was developed with condos (and met all downtown code requirements). The cost of finding parking spaces could be calculated. Then the resulting economic benefit to the city could be compared to the Isaac’s proposal. In all business investment decisions, many scenarios are evaluated to assure the best value. We cannot understand why the city would not consider alternative scenarios when evaluating the Pineapple Square proposal.

Then there is the street vacation question. Or, as the Isaacs would like it to be thought of, as an “easement for pedestrian travel”. The questions here are:

Will the entire street be used for pedestrian travel, or will buildings occupy the edges of the current street?

And what about the air space above the street, will this be given to the developer or will he have to pay for its use?

Using the square footage of this street section (13,583 sq ft) and the State St appraisal value ($164/sq ft) gives a value of $2.2M. It seems inappropriate to give this away.

We would like to see a full accounting of the economics of this deal and hope a fair value can be secured for the city, not a lopsided deal.

Candidates in Colorado

The following was printed in today's Vail Daily:

County administrator search down to three

September 29, 2005EAGLE - It's almost decision time.

After whittling down a pool of 99 candidates, the top three applicants for the Eagle County administrator's job will come in Thursday final interviews.

The final candidates for the job include the current city manager of Sarasota, Fla., the former director of Denver International Airport, and the assistant city manager of Henderson, Nev.

The top candidates are:

  • Michael McNees, 50, city manager of Sarasota, Fla. McNees has had a rough summer.Following a pair of sewage spills that collectively dumped nearly 1 million gallons of waste into a nearby bayou, McNees has come under fire from both the public and his city council.While McNees refused his own annual pay raise - nearly $6,000 - and slashed the raises for two department heads following the spills, he nearly lost his job over the incidents. According to reports in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the five-member council voted 3-2 in August to keep McNees on the job. While his support on the council seems shaky, comments on a Web log he's writing - - mostly back the way he's handled aftermath of the sewage spills.Sarasota is a city of about 50,000 people on Florida's west coast, south of Tampa.
  • Bruce Baumgartner, 59. Baumgartner was director of aviation at Denver International Airport from 1998 to 2003. Before that, he had worked in various city departments in Denver. He resigned in early 2003 after John Hickenlooper was elected Denver's mayor.After his career with the city, Baumgartner's most recent job was president of government services for Construction Management and Development Company of Denver. According to Eagle County records, he is currently unemployed.While he was at the airport, Baumgartner was head of a department of about 1,000 people.
  • James H. Mullen, 62. While his application to the county lists him as unemployed at the moment, his name, photo and profile are still on the Web site for the Henderson, Nev. city government.According to that profile, Mullen was hired by Henderson in 2003. Before that, Mullen was the Colorado Springs City Manager from 1996 to 2002, and was county executive for Prince William County, Va., from 1990 to 1996.Mullen holds a masters degree in public administration from the University of Colorado and is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

The Job:

Pay: Between $90,000 - $130,000 per year, plus benefits.
Annual budget: About $80 million
Employees: About 350
Responsibilities include: Chief budget officer, ultimate boss of all county departments, making the commissioners' policy decisions happen.

Narrowing the field

The top job at the county opened up in April following the resignation of Jack Ingstad. Ingstad was recently hired for a similar job in Plumas County, Calif.

Since Ingstad's resignation, Keith Montag, head of the county's planning department, has held the top job.

The county posted the job opening in June, and hired The Mercer Group, a Greeley-based company, to sift through the first wave of applications.

The Mercer Group narrowed the field to 10, then forwarded that group of candidates to Eagle County. From there, the county commissioners and other officials narrowed the field to six, then to three.

The commissioners will conduct the final interviews and will make the decision on which of the three is offered the job, said Nora Fryklund, Eagle County director of human resources.

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


What's the climate like in Eagle County, Colorado?

That's where City Manager Mike McNees is short listed for the County Administrator position.

We heard that it snowed in the mountain passes yesterday (Vail) although a quick check showed the snow base was zero at the resorts.

What about the political climate? Here's something that was published recently in the Vail Daily:

EAGLE COUNTY — Former County Administrator Jack Ingstad has a new job. It looks a lot like the old one.

Ingstad has been named the new county administrator for Plumas County, a rural, mountainous and budding second-home haven in northeast California.

“We only interviewed him one time and it didn’t take long to realize he was a perfect fit for our county and the office,” said Bill Dennison, chairman of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, similar to Eagle County’s commissioners.

Ingstad resigned his post as Eagle County’s chief executive in April after six years on the job. In his resignation announcement Ingstad said it was time for him to pursue new career opportunities. Some, including Commissioner Tom Stone, believed Ingstad was pushed out of his job by Democratic Commissioners Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi.

Ingstad worked largely under fiscally conservative and Republican-dominated boards until Runyon was elected to the board last year. Menconi and Runyon denied Stone’s claims, adding they were surprised by Ingstad’s resignation.

Eagle County is still searching for a replacement. Ingstad has remained in the area since resigning. Reached via e-mail, Ingstad said he at one time considered moving to a large city and possibly returning to a public-relations-type of job, similar to what he did earlier in his career. After considering several opportunities, Ingstad opted for a place and a job much like the one he had in Eagle County, he said.

“Quality of life was the key,” Ingstad said. “When I felt the connection with the (Plumas County) supervisors, I knew it was the right decision.”He and his wife, Mary, will move to California soon. Ingstad’s first day in his new post will be Friday, Dennison said.

Plumas County is about an hour north of Lake Tahoe. The county has about 22,000 people. Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, Plumas County has forests, lakes, meadows and increasing second-home development, Dennison said.

Ingstad’s experience working in a growing resort community made him an ideal candidate, he said. Ingstad said he will miss Eagle County.“The county and the commissioners have been so good to me,” Ingstad said. “But I’m also excited that I have found another piece of heaven — Plumas County. The day after my final interview, Mary and I were sitting in the pines thinking we had died and gone to heaven. California, here I come.”

The political climate in Eagle County may be cooler than the ski forecast.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A View of the Past

An editorial in today's SHT commented on the educational and fund raising effort held by the The Historical Society of Sarasota County:

In a downtown where newness announces itself with the roar of bulldozers, old Sarasota spoke quietly but eloquently Saturday.

In the shadow of construction cranes, on a green and sleepy patch of property that's scheduled for redevelopment, a crowd listened raptly to the story of Sarasota's oldest surviving home and the people who built it.

The 1880s structure, known as the Bidwell-Wood house, stands next to the Crocker church, a turn-of-the-century charmer that so far has withstood the march of time and termites. The Historical Society of Sarasota County is trying to raise money to move and restore both buildings, which are in the way of a planned condo/retail project along Cocoanut Avenue.

The Crocker Church and the Bidwell-Wood house are reminders of our past. Linkages to a simpler day, yet complicated in a different way.

The structures survive, the stories are still told. But they need our help to live for the next generation.

Contact the Historical Society.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Negotiating, Winning and Losing

Most people involved in negotiation and mediation know that in these processes if you have a winner and a loser, then you really have two losing parties. The "losing" party will never accept the "loss" and as a result the "winning" party will never really win.

