Tuesday, November 29, 2005

WalMart vs Costco

Neal Peirce's recent column about Wal Mart and Costco has some very interesting commentary about how these two retailers operate and what benefits they bring to the communities in which they operate. We have all read the criticism of WalMart's operating practices. And even though WalMart supporters put a spin on the negatives while emphasizing the low priced products they sell, WalMart does not bring all the community benefits some would have us believe.

Some of Peirce's comments include:

Wal-Mart has become the poster child for an era of unfettered globalized corporate operations -- “a destabilizing business model, a dangerous detriment to America’s local and national economies and to the middle class,” in the words of critic Leo Hindery Jr., former CEO of the telecom carrier Global Crossing and an active figure in Democratic party politics.

Hindery, at a recent Washington conference organized by the Center for American Progress, noted that as recently as 1992 (the year of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s death), the Business Roundtable of top business leaders was asserting that corporations had a major responsibility not just to stockholders, but to their employees, society at large, and the nation’s economy. But now, Hindery asserts, the Business Roundtable, indeed most of the corporate world, focuses almost exclusively on profits for stockholders.

So what is the alternative? If not WalMart, then what? Pierce suggests looking at Costco. As he explains:

But the real choice, says Harry Holzer, former chief economist for the U.S. Labor Department, is between “lower-road” employer strategies focused, like Wal-Mart, on low wages regardless of high employee turnover, versus a “higher road” strategy by employers focused on higher worker productivity that’s supported by higher wages and benefits as well as training and promotion ladders.

The mass-retailer Costco, which competes directly with Wal-Mart’s Sam Club warehouse chain, has emerged as critics’ high-road model. While Wal-Mart fights aggressively to stop any union organizing whatever, Costco has agreements with the Teamsters for 16 percent of its employees and has extended most of the benefits to its entire workforce.

Indeed, a Business Week analysis shows Costco’s average hourly wage is $15.97, far above the Wal-Mart (Sam’s Club) $11.52 figure (even excluding the 25 percent of Wal-Mart workers who are low-paid part-timers). The yearly employer contribution to health care-- Costco $5,735, Wal-Mart $3,500. Of Costco employees, 82 percent are covered by the health plan, Wal-Mart 47 percent. Employee turnover at Wal-Mart is three times higher than Costco’s.

And then comes the clincher, suggesting the low-road approach may not be so clever after all: Costco’s profit per employee is $13,647, Wal-Mart’s $11,039.

Paying good wages and benefits, says Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, “is not altruistic; it’s good business.”

As we look at the WalMart question at MLK and 301 and ask what is best for the community, it is entirely possible that we are not setting our sights on what is possible. We continue along the path of letting others direct our future. Here we have done nothing until WalMart has come along with a proposal. Why have we not considered recruiting preferred businesses for this site? The Newtown Redevelopment Plan has identified this location as the site for an "anchor" business. However we have not actively recruited potential businesses and we do not have any competitive forces working to get the best option for Newtown and the larger community.

Based on Pierce's column, it would appear that Costco could be a very viable alternative (closest location currently in Brandon). Costco pays higher wages and benefits along with providing very competitive products.

Instead of considering WalMart vs. nothing, consider WalMart vs. Costco (assuming we can get Costco interested in establishing a presence in Sarasota). We won't know what is possible unless we try.

Toward A Healthy Gulf

The Healthy Gulf Coalition


“The Gulf of Mexico: Toilet or Treasure”

Saturday, December 10, 1 PM, Selby Library Auditorium
A forum for all interested citizens.
Panel and Audience participation.

Guest speakers include:

Frank Muller-Karger, Ph.D., Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, professor at USF.

Larry Brand, Ph.D. Professor of Marine Biology and Fisheries at the U. of Miami.

Captain Wayne Genthner whose first-hand observations of the “dead zone” brought attention to the Gulf’s deterioration.

Laurel Schiller with degrees in wildlife biology and ecology, she serves on the Sarasota County Planning Board.

For more information, contact Don Chaney at (941) 906-8176 or email: dlc100@comcast.net .

Please park on the ancillary streets or in the Whole Foods public lot rather than the Library’s lot.

(Rescheduled from an earlier date.)

Affordable Housing - Options

Dale White's article about affordable housing options in Palmetto indicates that if developers there don't build affordable units, they will have to pay a substantial penalty - 1 1/2 times the price of the required home.

Sarasota is still studying the options.

Last week, ERA Consulting appeared before the CRA Advisory Board and presented initial thoughts about the project they have recently started for Sarasota that includes a potential Comprehensive Plan Amendment for attainable housing. Comments and questions were given by the CRA Advisory Board.

Some of the these included:
  • Higher density must be acceptable to the community and must preserve profit for developers.
  • Will a series of options be presented or will only the preferred option be given?
  • What options are available for long term affordability?
  • Would ERA consider transferring building rights from historic structures, thereby helping retain historic structures?
  • Goal is to get affordable units built, not pay into a trust fund (echoed by most CRAAB members).
  • ERA recommendation would replace the current DROD.
  • One of the items (#7) on the preliminary list could be put in place tomorrow if anyone was listening.
  • Should look at all land available in city - like Water Tower Park. The cultural district was not allowed to have housing thus taking away available land.

We have indicated before and will say it again, Sarasota has two properties downtown that could provide affordable housing: the parking lot behind the opera and the State St parking lot.

Currently our commissioners have put a higher priority on retail (mostly upscale) and luxory condos and thus have not considered how these city owned properties could help make downtown truly vibrant by assuring a diverse residential mix. If the commissioners were serious about affordable housing downtown these properties present a real opportunity.

Commissioner Shelin apparently has been listening as he has suggested that the option of some affordable housing be considered at the opera lot.

It will be interesting to see what kind of amendment will be placed in the Comprehensive Plan. Based on recent experience with the Downtown Code we are not holding our breath.

"We're trying to tell developers: 'You have to do this,'" Tanya Lukowiak, the city's community redevelopment director, told the [Palmetto] City Commission on Monday night.

Pineapple Effect

Rod Thomson's column yesterday echoes the same points that we have been making about the Pineapple Square proposal. While it may bring needed retail to downtown Sarasota, there are lots of unanswered questions.

Thompson asks three questions:

City leaders have specifically said the next great need for downtown is retail. Two mega-retail developers are at the plate. But the questions remain: Can the area sustain two such huge retail developments, what role should the city play in helping them, and could they spell a downturn for St. Armands?

We have asked these questions, as well as questions about the high price the city is being asked to contribute to Pineapple Square (see yesterday's post), what effect will these proposals have on traffic, how will these proposals affect our current independent downtown retailers, and assuming this affect will be negative, is it fair to contribute such high funding dollars at the expense of the smaller, local retailers?

These questions need to be satisfactorily answered before deciding what, if any, contribution Sarasota should make toward these proposals.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pineapple Square Parking Cost

We noted with interest last Monday's SHT Business Section article by Kevin McQuaid profiling John Simon, the manager of the Pineapple Square project.

Of interest was the tally for what Simon is now telling the city he will require in order to move forward with Pineapple Square.

