Monday, January 02, 2006

How Much Is Too Much?

The headline on Dec 29 loudly proclaims "3 new 17-story towers".

Once again a developer has announced plans for another building - this time it is 3 buildings - that are well above the 10 story limit promised by our commissioners. They keep saying 'if we hadn't changed the code we would have a downtown filled with 18 story buildings.'

This raises the question as to why the code was not put in place when it would have done some good.

After a number of delays, caused by inaction and lawsuits, the commissioners finally approved the code this summer. Then they decided that the code should not be put in place until Jan 1, 2006. They believed that the developers needed added time to get plans on the books. They wanted to be "fair" and didn't want to exclude anyone from building an 18 story building. Apparently 5 years was just not enough time to put a proposal in place.

All the time this was happening the commissioners keep saying, "We did a great job by changing the code to limit height to 10 stories."

Well, after Jan 1 comes, we still have 2 more 18 story slots to fill.

What a great plan this has turned out to be.

Seems like the downtown has been filled with 18 story buildings.

Five years ago Sarasota was looking forward to a somewhat human scale, pedestrian friendly down town. The conceptual graphics showed awnings and trees with some 10 story buildings here and there. Buildings were stepped back at the 4th story. The community participated in a process that defined what we wanted our downtown to be.

The reality has turned out to be mostly 18 story buildings (or well above 10 stories), with the option of having 4th story stepbacks to minimize the canyon effect because of our narrow streets and the option of an arcade covering the public sidewalk and giving the space above the arcade (3 stories) to the developer as an incentive while cutting off the sun and space for trees.

Along the way we were treated to a porte cochere jutting out toward the middle of the street, zero setback buildings on Fruitville with a narrow sidewalk, a proposed extension of Marina Jack's lease for 42 years (let's hurry up and cut off any competition or mention of public interest), a loading dock design for Whole Foods that requires full sized trucks to drive across the sidewalk on the other side of the street to back into the space allotted.

Not a very pedestrian friendly or human scale reality. Yet we are told that these "changes and deviations" were required by the developers.

Our commissioners like to tell us that they keep a balance between commercial, residential, developer and public interests. Our recent history in downtown has shown that the commissioners have tipped strongly toward the developer interest. Little balance is apparent.

What we have now is too much!

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