Experienced negotiators know that each side needs to come away with something. Seldom is there an issue that cannot be resolved with both sides ending in a "winning" position by virtue of gaining acceptance of their highest priority position by the opposing side. When this happens, both parties find ways to support the solution and the end result is often better than if one side won and the other side lost.

When a "win-win" can be found, the issue not only goes away but the solution is quickly implemented and everyone recognizes the solution as an example of the excellent result available when everyone works together.

When we look at the Burns Square decision, we find a "win-lose" solution. The Burns Square property owners worked hard to implement their desired re-zone classification - DTE. They were able to convince three commissioners that they deserved to win. They won.

On the other side, all the citizens, planning staff and civic leaders that worked hard to find a downtown vision that everyone could buy into, then worked hard to find a re-zoning plan that would make the vision a reality, now find they are "losers." All their hard work, time and effort has been negated by the Burns Square vote of three commissioners. The citizens lost.

These citizens have not bought into the "solution" and it is unlikely they ever will. Instead, human nature prevails and they will either withdraw from further participation or they will find other ways to oppose the decision and the decision makers.

This is especially true since there were a number of ways to find a "win-win" solution for this particular issue. Instead, we have a decision that clearly picked one side and ignored the arguments of the other side. This is a classic "win-lose" solution.

This is not good for our community and it will cause further problems. A significant segment of the community will not buy into the re-zoning decision that has been made. Sarasota citizens deserve better decision making. Our community depends on leaders that can find "win-win" solutions.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Will You Sue?

It’s sued if you do and sued if you don’t.

City commissioners recently caved in to that threat and blindsided Laurel Park residents by allowing 10-story buildings in the supposed buffer zone between the residential community and commercial buildings in the Burns Court area.

So says the editorial on this week's Pelican. The Pelican has also noted:

When Sarasota’s City Commission caved in to threats of lawsuits last week and rezoned Burns Square to allow new 10-story buildings, it may have whittled away the last layer of that human scale tourists and locals alike most relish downtown.

After years of public hearings, further studies and meetings, meetings and more meetings, the city commission finally made a second – and final – vote on the new Downtown Master Plan. Commissioners had made every effort to hear from residents, business people, developers and anyone else who chose to appear.

Then, in an abrupt about face, the commission decided that the Burns Court area, previously to be zoned as lower density Downtown Edge, would move “up” to Downtown Core, allowing buildings up to 10 stories, twice the height proposed for the historic area abutting the residential neighborhood of Laurel Park.

Of course, that could be considered a victory in a way. Some of the property owners in that charming historic area wanted 20-story buildings – and were threatening to sue to get them.

Some commissioners indicated that threats of lawsuits swayed their thinking and pushed them toward siding with the small property owners' group. What is the truth here? While we all know about the threats of being sued, but how realistic were those threats in the face of the overhelming community support for the recommended zoning. Maybe City Attorney Fournier can enlighten us. We will ask.

Meanwhile, the material below is from a pamphlet "A Citizen's Guide to the Nuts and Bolts of Florida's Growth Management Process", published by 1000 Friends of Florida. This is enlightening.

Private Property Rights

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. From a number of court decisions we know that government can usually keep owners from building in wetlands, impose zoning regulations, protect endangered species habitat, require exactions (such as requiring impact fees or land to mitigate impacts) and apply building codes without having to pay compensation.

The cases also show that government can impose temporary building moratoria for a good public reason, such as to develop plans or new regulations.

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. Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature that, as a separate and distinct cause of action from the law of takings, the Legislature herein provides for relief, or payment of compensation, when a new law, rule, regulation, or ordinance of the state or a political entity in the state, as applied, unfairly affects real property."

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.

Note the bold text [editor's emphasis] above, this seems to indicate that when valid planning reasons exist, a local government can strengthen land use regulations.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Thinking of Sarasota

WalMart in Sarasota
One Nation Under Wal-Mart. In his irreverent new book, journalist John Dicker reveals the super-high social costs of Wal-Mart's super-low prices.

"You've never been able to get rich working in a store as a clerk, but there used to be more of a middle ground. What you see in retail now is a certain bifurcation. On the high end, you have Whole Foods or Wild Oats, the kind of frou-frou markets where I have a piece of squash on layaway. On the lower end you have Wal-Mart."

Retailing in Sarasota
Architecture, retailing, sense of place, just what we alk about here. The Death of Marshall Fields and the Dissolution of the Sense of Place.

"In the end, if the alternative is to make things available more cheaply and efficiently, unique local character may seem an anachronistic luxury, but its loss is an assault on America's future. Creativity comes, not out of uniformity and constricted choice, but out of the range of possibility that only variety can provide."

Dining in Sarasota
"Next time you are out for dinner on a business trip, you may find that the food on your plate has traveled further than you have. Choosing between the locally farmed chicken or the New Zealand venison from the menu can help the environment."

For instance, while on a business trip to Canada, ordering a steak that has been flown across the Pacific from New Zealand will contribute three kilos of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the environment.

Locally produced fresh food and seasonal produce make environmental and economic sense. Local people are supported and greenhouse gasses are reduced.

Planning for Growth
Best-laid growth plans often just gather dust or can we learn from Idaho (spud country).

Why do plans fail?

1. No money to carry out recommendations. Plans are relatively inexpensive to put together and by their nature encourage visionary or blue-sky scenarios. For instance, this year's $637,000 Downtown Mobility Study called for $100 million in downtown transportation improvements but offered no specifics on how to pay.

2. Leadership and visions change. Short-term governing and long-range planning do not go together. Every two or four years, mayors, council sand commissioners change. But plans are written for 10, 15 and 20 years.

3. The plan isn't enforceable. Good intentions do not get plans implemented. How many city and county officials campaign on a promise to encourage sprawl? [I would add good intentions and citizen input last only until the next election.]

4. Goals are vague or unrealistic. Some [of the]Boise Visions recommendations were specific, like creating a parks and recreation plan. Others were vague, like "develop and maintain public infrastructure in a manner which supports an upwardly mobile population and work force." [Do we have any like this?]

5. Incorrect or poor data. Planning for growth requires accurate growth forecasting — not just how many people are coming, but where they will live and work. [How many luxury condos can downtown support?]

College Master Plans in Sarasota
Maybe some guiding thoughts for New College, RSAD and USF-Sarasota as they contemplate campus master plans.

"A nearly century old plan with ample open space and clusters of academic buildings enlightens the campus plan for a new century.

Inspired by the unrealized 1908 plan for the University of Wisconsin, the planning firm Ayers/Saint/Gross is creating a campus plan for the 21st century. Springboarding from a plan developed during the City Beautiful movement. ASG is expanding and redefining the best elements of university campuses. The new plan will provide an aesthetic framework emphasizing architectural interplay and open spaces within which traditional or contemporary structures may be developed."

Planning in Sarasota
A little something for our Planning Staff to enjoy.