He wants the city to give him:
  1. The State Street parking lot, recently valued at $8,000,000
  2. Approximately $9,000,000 for municipal parking
  3. The vacated block of State St between Pineapple and Palm that has a value of $2,250,000 (using the same sq ft value as the State St lot).

Thus the Pineapple Square project will require the city to give them public property and cash worth $19, 250,000. The city will receive 350 parking spots in return. These parking spots will be conveniently located in the middle of Pineapple Square.

Each of these parking spots will cost city residents $55,000.

We can remember back in the good old days (a year ago) when parking places in downtown condo developments (aka public/private partnerships) cost about $15,000 each and people questioned why the cost was so high.

We cannot fathom how such a deal as this can be justified. Residents were recently astonished when commissioners voted to purchase the Orange Dolphin property. This deal is five times that price and gives a huge parking advantage to Pineapple Square - at the expense of every other retail shopping area in the city. Do we need to give away almost $20M so we can have upscale shopping downtown? What will the Irish American Partnership ask the city to do for them at the Quay?

Meanwhile, what about the real city needs such as affordable housing (both the Palm Ave lot and the State St lot could be significant contributors to affordable housing downtown)? What about the Newtown redevelopment project? What about public housing in Sarasota? All of these needs are priorities. Downtown Sarasota seems to be developing at a rapid pace with little help from the residents - in fact most residents think the pace is too fast.

Why would we consider giving Pineapple Square land and dollars when the needs elsewhere are so great?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Hiaasen on Urban Boundaries

The usual suspects will be on hand Monday when the Miami-Dade County Commission considers taking the first step toward trashing the Urban Development Boundary and obliterating the vital green barrier between urban development and the Everglades.

This is the opening paragraph of Carl Hiaasen's column this past Sunday. We know that we are not the only area in Florida facing extreme pressure from developers. We read about it every day.

Apparently politics and lobbying rule the day in South Florida to a much greater degree than here on the Suncoast. In a small way we can be thankful for that this week. We should not believe that we are off the hook though. There are plenty of developers waiting for a chance at undeveloped property east of I-75. And the pressure is relentless.

Hiaasen's column is excellent and should be read by everyone that values the quality of life we are losing slowly but surely, as the developers march toward more and more land being put under concrete.

His answer: make sure your officials know what you want, you must show up at hearings and meetings when these decisions are made.

Why should you go to these meetings? "The best reason to be at the meeting is because the lobbyists and the politicians they own don't want you there. They don't want anybody spoiling their party."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

More Clowns

Harold Bubil's blog discusses the Downtown Partnerhip Association's recent breakfast gathering. Part of his blog entry refers to comments made by Frank Folsum Smith and Carl Abbott:

Referring to no building in particular, but many new Sarasota high-rises in general, Smith observed that the debate over clown sculpture on the streets of Sarasota was a little late.

"We already have clown architecture," he quipped.

He also said good urban planning creates interesting streetscapes that can frame buildings of any style.

Abbott continued to deliver his message: Diversity is good, and a design code will only stifle creativity and mandate mediocrity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Follow Up on Rescission

Yesterday we commented on an issue before the City Commission that concerned rescinding and reversing a decision made in a quasi-judicial hearing where competent and substantial evidence was given by many citizens. After the project was turned down by the Commission, the developer lobbied Commissioners two of whom rescinded their votes and then voted to approve the project. This reversed the original decision.

We, and many others, objected to the process involved, as well as the fact that the rescission was based on inaccurate information.

At the City Commission meeting yesterday, the Commissioners needed to vote on the "second reading" of the decision. When Commissioner Bilyeu made a motion to approve the project, no one seconded the motion. Commissioner Palmer made a motion to deny and Commissioner Atkins seconded.

A discussion followed. Comments included the thought that the entire process should start over since it was not straightforward, questions of whether this property might connect with the Yacht Center property, whether the "Right of Way" in question was owned by the city or the developer (it had been dedicated as a street to the City of Sarasota for municipal purposes by the subdivision plat in 1947), etc. Commissioner Bilyeu said he was "dumbfounded" that this would not be approved.

In the end, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to wait until December 12 to vote on the motion. They hope the developer will present a new proffer. Commissioner Palmer voted not to delay the decision.

We again ask the Commissioners to do the right thing: go back to the original quasi-judicial hearing and affirm the decision made when public testimony was taken. The developer has the opportunity to re-submit his plan with any changes he feels are appropriate.

This complicated and complex issue goes well beyond the ramifications to this small neighborhood - Tahiti Park. Every issue deserves attention to a process that will provide for maximum transparency and citizen input.

Negotiating with the developer after the public hearing, in public or behind closed doors, is not good practice. Citizens lose confidence in the process and in their leaders when this kind of decision making is practiced.

Monday, November 21, 2005

New College Campus Master Plan Charrette

The New College Campus Master Plan Design Charrette is continuing next week. A complete schedule of the events and time is given on their web site. This will be an excellent opportunity to interact with world class designers and input into the process. New College's invitation is below:

We've hired some of the world's leading experts on urban, campus, environmental, and residential design to help lead and inspire a process that is the College’s most visionary review of its campus master plan since New College was founded in 1960. In nearly every dimension, the College is willing to consider solutions not commonly seen or discussed elsewhere, and we would appreciate your input.

We hope you'll join us as we engage in a master planning process that is educational yet fun, creative yet iconoclastic, and playful yet genuinely productive.

Follow this link for a complete agenda of scheduled activities on each day: http://www.ncf.edu/MasterPlan/design.html

Or Call 941-359-4312
All events are free and open to the public!

Giving Away Public Space

We have spoken in the past about giving away public property to developers with out any benefit to the citizens. The space over the downtown sidewalks and the arcade issue is a prime example. The developer would get very valuable space to sell and the public gets a narrow street with concrete edging. Good for the developer, bad for the citizens of Sarasota.

Another issue has been "smoldering" recently. The basic story is that a developer proposed a project along Whitaker Bayou, but needed the city to vacate a public street (small and little used) in order to build 3 houses instead of 2 houses. The immediate and nearby neighborhood associations objected to the street vacation for a variety of reasons including: removes potential MURT connection, removes access to and from the Yacht Center property and no public benefit was shown, as required. The developer would gain the ability to build and sell another $2M house if the street was vacated.

At the public hearing (quasi judicial) for this proposal, three commissioners voted against the project.

The next day the developer began lobbying for reversal of this decision. At the second reading, Commissioners Servian and Shelin rescinded their votes and the Commission voted 4-1 to approve the project. This happened with no public input allowed.

Today the commissioners will vote again (second reading) on whether to allow this project to go forward. In the past couple weeks, the Tahiti Park Association has persistently asked how the vote could be changed without public input and they have determined that the rescission vote was based on inaccurate information.

Below is an e-mail sent to the commissioners by the Tahiti Park Association as the Commission gets ready to vote on this issue:


I wanted to thank most of you for having met with or spoken to, both Pola Sommers and/or myself in the past couple of weeks about the street vacation in the proposed Whitaker Views property in our Tahiti Park neighborhood. As you may recall. A request was made for a street vacation in this area.

