Thursday, April 20, 2006

Making Developers Whole, Putting the Community in a Hole

The approval of portions of the density bonus comp plan was an example of failed communication by our city leadership to achieve consensus prior to charging ahead with a poorly thought out solution.

Nixing the School Ave. area was good. It leaves time to assess what is compatible with the nearby neighborhood and avoids the possibility of putting Down Town Core smack up against single family residential zoning.

Including the Park East, Rosemary and Central Cocoanut areas was probably OK since the surrounding neighborhoods were OK with it and the effect on infrastructure will probably be minimal.

But including the Bayfront and the rest of downtown in the density bonus without any concept of the consequences and costs to residents is wrong.

Commissioner Atkins has it right. We need to stop giving the downtown luxury condo developers bonuses and start working on housing for all of Sarasota - with an emphasis on those residents of our community that need it the most, those that make less than $35,000 or $17.50 per hour. This is where nearly every employer indicated their greatest need was.

The developers got what they wanted: the ability to build more units with no added cost - they are kept whole as the proposal was designed to keep their 20% expected profit margin. Meanwhile the community as a whole suffers; we pay for added infrastructure, we pay for road improvements that result from the inevitable traffic increase, we pay for added parking needs, we pay for needed upgrades to sewer systems and storm water mitigation. In short, we end up in the hole.

Whatever happened to the idea that those benefitting from development, pay for development? How did this suddenly change to "lets keep the developers whole and let the residents pay"? Aren't we paying enough already by keeping the TIF funds downtown, continuing to subsidize profitable developers by giving away public property and paying twice for parking?

The comments from Commissioners Servian (I voted for this in order to keep the community engaged) and Shelin ( I saw no suggestions from those opposed) were gratuitous at best and wrong at worst. Apparently it is politically correct to throw salt on wounds when you again cater to special interests.

The Herald Tribune's comments about this include: "While the Editorial Board supports the concept of using extra density to incentivize affordable housing, we believe that the strategy should be used only where it yields a fair return of work-force housing; where infrastructure can handle it; where it's convenient to jobs, schools and transportation; and where it respects the character of neighborhoods." These were among the many comments made by those citizens that suggested establishing a city wide strategy for increasing our attainable housing supply as opposed to the density bonus for most expensive part of downtown.

What was a serious and open discussion by citizens of our community ended up with a negative vote, the commissioners said no to those of us that offered suggestions, no to those that offered reasons to slow down, no to those that asked for better explanations about the effect of this change. A group of interested, committed and involved residents spent much time and effort trying to make this proposal better and the commissioners said NO.

Just a deeper hole.


Anonymous said...

The Planning Board voted 5-0 against this amendment. Members had a very thoughtful discussion before taking their vote.

Why didn't the Commissioners feel a need to discuss and communicate the reasons for their vote? I would have liked to have heard their rebuttal of the Planning Board's arguments. An advisory board whose 5-0 recommendation is turned down deserves that respect.

I would have liked, especially, to have understood why the commissioners who voted for the proposal did so.

Gretchen Serrie said...

I've been at Commission meetings where my side has prevailed, and many others where it has lost. I have always dusted myself off and thought "I'll do better next time," but usually felt I had had a chance to participate in the process in some way from the beginning to the final commission decision. Last Monday night I went home feeling, for the first time, totally helpless.

I was particularly surprised by the comment made by one commissioner that he was casting his vote for the amendment because the opposing side had not offered alternatives.

There was almost no citizen input into the crafting of this fast-tracked amendment, and no public forum offered by the city at which to present alternatives.

It has always been my understanding that at public hearings we are limited to speaking to the issue under consideration. We are always advised at beginning of meetings to speak to the issue and to be as concise as possible.

If I had known we were expected to present alternatives, I would have crumpled up my presentation, even at the last minute, and spoken about alternatives. I'm sure there were a lot of other people who would have done that as well.

I, quite frankly, am now totally confused as to what is expected of the public at commission meetings.

onthewaterfront said...