"In Fallen, [David Maine] takes another tack: the technique, almost as old as Methuselah, of telling the story in flashback. The first chapter begins with the aged Cain waiting to die, reflecting on a ghostly visit by his murdered brother.

As in The Preservationist, Maine also tells part of the story through a minor participant in the better-known tale. We get an early look at Cain through the eyes of his son Henoch (spelled Enoch in many versions of the Bible). Cain and Abel are bywords for murderously feuding siblings, but Henoch?

Elaborating on a brief reference in Genesis to one of the world's first settlements, Maine writes that ``Henoch the man had not designed Henoch the city. Cain had done so, from his hidden lair. Henoch had merely carried out his instructions. The boulevards and bazaars and palaces and plazas were all Cain's doing.''

The idea is intriguing: Cain, the murderer doomed by God's mark on his face to be shunned by all humanity, as the world's first urban planner."

Taxing in Sarasota
The SHT has a great graphical tool for checking your neighbors' taxes. Go to this site and click on the map. Zoom in to street level and you can click on the colored dots to see property valuations and taxes.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Response to Commissioner Shelin

Response to Commissioner Shelin’s comments:

During the downtown re-zoning process, the Planning Staff noted (from the discussion matrix):

Recognizing that there are distinctive areas within downtown (e.g., Burns Court/Herald Square and Rosemary District) where new development must be particularly sensitive to its surroundings, consider creation new zoning districts or using overlay districts to establish standards and/or incentives to enhance compatibility and the preservation of historic resources.

Mindful that the community has gone through a long and thoughtful process, which is intended to change the character of this area, no change to the proposed zoning map is recommended.[indicating Down Town Edge is clearly preferred].

Commissioner Shelin has stated:

The City Commission, as I've said, has an obligation to take into account the views and needs of all its constituencies and the property owners in Burns Court have made their views known through many months of public hearings. They have asked for continuing the use of C-CBD which we can't do because of the adoption of the downtown master plan and code. They've asked for Downtown Bayfront which is clearly inconsistent with the new code, Duany's transect theory, and our desire to downzone the area.

But, they have vested interests in Burns Court and their own properties just as property owners in Laurel Park, Gillespie Park and elsewhere in the city. And we have an obligation to be responsive to them. We have struck a balance, in my view, between the desires of the neighborhoods adjacent to and outside Burns Court and those of Burns Court.

We would remind Commissioner Shelin that the entire downtown was "down zoned". That was the point in the entire process. Under the old code, downtown property owners (CCBD zoning) could expect 18 story buildings. Under the new Master Plan and Downtown Core zoning, the limit is 10 stories. Nobody suffered unduly. This was the desire of the community.

The plan clearly states that building heights (zoning allowance) should be reduced as one moves further from the downtown core. This is the transect model for zoning.

Given this, we do not understand, nor agree with, Commissioner Shelin’s arguments for giving the Burns Square property owners the up-zoning, or zoning bonus, that was clearly not agreed to in the citizen and Planning staff approved Master Plan and zoning recommendations. This is not a question of striking a balance between neighborhoods. This is a question of giving in to a small group of property owners instead of listening to the entire community and listening to our staff. It is not a case where one small group disagrees with staff and argues their position. This is a case where the entire community agrees with staff and a small group of property owners has succeeded in getting their way.

Clear options are available to assure the desirable, unique characteristics of the Burns Square area remain, while respecting the property owner values. Changing the zoning to Downtown Core is not one of these options. No balance was struck. Clearly the process was violated and the imbalance that was created is very disappointing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Letter From Afar

This letter to the editor appears in the current edition of the Pelican Press.


From afar, I read the newspapers in Sarasota with great interest online. I used to live in Sarasota in the 1990s and still have family roots and property there. I am stunned at the recent articles and happenings surrounding the Sarasota City Commission and their actions related to the Burn’s Court Downtown Edge Zoning situation. I guess the $250,000 of taxpayers’ funds spent on the Duany Plan, plus the four years of planning staff time, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours put in by the voters in Sarasota (of which I was one) that cared enough to participate in the “process,” don’t matter.

It appears now that all of that financial investment did not count at all, in light of the unfounded change in zoning after a 5-year well-documented public process. I guess our current city commissioners must all have done their prep-time as public officials with the New Orleans Levee Board in Louisiana.

My advice to the commissioners? Run – don’t walk – to your next city commission meeting, apologize and just attribute your recent decisions to drinking the water in the city. We would believe that due to the recent sewage spills that no-one bothered to tell you about. Maybe those same people forget to tell you there was a public planning process that we all sat through.

What did they call the City of New Orleans? The “Big Easy”? I guess that is now more true for Sarasota. In Sarasota - they just call it “Easy Zoning.”

Jeanne Golden

Eagle Landing?

Today's SHT story about City Manager McNees being on a "top three" candidate list at Eagle, Colorado, is not a surprise, although new details are now known.

A check of the Eagle County website gives some information about the issues they face and the kind of manager they are looking for:

Eagle County residents are mindful of the impact of growth and development upon their natural resources and quality of life in this mostly rural mountain valley. At the same time, there is a natural tension because so many residents earn their livelihood from the thriving development of tourism. The linear expansion of resort, commercial and residential development along I-70 and the Eagle River contributes to changes in traffic and commuting patterns.

One of the issues gaining attention, for example, is the availability of affordable housing for a growing sector of service employees. Construction of new homes accounts for nearly half the employment base, and affordable housing is not proportionate to the growth in second homes. Second homes constitute about half the dwelling units in Eagle County.

Remind you of somewhere close by us?

Or maybe this upcoming resolution advertised on the website:

Resolution Authorizing the Adoption of a Temporary Moratorium on all Zone Change Applications that Would Result in More Residential Dwelling Units Per Acre than the Present Governing Zone District Allows, and all Zone Change Applications that Would Result in Commercial or Industrial Uses-by-Right on Property that is Presently Zoned for Agricultural or Residential Uses

Ah yes, growth problems, affordable housing, commuting traffic, seasonal, tourist economy, all of this this sounds quite familiar.

What does the County Administrator do in Eagle County? Check here for an impressive list of duties.

Finally, consider this interesting comment from their "position profile" for the administrator position:

The level of education and experience of many full- and part-time residents is high as is their record of entrepreneurial accomplishment. By many measures, this is part of the “creative class” given credit for much innovation, economic and cultural advancement nationwide. While this can be vexing sometimes to local officials, The Eagle County electorate can be a resource for the County to excel in new ideas, delivery of services and continued contributions to the high quality of life.

Vexing citizens. Hmmmm......

An Invitation

You are invited to a neighborhood conversation about Red Tide and the Gulf's dead zone hugging our coastline.

We have the longest running stretch of Red Tide, 10 months, and people have noticed. They care. They want to know more. They want to know what they can do. And since we've all contributed to this crisis, we can all do something about it.

And, we all want to know what city, county and state governments are doing and will be doing in the future to save the local waterways, Bay and Gulf. We all need to know more. Let's share what we do know. On this issue, the health of the Gulf of Mexico, we are all in the same boat.