A public hearing was held and the City Commissioners voted NOT to vacate the street.

Today, Monday November 21, 2005 there will be a second reading of an ordinance for a rescission vote. I ask you to not allow this rescission to go forward.

The original rescission vote was called based on a misunderstanding. It is all a little confusing I must admit.

Please consider the following points:
  1. The original intention of the City Commissioners was to not vacate the street.
  2. This street could be designated as an emergency an exit for both Whitaker Landings and Tocoboga Bay. In the past three years, there have been at least two instanced where the one and only entrance and exit was blocked by a large fallen tree during storms. Why give up a potential emergency (fire/ambulance) entrance or exit to these subdivisions? What if someone were in need of emergency care and we had no alternative route because the City gave it away!?
  3. Consider the adjacent Yacht Center Property. This property is still in transition. The Boat-a-Minimum has neither been approved nor denied, they are in the beginning stages of the process. Their application to become a boat club has been denied because the proposed use is one of a marina and not a boat club and the zoning is not Commercial Marina. Residential use has not been ruled out either. We have no idea if this property will become residential or commercial. Either way, the street in question could prove useful to our neighbors who might want to become boat club members in the proposed commercial project. At least one of our Tahiti Park neighbors has expressed their desire to access the proposed boat club through the street in question (should it go forward) in our neighborhood. The boat club representatives have expressed a willingness to consider such a request, a back entrance of sorts.
  4. If you give this street access away now, in the midst of so much transition, we can not take it back. We can, however, vacate the street later, if necessary, in three months or three years.
  5. There are still too many unanswered questions about the property. Is the street’s square footage included in the square footage of each parcel of land, ie should the street be moved, would the aggregate property square footage still allow for three houses? What about the mysterious street vacation of Palmetto lane down to the Bayou? Still under question!!!
  6. One of the main goals of the City Commissioners is to protect neighborhoods. Why allow the further segmentation our old, established neighborhood, and others like ours, by creating, not only a precedent for fake subdivisions, but a trend towards unnecessary walls, gates and innumerable boat slips.
  7. Last but not least, the burden of proof lies “on the petitioner” to prove how this will benefit the public. The developer has not given one single valid reason how this will benefit the citizens of Sarasota. There are plenty of arguments about how this will benefit the developer directly, but not one about how this will benefit the citizens of the City of Sarasota. Tax money is a moot point. He has made it clear that, should he not have the right to build three houses where two once stood, he would make a “larger foot print” and develop two super mega houses instead of just three mega houses.

Please do not allow the vacation of this street, at least not just yet. There are still too many unanswered questions and this was not your original intention to allow for this street vacation.

Please just honor your original decision to not vacate the street in Tahiti Parkway.

Thank you so very much for your time.


Jennifer Ahearn-Koch

It appears that our process for making important community decisions has been compromised. Here, a decision was made based on competent and substantial evidence (as required) at a quasi judicial public hearing. Lobbying by the developer, after the public hearing and in private, convinced two commissioners to reverse their votes. Subsequent meetings between commissioners, the city attorney and the neighborhood showed that inaccurate information had been provided in the decision to reverse the original vote.

This is not the way to run city government and it is not the way to gain public confidence in the process.

We hope the commissioners do the right thing today and go back to the original decision. If the developer wishes to re-submit his plan and follow a public process, he is free to do so. Lobbying commissioners behind closed doors and rescinding decisions made in a quasi judicial public hearings is wrong.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Unchaining Sarasota

Andersonville is a north side neighborhood in Chicago. Recently the Andersonville Development Corporation, with the support of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, conducted a retail study of the local area. The implications of this study clearly apply to Sarasota.

In a study comparing the economic impact of ten Andersonville businesses and their chain competitors, it was found that:

Locally-owned businesses generate a substantial Local Premium in enhanced economic impact.
  • For every $100 in consumer spending with a local firm, $68 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • For every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, $43 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • For every square foot occupied by a local firm, local economic impact is $179.
  • For every square foot occupied by a chain firm, local economic impact is $105.

Consumers surveyed on the streets of Andersonville strongly prefer the neighborhood over agglomerations of common chain stores.

  • Over 70% prefer to patronize locally-owned businesses.
  • Over 80% prefer traditional urban business districts.
  • Over 10% of respondents reside outside the City of Chicago.

The study points to clear policy implications.

  • Local merchants generate substantially greater economic impact than chain firms.
  • Replacement of local businesses with chains will reduce the overall vigor of the local economy.
  • Changes in consumer spending habits can generate substantial local economic impact.
  • Great care must be taken to ensure that public policy decisions do not inadvertently disadvantage locally owned businesses. Indeed, it may be in the best interests of communities to institute policies that directly protect them.

As we ponder the effect of the proposed Pineapple Square development in downtown Sarasota, we suggest that the Sarasota EDC and Chamber of Commerce look at this study. There is evidence that as chains move into an area, fewer dollars remain in the local economy. This results in a weakened local economy.

We must make sure that policy decisions do not disadvantage our locally owned businesses. We should not be giving added benefits to the Pineapple Square development such as street vacations or publicly funded parking inside the Pineapple Square building if it is likely to disadvantage local businesses either downtown or elsewhere in the city.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Blogging Is A Grimm Thing

Our thanks to Mike Peters for showing the truth in blogging. His Mother Goose & Grimm comic is carried in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Value of Parks

From the recent Otis Civic Strategies Report:

Money Grows on Trees
The Value of an Urban Park

Ask people to value an urban park and they might talk about the benefits of recreation or how green spaces can keep city air cleaner and temperatures cooler in summers. Or they might talk about social capital and how parks offer gathering places for conversation and celebrations. But Chicago's new downtown park, Millennium Park, is adding another value: that of cold, hard cash.

Millennium Park opened in 2004 with two big strikes against it. It was four years late. (It was supposed to have opened in the millennium year.) And it was embarrassingly expensive. Originally budgeted at $150 million, the park's final cost was $475 million. But when people laid eyes on this 25-acre jewel of a park, which is part green space and part art space, none of that mattered. Since opening day, crowds have been drawn to its stunning sculptures and playful architecture.

And, it turns out, so are real estate developers. A study this year by Chicago's planning department estimated that Millennium Park would create $1.4 billion in residential development in the next decade. How? Because the park has created a huge demand for apartments and condos nearby. "Millennium Park has become a status symbol, a focal point, a magnet for the surrounding neighborhood, making properties around the park extremely desirable," a real estate analyst told the Chicago Tribune.

Why not think of the money we have recently "found" for the development of Payne Park, as an investment? Let's invest in green space. Find ways to make this a signature green space in Sarasota. The returns should be terrific.

We do not need to change the land use or the zoning around Payne Park to increase value to the city. What we need to do is make Payne Park a very special place.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Cost of Affordability

We learned in the Pelican Press that the city is fast tracking a proposal to get "attainable housing" in downtown Sarasota. The proposal is to quadruple density (from the current 50 units per acre to 200 units per acre), in return for "attainable" housing.

While this getting more affordable housing is laudable, like everything the devil is in the details.