Wonder how the bayfront condo owners are going to feel when they realize the Quay, the Hyatt, the Metropolitan and many more projects can now have 4 times density. And how about that traffic?

Here's link to city site with a map of downtown...dark brown is Downtown Bayfront:

itstheballotbox... said...

To the person making the comment before last one---I thought we elected the commissioners to come up with alternatives.

Election's the key word here. There are a lot of people out there we can elect to produce alternatives that are better than the one voted in Monday night!

Anonymous said...

The only good thing about that meeting was the comments by our new mayor.

What a shame the money for that study wasn't spent finding places and densities for "affordable" housing rather than "work force" housing for young professionals who soon won't be needing the subsidy.

Did anyone notice that the criticism of the person who'd gone out and found affordable housing was that her parents had given her help. Take a look at her critics and think about the help we all know their parents gave them!!!!!!!!!

foursarasota said...

Anyone know if a city comp plan amendment has ever been sent to the DCA that the commission and public have continued to work on and change?

Anonymous said...

Quick question. The initial post mentions the School Ave. site. I didn't read anything about that site (close to me). What was decided?

BTW, really appreciate this site and agree with 90% of it's views. The City Commission caters to developers first, real estate agents second, newtown third, downtown businesses next, then maybe the neighborhoods and regular residents.

mycitytoo said...

If only there could have been a show of hands of the people attending the commission meeting to find out:

Who was working on a task force for affordable housing that affected any but their own income group.

Who had read the consultant’s reports.

Who was a city resident!!! [Voter]As a previous post's about the elections.

SOS1 said...

The Commission took the School Ave. site out of the proposed amendment. Commissioner Bilyeu made a strong pitch to include it in an amended motion - his attempt died for lack of a second.

Apparently there is a limit on how much help the other four commissioners will give to developers.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious the our city commisioners adhere to the neo-con school of governance; basically hands off, and pro big business. When you look at the disastrous results of this political creed at the national level(lost jobs, health care crisis, environmental neglect, depressed wages, increased poverty, New Orleans etc, etc), one wonders how it could go any better for us here at the local level in Sarasota.

It is time for a change, right here in our backyard. Time to vote these bums out of office.

ellenb said...

Re question on school avenue---is interesting that our own district commissioner was the one requesting the changes there (on behalf of a developer who lives on Casey Key) instead of representing the wishes of his constituents.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question on School Ave.

It should shock nobody that Danny B is in the pockets of the development community. He was for moving the bus station into the neighborhoods as well. Heck, I've yet to see him vote against developers. Remember though, he was elected before a lot of folks were paying the board this much attention. Now that the facts are out there, it shouldn't take much of a 'reform' candidate to get him voted out.

Anonymous said...

When such a major change in density can be achieved by a mere 3-2 vote---just one commissioner---it makes you think again about the need for a super majority vote to approve other than minor land use changes.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else notice the problem of order of speakers?

At the planning board the speaker request forms were shuffled so the Downtown Partnership spoke first. A couple of people said they were the first persons to sign in that evening, but were called on late in the hearing, one even complained about that when giving her presentation.

At the City Commission the forms seemed to be taken in order. For that hearing, the Downtown Partnership seems to have decided it wanted to speak last.

Since anyone who testifies at more than a couple of hearings knows it's best to be positioned first or last, there must be some other way of determining speaker order than everyone holding back on submitting forms so they can be last. I can see lots of people hovering near the secretary jockeying to be the final presenter.

At any rate, it would be nice to have a consistent city policy on how this is done.

Anonymous said...

I'm ready for a regime change....

foursarasota said...

Can anyone provide me a link where I can read the city's overall affordable housing policy?

When I read the article about SURE's proposal and the great work that group has been doing I was even more surprised that commissioner Servian's reason for voting for the ERA amendment was to keep all of us involved in the affordable housing issue. That is insulting!

Someone said they wished the commissioners had given their reasons for voting for the ERA amendment. Compare the reasons of the commissioners who wanted to "keep us involved" and criticized us because "there was no alternative proposal" to the incisive comments of the Planning Board members who had really done their homework.

erica said...