Allan Horton, long time resident, naturalist and writer, has kindly accepted an invitation to moderate this discussion so we can blend the passion and the facts and point ourselves towards creative solutions and, hopefully, conservation and restoration of the water we love and enjoy. In fact, Sarasota wouldn't be Sarasota without this luscious, fertile resource. Please join in this important conversation which we expect will lead to more and larger public forums.

When & Where:
Metro Cafe on Osprey & Brother Geenan,
Thursday, September29 at 7 pm.

We're grateful to Betsy, owner of Metro, for offering the space.

Submitted by Jude Levy

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Letter to Lou Ann

Lou Ann, [Commissioner Lou Ann Palmer]

I commend you for sticking to your guns on having this huge project [Pineapple Square] reviewed by the CRA Advisory Board. It is truly the right thing to do, and it is unfortunate that your fellow Commissioners did not see fit to follow your lead.

I think in the end their decision will backfire.

As for the project itself, I have followed it closely, and there are numerous unanswered questions. While the project appears to be a very nice one, there are serious economic ramifications which need to be studied closely,with a detailed Economic Impact Analysis, certified Appraisals and Valuations of the Lemon/State Street site, the street vacation, infrastructure needs, etc.

I trust that you will see that these items are looked into. In addition, the size and extent of this proposal could have a serious impact on the overall quality of life for the City. You know how I feel about parking garages and creating more spaces for more cars. We have had several discussions on this, and I truly feel that it is the entirely wrong approach.

More people downtown, yes, but NOT more cars!!!

As an aside, I have an even greater concern for the continuous lack of Affordable/Workforce Housing both in the City and the County, leading us to becoming an "elitist" community, soon approaching no housing availability,both purchase and rental, for our service workers, and others less fortunate.

Sorry that I got a little lengthy with this, but again, thanks for hanging in there on the CRA Advisory Board issue.

All the best.

Joe Barbetta

About "Save Our Sarasota™"

Occasionally we need to remind everyone (including ourselves) about our mission:

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)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Letter From Home

From time to time we receive letters from people and we post them on this blog. Here is a recent letter:

Dear Mayor and Commissioners,

Please reconsider your decision to change the zoning in downtown Sarasota (Burns Court).

Please keep the 5 story cap on buildings.

I have lived and worked indowntown Sarasota for over eleven years, and though I welcome change, I feel you are destroying our pretty, little city. The noise and congestion are becoming overwhelming.

Most people come to this area for the sea, sun, and beautiful weather. With all the large, tall buildings going up, eventually you will block out the sun, blue skies, and fresh air. I'm afraid the congestion will become so bad that people will stop coming downtown, taking away business from myself and the small businesses I have come to love.

With Sarasota and Manatee counties growing outward as rapidly as they are, why would anyone want to drive into this city, fight traffic and parking problems, when they can get what they need right around the corner from their house. The people who live in the downtown district are not the only people who patronize this district. Please take in account everyone in both counties when reconsidering your decision.

Mr. Bilyeu - I voted for you because you came to my front door and asked me for my vote. (I still have your green/blue/white magnet on my refrigerator.) You told me you would work hard and do great things for me and this city.You are not keeping up your end of the bargain. If this new zoning stays in place and the out-of-control growth of this city continues, you will not have my vote again.

We don't need another New York or another Miami. What we need is our charming, small, personal, little Sarasota.

Thank you for your time,

Sarasota resident

Commissioner Shelins Responds

Below is City Commissioner Ken Shelin's response to Save Our Sarasota's recent Open Letter to him:

I value your support and ideas and I apologize for not responding to you sooner. I was out of town part of this past week trying to help a client on the east coast in major regulatory trouble.

As you know, I have been involved in the downtown code development and rezoning almost from the beginning, first as a member of the City Planning Board and now as a member of the City Commission. This process has been a very public process from the beginning to the end. It has been challenged both in court and during public hearings. The process for it has been debated openly and often and the rezoning delay just this year resulted from a need to amend the city code to assure we could do the rezoning legislatively and legally instead of property by property. Elaborate matrixes were developed at every stage documenting the staff, Planning Board, Commission and public comments on the code itself as well as the areas to be rezoned as the process moved along. The Commission has been responsive to concerns about the rezoning and in the case of Rosemary District we have delayed the rezoning in order to deal with major issues there. I hope that doesn't last long because it leaves Rosemary in limbo. In Gillespie Park, individual property owners came to us and wanted to expedite the process for their individual properties and we did that.

You have been successful in business because you have been responsive to your customers' needs. And you know that while you have unique and special knowledge about your business, in the end, the customers needs must be satisfied and those needs will vary from customer to customer. It is the same with government. We have many constituencies and a balance must be struck amongst them. I have been especially sensitive to Laurel Park. I supported its current zoning which de-intensifies land use in it and will likely lead to gradually decreasing density there over time. I also instigated the buffer adjacent to it to protect it. But, I must point out that this neighborhood has led the way in rejuvenating itself while being surrounded by C-CBD zoning for about 30 years, the most intense zoning in terms of use, height and density in the city. The recent downzoning in Burns Court would not logically lead to a conclusion that Laurel Park is at risk from the zoning there.

As you point out, the city is changing and as I said throughout my campaign, Sarasota is becoming a compact and cosmopolitan city. And I think it is especially important to manage that change carefully. To that end I have supported downzoning of Burns Court and that is what we have done. The City Commission, as I've said, has an obligation to take into account the views and needs of all its constituencies and the property owners in Burns Court have made their views known through many months of public hearings. They have asked for continuing the use of C-CBD which we can't do because of the adoption of the downtown master plan and code. They've asked for Downtown Bayfront which is clearly inconsistent with the new code, Duany's transect theory, and our desire to downzone the area. But, they have vested interests in Burns Court and their own properties just as property owners in Laurel Park, Gillepsie Park and elsewhere in the city. And we have an obligation to be responsive to them. We have struck a balance, in my view, between the desires of the neighborhoods adjacent to and outside Burns Court and those of Burns Court. As for Burns Court itself, it has had C-CBD zoning for over 30 years allowing for 18 story buildings throughout it. That zoning did not result in the construction of 18 story buildings or the degradation of the essential character of the area. Downzoning of the area does not logically lead me to a conclusion that Burns Court will be placed at increased risk - downzoning should decrease the risk.

As for the voting result and the way in which the vote took place, there had been multiple occasions when the City Attorney had publicly advised us on how the process would work and that changes could be made to the staff recommendation. In fact, the City Attorney had advised us that if we felt changes were desired they would more easily be made before the vote than after. We had had multiple public discussions about Burns Court including public presentations during public hearings that took a different view than the staff recommendation. As you know, we don't have to accept the staff recommendation. And the public often encourages both the Planning Board and the Commission not to do just that when they disagree with it.

My hope is that we can understand and accept differences of opinion. There is seldom a right way or a wrong way in matters such as these. It isn't helpful to demonize people or their motives in these discussions. I know and accept that differences in perspective create differences in beliefs, but I also strongly believe, as I know you do, that we all have a right to be heard and to expect our government to be responsive to us regardless of who we are.