A meeting of the Alta Vista neighborhood association tonight showed little support and brought out lots of questions about a last minute decision to include two current proposed developments in their neighborhood into this density plan. Quadrupling the density in this area (Ringling Plaza and former Scotty's site) could bring an additional 2000+ new housing units to a neighborhood that currently has 500 homes.

In the case of the Alta Vista neighborhood, what is the reasoning behind changing the land use to City Center? While it gives the developer a bonus in land value, what do the city and neighborhood get in return? Can the city infrastructure support such uses in this neighborhood?

The Pelican article said: "The last two properties were added to the proposal the morning after the commisison meeting, after the mayor and city manager met with the city’s planning staff."

Fast tracking a major change like this with little public input may not be a wise approach.

The Palm Beach Post editorializes on the problem:

The county has just awakened to the fact that voluntary efforts to persuade builders to erect affordable homes do not work. As housing prices outpace earnings and more workers move to the Treasure Coast, where rising prices are creating similar pressures, Palm Beach County devoted half of a two-day economic summit to housing.

Meanwhile, for three decades, affordable homes have been required as part of even the ritziest housing developments in Montgomery County, Md.

In the Washington, D.C., suburb, a single parent earning $40,000 a year can afford a new home. In exchange for setting aside 15 percent of new homes as affordable, builders get to build 22 percent more homes. The idea is that added density will produce profits to cover lower-priced housing.

The other idea is that affordable housing doesn't destroy property values. Since 1974, Montgomery County has produced nearly 12,000 affordable homes, about 7 percent of the county's housing stock.

That's just one model commissioners can consider. They will face the typical hurdles from builders who, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, pledge to resist mandatory programs.

Note the math in the Maryland example, 15% affordable homes gets the developer 22% increase in density. The proposal here is for a 400% increase in density. What will the community get in return? Will it be the same 15% affordable homes? This seems like quite a deal for the developers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Is Art, Anyway?

"The fact that no one understands you doesn't make you an artist" - anonymous.

Art and culture have been a foundation for Sarasota going back at least to the days of the writer's "colony" that thrived here in the 40's. The "art of the circus" or the "art of the deal " predate this however.

Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped this iconic photograph at the end of World War II.

This photograph is immediately recognized around the world and brings exhilaration to all those who see it.

Now this image has been transformed into a towering sculpture currently on our bay front. It is immediately recognizable although it still startles us because of its size.

Apparently the transformation of an iconic image (maybe a work of art itself) into a monumental sculpture makes it a work of art for sure. After all, it is included in our International Exhibition of Monumental Works of Art (formerly known as the Season of Sculpture).

Since we have a firm grasp on "what is art", we will turn our attention to the current controversy over the Hospice idea of having a "clown art" exhibition/fundraiser in Sarasota. Modeled after the famous cow exhibit in Chicago a few years ago, Sarasota would have fiberglass clown figures painted by local artists ..... well you know the rest of the story.

Alas, this ignited a local controversy that is apparently in all the state newspapers. At least somebody is laughing.

This leads us to another idea. Why not take another iconic photo and turn it into a giant sculpture?

I'm thinking about Emmett Kelly's Weary Willy character.

This could work on a number of levels. Of course everyone immediately recognizes Emmett Kelly's most famous character. And what better image than a clown to recall Sarasota's long relationship with the circus. (We give full credit to Hospice for this idea.)

This particular image would also conjure up images of the homeless we have right here in Sarasota - the best art does have a cutting edge you know. And finally, the sad face might even make some people think about the recent major changes in Sarasota's landscape. Growth that seems out of control, the transformation from a town to a city, the "working class" being priced out of a home in town, an extra long bout of red tide. It's enough to make anyone sad.

Now think of a huge Emmett Kelly sculpture completely filling the new green grass space next to the Sarasota One building where everyone driving into Sarasota would see it. This would make quite a statement. Gulfstream and 41 would never be the same.

This would be art for sure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Affordable Housing Policy

Affordable housing keeps getting more and more attention in the news. The city commission has hired a consultant to look at options available to the city and to recommend some of the better options according to their understanding of Sarasota's needs.

Recently Commissioner Ken Shelin has taken the lead in pushing for new ways to look at affordable housing. He has suggested that a portion of the Palm Ave. parking lot, that the city owns, be used for affordable housing. This is a laudable strategy for addressing the predicament in which we find ourselves.

However, what we need is an affordable housing policy before we start discussing strategies. What is our policy? We have over 2500 new condos either already built or in some phase of approval or construction. None of these would be considered affordable at this point. (Some may say that the city gave the 1350 Main project developers a density bonus so they would provide affordable units, we remain skeptical of this scheme). At this point we do not have a policy. We do have strategies, for instance, that include requiring a developer to pay if he does not include affordable housing. So far we have not seen any increase in affordable housing downtown.

In the past I have heard commissioners say that land is so expensive downtown that we should not even be thinking about affordable housing downtown. Maybe this is our "unofficial" policy.

A official policy might say something like: It is the policy of the City of Sarasota to create housing units in the downtown area that are affordable for professional and service workers who are employed in the downtown area.

This type of policy statement would then lead to a variety of strategies that would make this happen. One type strategy should include measurement of results to determine whether we are moving toward the policy objective. We do not have this. Maybe we will get there as a result of the ERA Consultant group input. On the other hand, since we have no way of knowing where we are or where we are heading, how will we know if we get there?

In the meantime the Commissioners spend their time discussing ways to get more affordable housing but have yet to define a vision, policy or measurable objective.

We have some objectives and strategies that might help to achieve the policy suggested above.

Objective: provide housing opportunities in the downtown area such that 10% of all new housing is affordable to entry level professional workers (4 year degree required) currently in downtown jobs.

Objective: provide housing opportunities in the downtown area such that 10% of all new housing is affordable to service employees working in the downtown area (clerks, waiters, etc.).

Strategies to achieve these objectives might include:

Utilize both the Palm Ave parking lot and the State St parking lot for a mix of parking and affordable housing. The land could be put into a land trust and modest (non-luxury) housing could be built. Controls on resale such as the Downtown Partnership has suggested could be utilized.

If further affordable housing is needed to meet the objective, other strategies could be developed. For example, require non-affordable condo builders to pay for all required parking, including public parking for retail in their building as well as employee parking. Do not use TIF dollars for parking, instead use public dollars only for additional affordable housing until the objective is reached.

Instead of giving developers incentives to build affordable housing, or allowing them to opt out by paying a fee, require them to build affordable units. And require them to develop techniques to assure perpetual affordability.

Another strategy might be to find new areas close to downtown that would be suitable for affordable housing – the Burns Square area might be such an area. The area east of Washington may be another area. These areas have either been given increased density (compared to the Downtown Master Plan) or are asking for increased density. Until affordable housing objectives are met, we should not be giving “bonuses” or “exceptions” to developers. The operative question is “what does the community get in return for an exception or bonus?"

When the affordable housing objectives are met, the strategy for further development could be adjusted as meets the city's vision, policy and objectives at that time.

Affordable housing is one of the most important issues we face at this time. We need our Commissioners to look at a policy and subsequent objectives that will address this issue.