Shawn Fulker raised a very interesting point at the Planning Board hearing. What happens when the citywide limit of 50 units per acre has been reached? Do all of the other bayfront and downtown core property owners have no right to build at the density those who were first build had? They're not going to sue for their rights?

And I think it was John Burg who said that at that point it would be possible to raise the limit. Comforting thought!

Susan Chapman said...

I agree with the comments of mycitytoo. If there had been a show of hands from the audience, those who have worked for community projects and social equity were on the con side of the proposal. The development community was on the pro side of this "attainable housing density bonus." These people have never shown an interest in attainable housing before. This sudden interest in "attainable housing" is all about obtaining the density windfalls. If this proposal becomes a part of the comprehensive plan, the next step will be all of their variance proposals. They will need variances on height, parking, etc.,etc., etc. This proposal follows the adoption of the Downtown Master Plan by a few months. That was a five-year process. This undermines all of the work on the Master Plan.

They choose to call us "Nimbys," but our ranks include those who have consistently worked in service to our community.

The YPG members criticized those who relied on their parents for help in securing housing, but they are the children of the privileged class seeking subsidies under the guise of "attainable housing." Has it escaped everyone that they obviously have attained housing? Is it credible that Drayton Saunders, the son of real estate dynamo Michael Saunders, or Andrew Foley, the son of Jay Foley, have concerns about affordable housing? Mr. Ward, who is leaving town for Kansas City, is moving into a redevelopment (ghetto) area of KC. He is seeking employment in Turner, Kansas, which is, at least, 50 miles from his condo at 8th and Cherry in Kansas City, Missouri. How real were the tales of woe told to the commission? According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the YPG was previously a social group. Is its real agenda seeking downtown condos to allow them to party more downtown? Or are these YPG members just the children of the real estate community shilling for their parents and their parents' paramours?

In the meantime, there are serious issues of affordable housing that are taking a back seat. Mayor Atkins is right. This is just another developer giveaway framed as an affordable housing measure. This giveaway is accompanied by a slick and bullying public relations campaign designed to undermine the real citizens of our community. This was jammed down the throats of the neighborhoods in a most ugly way. They said we, citizens, were opposed to change. We are not. Let the changes begin!

Anonymous said...

Over the years we've seen rationale, substantive arguments and good and sufficient evidence presented by large constituent groups trumped without much by the way of explanation or comment by three commissioners who appear to ignore prior policy, rule and precedant in deciding for a party with apparent wealth and influence over expressed community concern.

In the instant case it appears the commissioners choose to ignore the obvious roots of and financing behind those championing increased developer profits by way of density increases in the name of ffordable housing.

What should prove most troubling is Fredd Atkins' turn about in seven days.

We need to be able to have regular Public Disclosure of the finances of each chartered official and to require publication of any contractural relationships entered into upon filing for or accepting office and for the nine months following the time they leave office.

Who among them have signed offers to purchase these proposed units and may flip the contracts without ever closing (thus avoiding the Public Recording of their involvement)?

gooeytarballs said...

The (online) School Avenue Charrette Survey has been crafted into an online form to make it easier for folks to participate.

You will find the form at:

and will be able to RANK the following items FAGA identified from MOST IMPORTANT (1) through LEAST IMPORTANT (13).

a) Buffer with neighborhood (Transition)
b) Cut through traffic (Traffic)

c) Fa├žade and roof articulation (Architecture)

d) Higher density north/interior (Density)

e) Hotel-boutique (Uses)

f) Mixed use (Uses)

g) No wall effect (Architecture)

h) Pedestrian oriented (Traffic)

i) Pedestrian scale at edges (Transition)

j) Retail on School Avenue (Uses)

k) Traffic calming (Traffic)

l) Variety of residential (Uses)

m) Wide sidewalks (Transition)

Results will be collected into an Excel Spreadsheet and RAW results and Graphs will be posted in advance of the next Planning Board Session on School Avenue Project.