I hope we can continue to work together discussing our differences along the way as they might occur.

Ken Shelin

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Signal of Apathy

"LIDO KEY — Sandra Danu stood in the heat outside Mote Marine Laboratory early Wednesday hoisting signs about threats facing the Gulf of Mexico and the people living along its rim.

“Are you satisfied now?” one read.

The sign was aimed at the high-level elected officials she expected to attend the Gulf of Mexico Alliance workshop, but only state and local agency staff showed up, said Danu, who was there representing the environmental group Save Our Sarasota.

Danu wanted to know if the officials were satisfied with a dying Gulf of Mexico, one threatened by red tide, declining fish stocks and dying sea turtles and marine mammals.

“We’re trying to have this message resonate up to the highest level where these meetings were initiated,” Danu said.

It couldn’t resonate at the local level."

That's because none (that's right none) of our local leaders attended. Read the entire story in the SHT.

The SHT also commented twice in editorials about this meeting. One commented on the health crisis and the need for funding to look for answers.

The other commented on the obvious lack of local leaders:

"The workshop's waterfront venue overlooked Sarasota Bay and downtown Sarasota. What it lacked was representation by elected officials of the city and county governments.

That sends a signal of apathy."

We all know that everyone here wants a healthy Gulf and Bay and we all realize their significance to our economy, commissioners included.

We would like to know why no commissioners, city or county attended this important event. We would welcome their comments.

Where Is He Headed?

We hear from a good source that City Manager Mike McNees is in the top three on a candidate list for a city manager position in Colorado.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Where Are We Headed?

City leaders want to take meetings on the road says the headline in a story in today's SHT

"The public seems to have a fractured view of us," Servian said.

The working people of Sarasota, "the silent majority," often lack opportunities to participate in local government and so they feel disconnected from it, the commissioners said. Often, elected officials find themselves hearing only the views of activists and special interests.

"We don't realize it's a minority (viewpoint) because we don't seek other points of view," Commissioner Ken Shelin said.

Well guess what? We do think the commission is fractured. Too many mis-steps recently have lead too many people to say "What is going on here? What is happening to Sarasota?"

If the commissioners truly believe it is a minority saying these things, they really do need to hit the road and talk to the constituents. You don't need to have regular meetings, you do need to visit the neighborhoods and ask how we think you are performing. Ask about downtown. Ask about affordable housing. Ask about following the processes that have been established to develop a vision that everyone buys into and how this vision is being implemented, try to convince us that the threat of lawsuits is not shaping our city.

There is lots to talk about.

We would also like to comment on Mike McNees' quote: City Manager Michael McNees told the commissioners Monday. "There is a sense in the outlying areas that they have been left out."

If you think we are in the "outlying area" you need to do some real soul searching. We are every bit a part of the city as downtown. As a matter of fact we "outliers" make up the majority, both in residents and voters. You might want to find out what we think about the city and how it is being run. Maybe the "in crowd" can learn something.

Campus Crusading

Today, many academic institutions are partnering with cities, consulting with neighborhoods, forming citizen advisory groups, and embracing mixed-use developments that blur the edges of campus rather than impose hard boundaries.

It's a case of enlightened self-interest. Corporations and department stores can leave cities with ease, but universities aren't portable. They realize that their fortunes are tied to their immediate environs and to cities as a whole. And they fear they'll lose the race for students and faculty if they can't provide safe, attractive settings in which to live and learn.

"Increasingly, students want it all," says Michael Beyard, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. "They want a top education, but also a top environment. This becomes even more important in a hyper-competitive market.''

This commentary comes from a recently published article in a planning publication.

How does it relate to Sarasota?

Well hold on to your hat. We are about to see an explosion of campus related activity here in Sarasota.

The Ringling School of Art and Design is in the midst of updating their Campus Master Plan as well as an ambitious building and land acquisition plan.

New College is just starting to update their Campus Master Plan. They intend to nearly double their student population and this will require more dorms and class rooms.

USF-Sarasota is in the midst of a building program - just across the border in Manatee County at the Crosley Estate site. USF is also starting to work on their own Campus Master Plan.

New College and USF shared a campus until recently. Now that each has its own campus they both need to have a Master Plan in order to compete for funding.

But there is more.

These schools, along with the city, county, Museum and the airport are close to hiring a consultant to start a process that promises to identify needed elements of an "Educational and Cultural Corridor". This would focus on the North Trail from Bowles Creek (Manatee County) to 10th St in Sarasota. The concept is to formulate a plan to revitalize the North Trail and connect to the cultural, educational and historic resources along this corridor. A renewal of the 1990's Gateway 2000 project that fizzled.

The schools are concerned about the North Trail image as well as the safety of their students and employees. New College also is looking for significant neighborhood input as they try to become more a part of the immediate neighborhood.

Charrettes for the New College Campus Master Plan start this month. The Educational and Cultural Corridor process could start later this fall. Hopefully lots of people will get involved and we will be taken for an enlightened ride.

We will post updates from time to time for those interested.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Advice From the Best

Commissioners, how about some advice from the longest running elected Mayor in the country (especially when you think about becoming an elected mayor yourself)?

"Wisdom, civic pride, and unparalleled experience have helped Joe Riley turn Charleston, SC, into one of America's finest cities."

You cannot overstate the importance of strategic planning of a city. Just as no corporation could compete without a good strategic business plan, no city can begin to achieve its potential without a wise strategic plan that the leadership adheres to. Cities are the ultimate civic creations – they belong to citizens, it’s public realm. It influences the experiences of everyone who touches it every moment of every day.

(Editor’s note: cities are the public realm, they belong to the citizens, if you want to build here, do it our way. And yes, you must follow a wise strategic plan.)

I think what’s happened – and I’m not speaking about L.A. or any city; I’m speaking about America – is we developed rapidly in the 20th century in metropolitan areas, and the notion of civic planning was lost. It was private rather than civic planning, because a landowner would buy a tract of land and then say, "Well, let’s develop it this way." Well, the ownership of land is sacrosanct and the ability to profit from wise ownership and development of land is very important, but if it is to be a permanent part of the ultimate civic gesture, a city, then it should be pursuant to a civic vision, a community vision.

(Editor’s note: not private planning, private vision but civic planning, civic vision community vision!)

It has to be a vision. And it’s not a vision imposed. A good plan is a plan that represents the collective vision of the citizens. And that happens in many ways. That happens from hearings and from various methods of input. You’re simply not a technical or necessarily a specific solution here. You’re seeking a broader vision, and within that broader vision a plan is developed. But if it’s just mediating between competing interests then that’s more of a status quo achievement rather than a visionary achievement

(Editor’s note: It’s not an imposed vision. Your job is not to mediate between competing interests. Your job is to develop and put into place the community vision. If we want status quo, we don’t need you.)