This kind of action by the commissioners is difficult to undertake. Even though all of us indicate that affordable housing is a critical issue and we believe our quality of life will deteriorate unless it is addressed, politically this is tough for the commissioners. Unless they really hear the voice of the citizens, they will continue to try to please every one (particularly the special interest groups) and accountability will continue to fall by the wayside.

Monday, November 14, 2005

17th Street and Accountability

Why widen 17th Street? Why do we need to punch it through to the trail? That scenario has upset the residents of Central Cocoanut and Commissioner Fredd Atkins. We are also upset.

It would seem that in the rush to populate downtown Sarasota with luxury condominiums, fill the bay front marina with out of town boats, ratchet up the height of condos on Golden Gate Point, add new 18 story buildings downtown and at the Quay, bring in a major shopping mall in the middle of downtown Sarasota while giving away public space and making sure all the developers are happy by providing everyone with exceptions to the established rules, we continue to have a traffic problem - and it is getting worse. Who could have guessed?

But not to worry, we can fix the traffic by punching through 17th to US 41. No need to worry about the residential neighborhood, this is for the good of everyone.

Now that we are well on our way to satisfying the wealthy and the developers, it is time to make the residents pay. So what if a four lane road divides an established neighborhood, they will have plenty of time to get used to it.

Monday’s SHT editorial asks the same questions, albeit less bluntly. Bahia Vista has divided the Pinecraft neighborhood and crossing this road on a bike can be deadly. Webber and Proctor now divide residential neighborhoods.

Growth brings people and their cars. Our commissioners have not required traffic concurrency in downtown Sarasota. Our policy is to encourage downtown development by giving incentives. There is no policy to utilize public transportation. Instead there is a strategy to build more parking lots. This strategy includes giving public property to developers so they will build the lots (aka public/private partnership). Developers are asking for TIF funds to build parking in their developments also. This makes driving a car to our "pedestrian friendly" downtown even easier. Everyone drives and the complaints about lack of parking rise as high as the condos.

But what about the neighborhoods? Is it their job to just step aside while we build more luxury condos for people that want to move here? Should they pay for a lack of foresight by our policy makers?

Recently Commissioner Shelin held a series of forums on government accountability. At the session I attended very little was said about accountability (although I did push on this). Mostly the sessions ended with a list of what’s wrong with Sarasota - traffic, lack of parking, too much development, etc.

Now we have a real accountability issue. Who will accept responsibility for the traffic situation in which we find ourselves? Who do we hold accountable? Right now we have five commissioners, all of whom have pushed hard for downtown development yet have done little to make sure the infrastructure has kept pace with the development. With five "equal" commissioners it is difficult to hold any one accountable.

Our commissioners continue to make it easy for developers to push through projects that are flawed to one degree or another - we make exceptions in order to be sure the developer builds here. We have delayed the implementation of the new downtown code allowing many developers to file under the old code (apparently one is trying to get in under the old code now, having bought his piece of Sarasota on Oct 31), thus allowing for more 18 story buildings. We have yielded to the pressure of a small number of property owners in Burns Square, giving them 10 story buildings when the community had decided that a lower density and height was more appropriate for this downtown edge area.

So now Central Cocoanut has to pay the price. Most recently it was Laurel Park that had to pay the price, getting to have 10 story buildings loom over their backyards. Who will be next on the list? Will it be Indian Beach Sapphire Shores if someone decides that Bay Shore Rd would be a good way to relieve traffic from Bradenton into and through Sarasota? Will it be Amaryllis Park and Bayou Oaks when we need more east-west arteries (Myrtle) to service the new WalMart at MLK & 301? Can we split Alta Vista by punching Wood straight through to Tuttle and connect it with Mound? Or maybe in Arlington Park, Hyde Park St could be made into a four lane road all the way to Tuttle, thereby relieving downtown even more? Is this the path to urbanization that we are taking?

What does our future hold? Will the commissioners see the light and consider the effects of their continued pandering to the automobile? The citizens that live in our city have the ability to hold the commissioners accountable. The citizens are also not happy with the development pace and do not believe that commissioners listen to them. The recent survey of city residents indicated that loud and clear. We think our future needs a strong sense of accountability.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What Makes a Charrette?

"Charrette" is a word we hear more and more.

But what is a charrette and why would we be concerned about them? The National Charrette Institute is a non-profit institute that gives insight into how the charrette can be used to make community change. It involves the community in the transformation process.

The National Charrette Institute describes charrettes as follows:

The French word, "Charrette" means "cart" and is often used to describe the final, intense work effort expended by art and architecture students to meet a project deadline. This use of the term is said to originate from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century, where proctors circulated a cart, or “charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work.

What is an "NCI Charrette"?

The NCI Charrette combines this creative, intense work session with public workshops and open houses. The NCI Charrette is a collaborative planning process that harnesses the talents and energies of all interested parties to create and support a feasible plan that represents transformative community change.
  • At least four consecutive days
  • An open process that includes all interested parties
  • A collaborative process involving all disciplines in a series of short feedback loops
  • A process that produces a feasible plan
  • A generalist, holistic approach

An "NCI Charrette" is not:
  • A one-day workshop
  • A multi-day marathon meeting involving everyone all the time
  • A plan authored by a select few that will affect many
  • A “visioning session” that stops short of implementation
The NCI web site gives much more information about charrettes and is an excellent source of information. (Also note that New College professor Dr. David Brain is a member of the board of directors of NCI)

Sarasota has seen the charrette process several times: the Sarasota County 2050 Plan and the City Downtown Master Plan. The process used for input into the Cultural District Master Plan was not a charrette. Here, public input was taken and the designers came back a few months later with a plan.

Recently the Burn's Square Property Owners have conducted a process they have called a charrette. Based on the criteria and descriptions given by the National Charrette Institute, it appears that this process would not properly be called a charrette.

The City Downtown Master Plan process concluded with a vision for the downtown. As noted in the NCI commentary about change, the third phase is a critical phase - implementation. When Andres Duany was involved here he indicated that the zoning code needed to be put in place quickly or the result would be something quite different than envisioned. The NCI says:

After the Charrette, it is important to quickly review the work, make any necessary adjustments and get back to the public for a last look. The longer this period lasts, the greater the risk of failure. To the greatest extent possible, critical stakeholders should be kept in the loop by being involved in the testing for market, financial, physical, and political feasibility. Within no more than 45 days following the Charrette, a final public review is held, sometimes on two consecutive evenings with a design teamwork session in between. This can help to catch those who missed the Charrette. The two meetings also allow people who felt left out of the Charrette the opportunity to see their concerns addressed before the final plan is adopted.

As we all know Sarasota did not follow this advice and the result was many changes and delay before implementing the downtown code. Special interest groups won at the expense of the community good.

In a couple weeks, New College will be conducting a charrette for their campus master plan. This had been scheduled to start the weekend that Wilma visited our state and was postponed. New College has already gathered input from both the New College community and the public. During the next phase (starting the last week in November) the design team will spend 4-5 days at the New College campus and will work on a draft of the master plan. These sessions will be interactive with the college community and the public. The end product will be a plan that everyone has had a hand in developing. This “collaboration” with many stakeholders produces a high level of support and ultimately an excellent chance of putting the design in place.

So far all indications are positive that the New College charrette will develop an excellent plan for the future of their campus. We may even get to see a charrette that works as envisioned.

Sense of Place

We hear the phrase "Sense of Place" more and more these days. Lately it seems like the developers have co-opted the the phrase to add just another layer of promotion to their marketing arsenal.

Here is a description of "Sense of Place" that was printed in the Spring 2005 issue of FORUM - Magazine of the Florida Humanities Council, in an article by Janine Finver:

A “sense of place” is difficult to define, but you know it when you have it. It’s a term many of us first came upon while studying the works of William Faulkner or Thomas Hardy. But today the term is used by city planners, environmentalists, and civic and cultural leaders to describe the intimate connection that people can have with the place in which they live. It is an attachment to place that emerges through knowledge of its history and heritage, literature and lore, flora and fauna, geography and geology.

Along with that connection comes a sense of ownership and stewardship that will help us preserve and protect our cultural history, our historic places, and our natural environment.

This describes very well our feelings about "Sense of Place".

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Quay Vision Becomes Clearer

Today's SHT has an article about the plan for the Quay that has been filed with the city. At the left is the marketing rendition of the proposed development.

Previously Patrick Kelly, the developer, had indicated that a model he had in mind was the Grafton Street shopping area in South Dublin.

The latest plan for Sarasota apparently has changed from the original concepts floated more than a year ago.

According to the article the plan now indicates:

  • four 18 story condo buildings
  • 702 condos
  • a 136 room hotel
  • 2000 parking spots
  • 140,000 square feet of upscale shopping

The Multi Use Recreation Trail would ring the 15 acre site and be along the waterfront. The historic Belle Haven could become a restaurant.

Kevin McQuaid's article indicates that Kelly may be interested in tying together the Metropolitan property, the Ritz and his own project.

We hope the visionaries have put to rest any idea of resurrecting the idea of a convention center on the public Cultural District site. Earlier this year the concept of using the Cultural District land for a convention center was soundly rejected.

It will also be critical to understand the traffic implications of this massive redevelopment in the context of the Ritz development, the planned Metropolitan and the planned Cultural District. The traffic concurrency exception area will have to be re-examined in light of these plans, the current development boom in downtown Sarasota and the planned Pineapple Square development. Traffic implications must be addressed now.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Whither the Quay?

The sea horse does not look particularly happy and the faded sign says: "Warning and We Care". This image greets visitors to the Quay building. But the Sarasota Quay is on its last legs.

Soon the wrecking ball will start the transformation of the current, sad looking collection of buildings into a world-class, open air "Main Street" project featuring top-tier retailers, restaurants and cultural establishments, office and high-rise, luxury condominiums..... scheduled to open in 2008 , according to the advertisements.

Apparently there is still one holdout at the El Verona Condo site. Some delay may face the Irish American Partners that is redeveloping this central Sarasota property.

But some of Sarasota's history still resides here. The major player is the Belle Haven. Recent announcements have indicated it will remain on the site but will be moved 150 feet.

Everyone recognizes the "Splash" building, residents and visitors alike. The current sign saying "Summer Blowout, Everything must go" couldn't be more appropriate. Change happens.

The major Quay building has had a variety of occupants but is almost vacant as it awaits its demise.

The sea horses that decorate parts of the quay originally resided at the Lido Casino, itself a victom of the wrecking ball in the early 60's.

We hope someone cares about these sea horses and a prominent place can be found for them to spend the next few decades.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A View of the Metropolitan

On September 19, the City Commission reviewed a revised plan for the Metropolitan condo project (corner of US 41 and Gulfstream), currently a vacant lot. This agenda item indicated:

Public Hearing Re: Proposed Ordinance No. 05-4635, amending rezoning Ordinance No. 03-4489 and 04-4580 to reflect the approval and substitution of Site Plan 05-SP-18 for previously approved Site Plan 04-SP-31 pertaining to a residential condominium project known as The Metropolitan; increasing the enclosed parking for 65 additional vehicles and providing a larger pedestal to accommodate same and increased width through the latitudinal section of the building tower thus increasing the gross building area on property zoned Commercial Central Business District (CCBD) and located at one North Tamiami Trail...

Upon checking, it was learned that the "pedestal" surrounding the building consists of a 12 foot wall. When we asked planning why would a 12 foot wall be allowed when city code only allows a 6 1/2 foot wall or fence, the response was that this was just a revision to a previously accepted plan, it was a "pedestal" not a wall, and the developer had made some changes in the design of the facade so there would be inset places for plants.

This 12 foot wall, along US 41 and Gulfstream, will completely block any view at this significant intersection. We believe this is highly detrimental for this corner and it will completely destroy any sense of pedestrian friendliness or visual interest. This will be another design disaster in a string of problems downtown.

Driving or walking, the view will be a wall twice the height of the current chain link fence. Not a pretty view at all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Referendum Approved by Voters

The voters have spoken.

We want to preserve more of Sarasota County for future generations.

Many people worked very hard to help pass these referendum questions.

The result was overwhelming approval.

Save Our Sarasota wishes to thank those members of our community that invested many long hours in this project.

Future generations will truly appreciate your efforts.

Thank you!

Pedestrian Friendly?

Bob Ardren has this comment in last week's Main Street Beat:

New lights to save you at Main/Lemon

New traffic lights are going in at Lemon and Main and their purpose, I’m told, is to make sure that we make the right decisions. Honestly, that’s what I was told.

You see, some of us rather liked the four-way stop signs at the intersection. After all, when all the traffic actually stops, it really slows down traffic on Main and, overall, I happen to think that’s a good idea with all the pedestrians around. And we are supposed to be a pedestrian-friendly city, right?

Well, apparently we are pedestrian friendly, but not thought to be very bright. When I asked for an official explanation of why lights, which would allow steady streams of traffic, were better than a four-way stop, the answer from the city’s engineering department was that pedestrians don’t always make the right decisions (in other words they walk in front of cars) and so these lights will make it easier – and safer – for them.

That, my friends, is a perfect example why it’s important to always keep an eagle eye on your government.

Here's another solution. Madison, WI (always on the lists for the best place to live, despite the winters) gives absolute right of way to pedestrians at every intersection. That is pedestrian friendly!

Post script: the light is up now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

100 Central - Response From Mike McNees

We asked city officials to respond to the comments made on the recent 100 Central Ave posting. Specifically the questions posed were:

Would you take a look at today's [Nov 2] posting on the Save Our Sarasota Blogsite, and particularly the comments that were also posted.

Does this section of Central meet EDCM requirements? Is there a solution to the Whole Foods truck unloading issue?

City Manager Mike McNees promptly responded:

Mr. Clapp - I read what's on the blog, and the accompanying comments. I would offer the following, feel free to reprint anything you want to on the blog.