And when the citizens are involved, you encourage people to think about the future: What are the highest aspirations we can have for our neighborhood or our community? What do we love about where we live? What do we want more of? What do we not like so much about where we live? What facets of the physical development – our infrastructure or other development that are less than excellent that we would repair or improve? And so you need a great planning director and then, obviously, the political support. But it’s not self-imposed – you’re not looking for a planning director who’s going to say, "Ah ha! I know the vision for Charleston or Columbus or Los Angeles or Seattle." But rather, "I, working with the elected officials and working with and engaging the community, can help shape that vision and then help recommend the tools and the processes to put it into place."

(Editor’s note: One more time: engage the community, help shape the vision and use good processes to put it in place.)

Excellent advice from an excellent mayor.

Open Letter to City Commissioner Shelin

An Open Letter to City Commissioner Ken Shelin

This letter is written on behalf of a great many city residents who voted for you in the most recent election because you were going to put "process" back into city government. We believe your motion and leadership in rezoning historic Burns Court to Downtown Core was an abrogation of those campaign promises.

An entire community understood there was to be a study of Burns Court zoning and more public input and discussion, after which that area would be readdressed. No one dreamed that on a second reading the zoning would be changed, least of all your supporters, who know you champion "process."

As you would be first to remind us, process is not what is strictly legal/allowed. It is procedures that ensure deliberative, considered, fact-based public decision-making. What happened Wednesday circumvented that process with what looks to a stunned community like a backroom political solution to a complex issue.

We understand that, in part, you were reflecting the concerns of the City attorney as to possible exposure to lawsuits. However, following the process for review that we believed you had put in place would not have jeopardized your legal position. Indeed, two commissioners with much longer tenure on the commission than yours were not worried enough about potential lawsuits to follow your lead, and voted against your proposed changes. They had the courage to follow process. Further, we want to tell you emphatically that many of us would support our taxpayer dollars being used to fight lawsuits that protect our right to make this a great city.

We are told no matter what anyone does, Sarasota is becoming a "city." We know that. But the issue is whether it becomes a "good city," a "great city," or merely "a city." That decision rests with the commissioners. To date, we see only a "city" rising. We want something better.

We have heard too often of the venerable John Nolen’s vision for Burns Court in his 1924 city master plan. However, in that same document he cautioned, "A good plan is one that does not attempt to bind the city too far into the future." If Nolen were here for wise counsel, we believe he would ask you to consult with your current planners. Mr. Duany recommended Downtown Edge for Burns Court with buffers for abutting neighborhoods. The city planning department has consistently supported that recommendation. How could all of that study and process be overturned on a second reading?

If you truly have a sense of the pulse of this community, you will know that voters are close to the point where, as in the movie Network, they threw open their windows and screamed "I’m sick and tired of this and I’m not going to take it any more!"

So, Ken, what we are asking you is, in the interest of process, and respect for those who elected you, to bring this issue back to the table and ask for rescission. We ask this with trust and hope that the Ken Shelin we spoke with on the campaign trail is the Ken Shelin who serves us at the commission table today, tomorrow, and into the future.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Here And There

You might wander over to Joe Moraca's Blog . He's got some interesting comments about Walkable Neighborhoods.

Meanwhile at the City Managers Blog things are getting hotter. He writes:

Is it just me, or is it getting a little warm in here? First, I have to say we're getting pretty close to that civility line, attacks on employees or commissioners aren't really welcome. If there are personnel issues to be dealt with, I will certainly do so in the proper channels, of which a public blog is not one.

Allow me to make a suggestion to Mike - put some nice pictures on your blog, it will give it some diversity and make it more interesting! Maybe something like:

Check the Suncoast Blog for some news and "bright" commentary you might not normally see. Several people (including this writer) are contributing to this blog.

Another of Joe's blogs, Sarasota Neighborhoods, has some great neighborhood pictures and commentary. A friendly place to visit.

And there's the IBSSA Blog - an interesting commentary about one neighborhood in our fair city. West of the trail you know - it must be good.

There is lots of interesting commentary and graphics about life and politics in Sarasota. Check us out.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sudden Sourness

Vinegar indeed!

We couldn't agree more with the SHT editorial Friday concerning the stupefying decision made by a majority of the City Commissioners (Shelin, Atkins, Bilyeu) concerning the Burns Square zoning. After months of discussion, negotiations, resident and neighborhood input and commitment, suddenly three commissioners throw out all the hard work of hundreds of people and reverse the course.

Absolutely astounding.

Commissioner Shelin campaigned on the issue of "process ". Many of us believed his message that the commission at that time had drifted away from an inclusive process - listening to all points of view and making deliberative decisions, in the open, and looking for the best solution for the entire city. He promised to bring process back to the table. However there was no open and inclusive process this time - just the old fashioned back room, arm twisting that favors a few at the expense of many. We are sorely disappointed.

It's also surprising that Commissioner Atkins would support this rapid change in direction. He has always listened to arguments and input made by the public. He admonishes people at times saying "you only show up when you are against something, when are you going to be "for" something, and how about helping in my neighborhood?" Many people gave input on Burns Square. The input was overwhelmingly in favor of preserving the current unique nature of this neighborhood and that the way to accomplish this was to use the downtown edge zoning or look at a specific zoning that what help preserve the character yet listen to the property owners. Commissioner Atkins probably knows best that helping one neighborhood is the best way to get help when you need it. We'd like to think Commissioner Atkins would consider all of Sarasota neighborhoods and not just one small square when making far reaching decisions.

Commissioner Bilyeu has recently brought some persuasive insight to the table. His questions about the Orange Dolphin parking deal were critical. On this issue we think that the long term future of downtown Sarasota requires diversity and uniqueness. Replacing unique sections of our downtown with yet another 10 story condo hardly helps retain the charm we have.

Time after time we hear about a threat of a law suit. We must stop being afraid every time a lawyer says "I will sue". The people of Sarasota have a vision for their downtown. We elect representatives to achieve that vision. Sometimes that requires sticking to the task and not bending to special interests and their threats. We need to follow the processes we have established and if a special interest group threatens to sue, we should say OK and settle the issue in court. Many of us would readily agree to invest our tax dollars in defending the vision we have for a great city. Caving in to the pressure of special interests makes them wealthy and us poor - poor in the sense that we have a bland city, just another city, nothing to celebrate.

We do applaud the efforts of Commissioners Palmer and Servian. They understand the need to find a way through the Burns Square issue that preserves the downtown vision.

These are difficult and far reaching decisions. We must make the right decision. We have said before that making quick decisions (like the reversal on this issue by the other three commissioners) is not the way to run a city. We need better thinking than that. Special interest groups should have their say, but when their interest does not coincide with the community interest they should not be allowed to trump years of input, negotiation and commitment. This was a wrong decision and we hope reconsideration is in our near future.

Otherwise we might as well keep pouring the vinegar. A truly sour taste in Sarasota.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Pineapple Decision Made, Previously

It was apparent that the commissioners had their mind made up about the Pineapple Square proposal before the meeting Tuesday night and before any public input had been taken. They also decided there was no need to have the CRA Advisory Board give them any advice.

No advice from the public (except just before a quick vote to accept the Planning Staff recommendation to start a negotiation process with the Isaac Group), and similarly no advice from the CRA Advisory Board.

The commission did take the advice of John Simon that they did not need to run this by the CRA Advisory Board since no TIF dollars were involved. Of course he wants CRA district land (State St parking lot).

Lou Ann Palmer objected strenuously to not taking the advice of the CRA Advisory Board, but commissioners Servian, Shelin and Billyeu were against this.

John Simon also presented his case that competitive forces required quick action with no delay, and even threw in hurricane Katrina as a factor that would drive up construction costs, so the faster he is allowed to start the better.

While Save Our Sarasota does not think Pineapple Square is a bad project, we are concerned about the rapid pace of the approval process. We have submitted a list of questions we think need to be answered about this proposal, but with limited public input opportunities we think these will likely be brushed aside. If the project is truely good for Sarasota, slowing down to consider the full impact and to make sure design and compatabllity issues are addressed, is important to the entire community.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pineapple Square Decision Time? - or - Has the Decision Already Been Made?

In response to our questions about Pineapple Square, Dale Parks sent the following:

Hi Richard,

Your questions are very valid, and I commend your group for taking the time to articulate them. Process in my opinion, continues to suffer in the "hurry up, this deal may not last" mentality. The Isaacs have never presented their proposed development to the CRA Advisory Board, and I believe the process- as you've pointed out- needs to include input such as this prior to the City Commission committing City land- and most assuredly- City TIF dollars to a deal such as this. Certain Commissioners have already expressed their opinions that their minds are made up- including the issue of vacating a section of State Street. This in my opinion is deplorable, I hope better minds prevail. City Staff and their Developer partners should not be driving this car.

Dale Parks

We too have cautioned against hasty decisions. Our City is blessed to have many well informed residents that serve in various capacities on boards and organizations whose primary goal is to improve our quality of life. We must take advantage of all the input available.

Recent examples of pushing forward in response to developers claims of "time is of the essence" and "if we don't get this property all could be lost" have shown the pitfalls of a "fast-forward" mentality.

Even Abrahmson and Associates, the consultant the City hired to review this proposal says: “further evaluation and negotiation” are needed before that step is taken, despite the developer saying the parcel is essential for his project to go forward.

Apparently planning staff has made up their mind and wishes to move forward - as the Pelican Press noted : city planning staff is asking the commission to give 60 days to negotiate a development agreement – technically called a “term sheet” – with John Simon of Isaac Group Holdings, the developer.

We strongly believe that the City Commissioners needs to proceed with caution and understand all the issues and ramifications before doing another "fast-forward" with the Pineapple Square decision.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Model Improvement

A "model improvement" in understanding downtown Sarasota, at least from a visual perspective may come from a recent series in the Chicago Sun Times concerning changes in downtown Chicago.

When we look for information on the City web page we find this:

No other sources give a good visual depiction of what downtown currently looks like or what is proposed. Something like the graphics published by the Sun Times would go a long way toward helping all of us visualize the changes occurring.

There seems to be much resistance from the City to allow the CRA Advisory Board member, who was specifically selected because of his design expertise, to actually comment on design. What we get to see are the fantasy drawings supplied by the developers which are specifically produced to give a visualization that does not correspond to reality.

It would serve Sarasota well if someone (the City, the media?) would provide realistic visualizations, understandable by all.

The next step would be actual 3- dimensional models, built to scale.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

More Pineapple Square Questions

Save Our Sarasota has had conversations with John Simon, the project manager for the Pineapple Square project, city planning staff associated with this project, city commissioners and various community groups and individuals.These conversations have led to a number of questions that we feel must be answered as this significant downtown proposal is considered. This change will alter the character of downtown for years to come. We must be sure this is the direction the community wants to go.

This is the second in a series that comments and asks questions about this proposed project. The first set of questions was posted on Sep 1.

Height, Stepbacks, Arcades: The views of the building show step-backs on Pineapple but not on Lemon. Why?

The concept shown by Mr Simon showed Pineapple Square at 11 stories in height. What is the rational for asking for this added height and how can it be justified? Do we really want to tamper with the new downtown rezone even before it goes into effect?

Would arcades be allowed at this project, which already is very massive? Shade trees would be problematic if arcades are allowed. Giving away air rights above arcades is also problematic.

Would a wind tunnel be created in the walk way through the building?

Traffic: What would be the traffic patterns for people driving to Pineapple Square? From I-75 they would take Fruitville west to downtown. Which street would cars use to access the parking lot and how would this work? Lemon seems to be the natural street to use. This would be problematic. What are the localized traffic implications of this plan? How would people coming to Pineapple Square from either direction on the US 41 access the parking lot?

Is the alley on the northern edge of the building capable of allowing cars to go to and from the parking area while a truck is pulling into or out of the loading space? Would the businesses on Main Street that rely on servicing from this alley still have adequate space? How would the new loading docks and parking affect access to the existing businesses? It appears there would be a major increase in vehicles using this alley. Could all of the uses be handled?

Unique retail: This project would contain a large percentage of chain retail. If uniqueness, character, and quality are lost, downtown Sarasota becomes just another mall. How does this project encourage and enhance Sarasota’s current high percentage of unique and local businesses?

Seasonal economy: Given the current seasonality issues of Sarasota’s economy, would adding more upscale downtown condos and shopping help or hurt the metropolitan area economy? Specifically, would we lose more of the current, local businesses? Would this make it difficult to achieve the retail requirements for the mid section of Main?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Can the Magic of Harry Save Downtown?

A letter to the editor from developer Harry Rosenblum (Harry Plotter?) claims to have the answer for the Burns Square "neighborhood." According to Rosenblum, Burns Square will be saved if the city allows 10 story buildings with 50 units per acre density instead of the agreed upon (DTE zoning) 5 story height limit with 25 units per acre density.

He would have us believe that: "DTE (Down Town Edge) codes will force development limitations on owners that will effectively eliminate the magic of demographic diversity. Burns Square will either stagnate or become an exclusive enclave for the wealthy."

He continues: "If Burns Square is to continue its destiny as an artistic, diverse in-town neighborhood, the commissioners must increase density, find intelligent answers to parking and allow the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector to create an exciting and diverse urban environment."

Wow! Quite a statement from a developer.

During the downtown building boom of the last couple years, all the condos built, have been and continue to be targeted at incomes much higher than the typical Sarasota working resident can afford. This includes working artists. His "concern" for artist and diversity is not supported by reality.

We are also concerned with diversity in the downtown area. We need to find ways for people of all income levels, ages, skills and interests to live (hint: affordable) as well as visit downtown. We have commented on this many times in previous posts. Only with a truly diverse mix of people will downtown become lively. Now we have a lively downtown at lunch time when workers, visitors and people that live near downtown populate the sidewalks. When evening arrives, only the restaurants and bars show signs of life, except for the occasional Friday night art walk.