The Engineering Design Criteria Manual (EDCM) provides for a process whereby exceptions to its requirements, called technical deviations, can be granted. There are criteria established for such, and when exceptions are granted through that formal process the resulting improvements are legal. I am most familiar with the exceptions granted in this case for the Whole Foods loading dock, because I sat in on what turned into many hours of discussion as that particular engineering problem was addressed.

To say that locating something like the Whole Foods Market on a site like our Lemon Ave. site, or any other downtown site for that matter, is problematic is an understatement of the highest order. The standards of companies like Whole Foods or Publics for store orientation, configuration of back-of-the-house space, loading facilities, and any number of other items are extremely exacting. The same can be said for our EDCM standards; in a way it's a classic case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, and is way of the major reasons other cities have struggled to achieve the same goal. In this case it was clearly in the public interest, as defined in the Downtown Master Plan 2020, to make the market happen, and it is precisely for this type of issue that the exception process exists within the EDCM.

As for the loading dock, clearly compromises were made as reflected in the technical deviations that were granted . Everyone at the table understood that the solutions to which all parties eventually agreed were not perfect, and reality has proven that to be true. Everyone also understood that we would have to watch closely and make further adjustments as necessary -something one of your posters has pointed out has happened with redesignation of some parking spaces on Second Street, for example. Rather than an admission of failure of some sort, I see that as appropriate follow-up and adjustment based on everyone's observation of real-life conditions, which can only be estimated by even the most brilliant engineers. I am certain that all parties will continue to work to improve the situation, which again we all know is not optimal from an engineering stand point. The City could have, of course, demanded an optimally correct engineering solution that me all EDCM requirements. The downside to that course of action would have been no market, so clearly there were trade-offs, which are simply the name of the game with urban redevelopment. I would argue that the Whole Foods Market makes its own arguments for whether or not the compromise was justified.

As for Central Ave., deviations were also granted there I believe. In that case, certain right-of-way agreements were also required, all of which demanded approval of the full CRA, and which also were compromises agreed upon to make the project, in which the City is a partner, work. In their defense, I must say that the City Engineering Department fought very hard to preserve adequate function of the facilities that would eventually be built. Of course whether or not we accomplished that is a subjective question, which we will all have to judge for ourselves.

Regards, Mike McNees

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sarasota Again Ranks No. 1

Boy, we just keep raking in the accolades. What a great place to live.

Finally we rank higher than Miami! We hold the title for the most number of new or planned condos per resident, anywhere in this condo crazy market. We have a condo for every 19 people. Miami trails with a measly one condo for every 24 people. It makes me feel claustrophobic just thinking about having 23 other people in a condo with me. I need a little more breathing room.

In the good old days we were satisfied with a car for every garage and a chicken in every pot. But the here the bar has been raised! Is this a great place to live or what? We need to keep pushing for a condo for every resident! And let's make it a million $ one while we're at it!

The story says:

Condos priced from $400,000 to $800,000 have been flying off the shelf, but real estate agents warn that sector might cool next year when construction is completed on nearly 1,000 new units.

This is a much better vision than a mere chicken flying off the shelf. Our marketing profession has truly worked wonders o'er these last few years. Nothing is resistible anymore.

I mean, just look at this related story. Here we find that the former owner of the Dallas Mavericks - he's a regular guy, unlike his former team - came to visit our storyland city one day a couple years ago. He stayed at the newly built Ritz and loved it so much he immediately bought a condo for himself and his wife, right in the Ritz Towers, next to the hotel. And then, because he really, really liked it, he bought 16 more! That's right, 16 more. What a guy!

Talk about condo's flying off the shelf. No squawks from the chickens this time.

Now this is a vision we should all aspire to. Not a mere one condo for yourself and 18 close friends, but 17 condos all for your self. This should give the maids plenty of time to spiff things up between stopovers.

So hey y'all, come on down to Florida. The land of dreams. Have we got a vision? You bet. You want a condo, or 17? We got 'em. Come on down and we'll put a smile on your face. Don't forget, Sarasota's No 1.

Disclaimer: no chickens allowed.

The Role of the Planner

Here's a portion of a commentary from Sept 11 posting at "An Affair With Urban Policy". The same questions apply in Sarasota.

The other night I posted a photo - showing some small graffiti on a storefront window that said "Do We Really Need More Condos?" It's a provoking question - condo development seems to be a strong part of residential markets in a number of urban areas.

...The more I thought about the issue, the more I began wondering what exactly the role of the planner is in the current condo-crazed market?

From what I've come to understand (fully admitting that I'm not a planner), the role of Planning is to determine the most ideal/needed land uses within specified areas. I also believe that Planning is most effective when it can be applied to specific sites (that is applying the theoretical to the specific).

Unfortunately, I'm far too removed from the institution of Planning to fully understand whether the field is still actively involved in actually planning areas (that is, considering all the range of potential - and needed - land uses for specifice sites) that are undergoing rapid condo redevelopment, or, if it is merely letting market pressures (whether actual, or perceived) drive all new land uses.

That is:

  • Are planners really planning areas, or are they simply letting areas develop themselves?
  • Are the usual social amenities (e.g. parks, commericial services, other social institutions such as schools and community spaces) still being integrated into developing areas, or is the market completely leading the way and the role of the planner simply to make sure the sufficient parking is attached to a site?
  • Would a planning staff still say "no" to a new condo development proposal, based on an area need for other uses on a site?

My guess is that it's a bit of both - although in Minneapolis the market clearly drives site use. Two of the fastest growing areas in the city (the "North Loop" and "Downtown East") are being built up (nearly) completely with developments, and plenty of ramped and underground parking, irrespective of the need for public spaces and parks.

There is mixed use development, but much of it consists of smaller bays (e.g. galleries and restaurants) that don't necessarily serve all the needs of residents - but more are indications of "cool areas".

So I don't know. Are more condos needed? The market says so... and you can't really defend saving a record store at the expense constructing a new high-rise luxury building. But does the profession still say "no" when "no" is really the right answer?

Interesting comments here. If you view the posting, be sure to check the comments on the posting.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Letter to the Mayor

We receive comments and notes from time to time. Here is a recent e-mail; the author indicated we could post it on our blog.

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005

To: Ms. Mary Anne Servian - Mayor
City of Sarasota

RE: Proposed Arcades on Main Street

Dear Mayor Servian;

My reason for writing you is because this is an issue I hold very truly to heart, and by this I mean the proposal of placing arcades over the storefronts and uprooting our trees.

Mayor, I used to be employed at the Main Street Bistro as a host. You would not believe how many people I sat that requested to sit on the patio not only because of the beautiful weather we were having at the time, but because they told me they loved the sound of the birds as they flew from one tree to the other. I have sat guests from every corner of the world and all I heard was how beautiful this city is, especially Main Street. They said they loved to walk under the beautiful trees as they ventured from one boutique to another. Mayor, I could not even fathom the idea of replacing the beautiful "small town feel" with cold feeling arcades. Mayor, it was downtown Main Street that attracted me to this area and is why I chose to make Sarasota my home. Also Mayor, I strongly feel I am not alone on this important issue.

Mayor, I also had to laugh when I read in the Monday edition of the Sarasota Herald - Tribune, Mike Saewitz's column when he quoted a statement by Bruce Franklin, the president of the ADP Group;

" If you say arcades are bad, that's like saying the sky is falling, Don't show up and tell us what you don't like. It's incredulous to me. I hope our elected officials could discern between rabblerousing and legitimate input".

Mayor, this is so far from the truth. I bet if you put it to a vote right this minute and ask the citizens of this great city on whether they would prefer the natural beauty of the trees or the coldness, big city feel of the arcades, that over 95% would vote in favor of keeping the trees. Mayor, all I ask is to vote on what you feel that is in the best interest of the people who placed each city elected official in office in the first place. Please do not listen on what the developers feel is best for us.

Mayor, I think you for your time and just wanted to voice my opinion.


Daniel Zumbro

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Is City Living Healthier Than in the Suburbs?

Yes, according to a report on public health as it relates to development patterns by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

A graph in their report indicates the greater the density (sprawl index), the fewer the fatalities per 1000 people (as calculated over 83 U.S. regions that covered two-thirds of the total population).

Why are people dying? The reports showed lower densities have higher incidence of cardiovascular and lung diseases including asthma in children, cancer, diabetes, obesity, traffic injuries and deaths. They feel these are exacerbated by an increase in air pollution, gridlock, traffic accidents and lack of physical activity.

What to do? They suggest the following:

  • Move to a town or city that has a reliable public transportation system;
  • Choose a place to live that has bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths;
  • Choose a town with parks and wildlife areas to clean and cool the air;
  • If possible, choose a community where you can walk to work, stores and schools;
  • Get to know your neighbors and volunteer in the community.

Since we don't want to move, maybe we should place a high value on achieving these qualities right here in Sarasota:

  1. Instead of parking lots, put the money into a really good transit system;
  2. don't remove bicycle lanes (as suggested for Fruitville), put more in place;
  3. keep the trees we have and find ways to increase green space downtown, along 41 and 301, and in the neighborhoods;
  4. put affordable housing on the State Street parking lot and the lot behind the opera (create walk to work, affordable housing instead of more parking structures);
  5. and of course walk around, meet your fellow citizens and talk about how to make Sarasota even better!

Natural Disasters and Top Places to Live

From the October issue of AAII Magazine:

Idyllic coastal locations, especially those blessed by wide, sandy beaches, warm coastal waters, and sunny subtropical weather, have long been prized as retirement havens. Unfortunately, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have demonstrated recently, the good life along some of America’s most popular coasts is not without serious risks to life and property.

What should careful retirees consider when relocating?

Warren Bland, a geographer and professor at California State University, Northridge, and author of “Retire in Style: 60 Outstanding Places Across the USA and Canada,” has these suggestions:
  • Don’t overreact to perceived dangers. Understand that you are in greater danger during routine car trips and from air pollution than from catastrophic but rare hazards like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and tornadoes.
  • If you decide to live along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts despite the hurricane threat, be sure to minimize your risk from storm surges by choosing a home site at least a mile inland and 20 feet above sea level.
  • If your choice is California, avoid low-lying, tsunami-threatened areas along the coast, proximity to active earthquake faults, smoggy areas, and places having a history of landslides.
  • In the American Heartland, avoid floodplain sites and have a storm cellar where you can seek shelter from tornadoes.

Dr. Bland’s top picks include: Victoria, British Columbia; Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; San Antonio, Texas; Asheville, North Carolina; Sarasota, Florida; Tucson, Arizona; and Ithaca, New York.

If you retire to Sarasota, consider his advice: live at least a mile inland and find a spot at least 20' above sea level! In Sarasota this generally means east of 301.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Concrete Again Trumps Trees

Here's the view of 100 Central, looking south. Note the porte-cochere jutting out into the street on the left. Now the city has also brought the sidewalk out to the edge of the porte-cochere apparently to give the impression that it belongs there. Also note the black olive trees on the right that shade the street and the R-O-W between the curb and the library walkway. Evidently now that the street has been narrowed, these tree branches will have to be trimmed - likely to be sheared parallel to the curb line.

In the other photograph you can see how the porte-cochere juts out into the street. The curb line north of 2nd St (shown in this photo) used to align with the curb south of 2nd St. The city has extended the sidewalk out to the line of the porte-cochere for the enitire block of Central between 1st St. and 2nd St., apparently to line up with the new porte-cochere. This "concrete chunk" results in the narrowing of the street.

This extended sidewalk area also removes a number of on street parking spots in a area that needs parking. Concrete also trumps parking.

When we asked the City Traffic Engineer what effect this would have on the trees along Central he responded as follows.

Ms. Reynolds:

The traffic will continue to be two-ways on Central Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets and one-way as it has always been between Main and 1st Streets.

The trees on the west side (Library side) will need to be trimmed for trucks to be able to pass side by side. The width of the street is about 24 feet from back of curb to back of curb and that is a sufficient width for two-way traffic in the urban core.

If you have any questions or need further clarification, please feel free to call our office at (941) 954-4180.

Sam Freija Manager of Traffic Engineering

The only question we have is:

Why? Why did we allow this "concrete chunk"?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Speculating in Sarasota

Recent commentary on Sarasota's real estate market:

From Harold Bubil's Blog (SHT):
They call them flippers, flippers ...
... And faster than lightning, they are dumping their condo units into the market. That's how longtime Sarasota Realtor Ron Moxom explains the huge increase of condominiums listed for sale in the Sarasota MLS:

"A large factor in the increase of condo listings is the substantial number of apartment conversions that were heavily purchased by 'flippers.' Apartment conversions, in my opinion, have created a new breed of investor -- one not nearly as financially stable as our more stable, 'higher end' investor," he writes in response to my [Bubil's]blog item "How long to sell?"

As apartments, the units never showed up in the MLS stats before," he continues. "Now, I would suspect that there are hundreds of them listed for sale in MLS."

From Michael Braga's Blog (SHT):
Speculating on condos risky, Realtor says...
Chad Roffers, president of Sky Sotheby’s Realty, says he’d rather deal with end-users than speculators when it comes to high-end condominium. “It’s risky to be buying and selling condos as investments,” he said.

Roffers pointed out that most of the buyers of the Ritz-Carlton and Tower Residences condo units were speculators. “Those investments didn’t perform that well,” Roffers said. “Many investors still own them.”

Entreprenurial Climate

Where are entrepreneurs migrating lately?

According to Entrepreneur Magazine they're moving where housing prices are low and the quality of life is high. At least the successful ones are.

"Entrepreneurial Hot Cities" are ranked on the number of companies that started 4 to 14 years ago and have at least five employees today and that company's job growth.

Naples and Ft Myers are ranked, but Sarasota is not to be found on this list.

According to the article, "... some Hot Cities feature low costs and rapid population growth. Others offer stable populations with excellent quality of life. Some Hot City economies rely on government and tourism, while others are supported by financial services and manufacturing. Communities that fared best tend to have pleasant climates, good universities and capacious airports."

There is some food for thought here as we try to diversify our local and regional economy. While our weather climate may be excellent, we may need to see if we can improve our "entrepreneurial climate."