Then there is the Saturday Farmers Market. This draws a truly diverse group and it is very lively with social as well as commercial activity. A great model to emulate.

Andres Duany indicated that the Burns Court area as well as Laurel Park were perfect "walk to town" neighborhoods and should not be changed. We believe he was right.

We just can’t figure out how another 10 story building with high priced condos will help the artists or the "magic of demographic diversity". A true bit of magic would be to find a way to develop affordable housing in and near downtown. How about it Harry?

Letter to Jane Robinson, Director Planning & Redevelopment

Dear Jane Robinson:

Save Our Sarasota believes the city should be giving more attention to the design of the NEW Sarasota.

Many of us decided to move to Sarasota, because it is the City of the Arts in Florida. It is architecture that makes this statement in the most visible way.

For years, neither expediency nor financial considerations were the overriding focus of building projects. Design and creative expression were important elements, making for Sarasota's rich and proud architectural history. We now see projects nearing completion in our downtown where this is obviously not the case.

The Advisory Board of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) was established to permit citizens to review plans for development in this most critical area of downtown. The Advisory Board was set up to represent the public interest in the use of tax funds. The composition of its board, as mandated by the CRA Resolution, includes a planning or design person, as well as persons from other disciplines, thus creating a public advisory board with the expertise to comment on any plan that comes before it.

This important board should be reviewing in depth all significant projects that are to be built in our downtown. We note how very often their input is not being solicited.

And we strongly urge the City of Sarasota to not only encourage, but require, professional design input from its CRA Advisory Board. Mr. Dale Parks, who currently sits on that Board is highly qualified to fulfill that role.


Janice Green, Chair
Save Our Sarasota

Editor's note: This letter was recently sent to Jane Robinson.

Friday, September 02, 2005

More on McNees

S-2, a local, business related e-mail newsletter comments today about McNees' new blog:

McNees blogs back: He’s tired of being called “defensive” when he tries to respond to criticism. He’s tired of people forming opinions about the city based on what they read in daily newspaper columns. He’s tired of the rampant confusion in the community about so many issues he deals with every day. So Sarasota city manager Mike McNees has a new platform – a blog. McNees intends to use the blog to explain issues from the city’s perspective and to engage in open, civil dialogue with anyone who cares to comment on the blog. Good for McNees; good for the community. Read the new blog here:

Maybe the real question is why does all this controversy and confusion exist? Are the issues real or just perception? If it is perception, and not reality, then communication must be the answer. Any and all attempts to improve communication are welcomed. That, of course begs the question, if the issues are only perception how did we get to the point where now find ourselves? Can McNees find a way to convince his critics with his new attempts at better communication and will these changes improve city teamwork and give us the good government we all expect?

Today's editorial in the SHT asks some important questions. We would like to see McNees respond to these questions either in the newspaper or on his blog or both. The editorial specifically comments on the most recent flap over a memo that was "essentially dictated" by McNees, but sent by the deputy City Manager. The memo concerned the on-going attempt to re-zone a small parcel in downtown Sarasota.

This editorial speaks about McNees' "lapse in good management style", his memo "appears to undermine the planning staff's attempt to carry out principles long supported by the City Commission, which in 2001 approved the downtown master plan", and the "memo and the response by Planning Director Jane Robinson reveal disturbing signs of tension and misunderstanding between the city manager and the department."

This issues are real and not just perception.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pineapple Square Questions

Save Our Sarasota has had conversations with John Simon, the project manager for the Pineapple Square project, city planning staff associated with this project, city commissioners and various community groups and individuals.

These conversations have led to a number of questions that we feel must be answered as this significant downtown proposal is considered. This change will alter the character of downtown for years to come. We must be sure this is the direction the community wants to go.

Over the next few days we will post our questions. We hope that these will be considered carefully.

Parking: An article by Mike Saewitz in the 8/24/05 Sarasota Herald-Tribune tells about a recent parking study showing a 17,781 parking space supply in downtown Sarasota, and reports that if all sections of downtown were to experience peak parking times at once 10,900 parking spaces would be taken. That leaves a surplus of almost 7,000 parking spaces. It appears the parking "problem" may not be real, only perceived as a result of the construction and infrastructure work currently being done all over the downtown area.

We understand that future parking needs may not be covered at this point in time, but until the Parking Master Plan is publicly discussed, how can we make major decisions without this critical step?

Will decisions on the State/Lemon lot be made in the context of a completed parking study and plan and will the withdrawal of the Plaza Verdi and Orange Dolphin sites from play allow for creative new parking strategies? And, as part of this larger strategizing, where does public transit enter the equation?

Mr. Simon has suggested that the Pineapple Square employees would not park in the Pineapple Square garage, but "somewhere else" downtown…wherever they could find a spot. Employee parking in the Pineapple Square garage would be controlled by not opening the lot until 10 AM, after employees had reported to work. Since many retail employees work only part time, and they would be coming to work at all hours of the day, would a 10 AM opening time really prevent employees from using parking garage. Is this acceptable to our service employees? Is this a viable strategy for our downtown parking, which undoubtedly should be based upon more concrete planning?

Value of City assets: What is the currently appraised value of the State Street lot? What is the current cost of a parking space in a parking garage?

If the city wants 350 parking places as the "price" for the State Street lot, is the deal that the developers would provide 350 public spaces in the Pineapple Square building in return for the State Street lot? Where does the 600 spaces number come from? Apparently if the city wants more than 350 spaces, the developers would provide them at $15K per space. Where does the $15K number come from? What evidence do we have that this is the construction cost?

Pineapple Square developers would provide three floors of air space to the city in return for the parking lot. What is the parking potential at State Street compared to the 350 spot proposal? What is the square footage of ten stories on the State Street potential parking lot vs. the square footage given in exchange by Pineapple Square?

Apparently the Isaacs Group needs parking for other downtown building projects, suggesting they would create parking at the State Street site that would be private and reserved for their residential units. This seems to indicate that this site is suitable for parking, even though Mr. Simon argues it is "inefficient". Is it really inefficient in that it is larger than the Orange Dolphin lot the city was considering purchasing a month ago?
How much public parking on the streets would be lost due to this project? What would be the net gain in spaces?

Is this the best site for added downtown parking, especially 350 to 600 spaces?

What is the value of the street vacation? What would the city get in return for vacating the State Street block? How wide would the "breezeway" be? Would it be the same as the current street width? If not, why not? Who would maintain this space? How would the loss of this street segment affect traffic circulation? What is the value of the air rights above this street?

Why is the church parking lot leased and not purchased? Why should the city give outright title to its land and only get a lease on the space it gets in return?

Communications Are Important

Mike McNees has started a blog!

As our City Manager works to achieve a better image in terms of communications, he has chosen blogging as a tool. I notice that he has 9 comments on the first posting.

Mike indicates he will discuss and comment on questions and issues and may even make daily comments. We hope he keeps it up (it can be a little time consuming) and as one person commented: Great idea and hope it is used constructively and it will not become "fluff."

Hang in there Mike.