Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Question of Accountability

Leaders from a dozen neighborhoods spoke to the City Commissioners on Monday saying that the decision to approve a land use change proposal for the School Ave./Scotty’s property was faulty and asked that it be rescinded.

The neighborhood leaders said the proposal was not reviewed by staff (there was no time for this), it was rushed to the hearing (literally introduced to the commissioners only 2-3 hours before the hearing), it was not complete (formal agreements with Habitat had not been approved by their board nor had any agreement been signed) and the process violated required city procedures.

Mayor Atkins opened the public comment portion of the evening session by waving the 10 yellow speaker request slips and saying in a stern voice "Your answer is no! But you can speak anyway."

This behavior exactly typifies what has the community so alienated and upset with the current commission.

From Bob Ardren’s article in this weeks Pelican Press:

Kate Lowman, president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, said she was trying to help her neighbors in Alta Vista. Lowman asked the commission to "respect the Duany Plan" and reverse their earlier vote on the project.

Likewise, Suzanne Atwell, a Bird Key resident and former commission candidate, asked for reconsideration. "You’ve disenfranchised a neighborhood," Atwell said, "and undermined city staff. This decision was governance at its worst," Atwell continued. "It’s time to take a look at who’s running the show here."

"Process is what keeps us from being a mob," attorney Susan Chapman told commissioners. The decision "shows a disregard for the planning board and the planning staff," Chapman said. "Without process, personalities and public relations rule. I wonder what happened to disconnect this commission from the public?"

And long-time civic activist Dick Sheldon put it simply: "I won’t be coming down here [to the commission table] anymore," he said. "That neighborhood got a bad shake and just like the name of the sculpture outside City Hall, we can only conclude, ‘Nobody Is Listening.’"

All together, more than a dozen members of the Alta Vista neighborhood and its neighbors appeared asking for reconsideration at Monday’s city commission meeting. No reconsideration was even considered. After many months of meetings, changes and compromises with the Alta Vista neighborhood over the impact of his proposed 450-unit condominium project to be located on the old Scotty’s lumberyard property facing Payne Park, developer Ron Burks appeared at the public hearing on the project two weeks ago with a largely brand new plan and with new partners.

A motion by Commissioner Lou Ann Palmer to send the new proposal to the city planning board for review – "This is not fair to anyone," Palmer said – was defeated three to two with only Commissioner Mary Anne Servian joining Palmer.

Mayor Fredd Atkins, Vice Mayor Danny Bilyeu and Commissioner Ken Shelin voted to support sending the needed comprehensive plan amendment to Tallahassee for approval.

It is time that these commissioners be held accountable for their actions.


Anonymous said...

I want a recall on Shelin and any of the rest of them we can boot out- this is the worst example of leadership I have witnessed. Three rogue commissioners who would appear to be corrupt.

forsrq said...

A few weeks ago I was hearing Shelin referred to as a "one-termer." Now it's recall.

Anonymous said...

When are all of the commissioners up for reelection? Who is rumored to be running against them?

Anonymous said...

According the city commission website:
The next City of Sarasota Election will be held in
March 2007 to fill the three District seats.
Please check back for more information

srqneighbor said...

If this were a project that had gone through the system and been approved, there would have been some disappointed neighbors. But everyone would have gone about their business. When a legal process is ignored, however, the disappointment turns to anger, and in this case, the anger is shared by neighbors throughout the city.

And shame on the Downtown Partnership and Young Professionals Group, for being willing to bypass an established legal process, no matter how worthy or in the interest of their consitituents they think a project is. The level of trust in these groups is certainly diminished. They will also find citizens much more wary of initiatives they propose in the future and find them more watchful of the methods they might use in doing so. Even the density bonus, despite too little participation by citizens, might be rationalized, but not this recent collaboration in circumventing the system.

And, as for Habitat, their board needs to rein in a rogue executive and take back control of the organization. It belongs with the board, not the hired executive. The end never justifies the means. And Habitat, we thought we knew you. You are the biggest disappointment of all.

Anonymous said...

I am a downtown resident and I have lived in the city for many years. The Downtown Partnership and the Young Professionals were not bypassing law...only standing up for what they believed. If laws were broken our very capable city attorney would have suggested the commission not take the stance they did. What these dynamic groups had to say was thought out and structured and I appreciate their structured and factual efforts. I do not think villainizing these energetic and passionate children is appropriate. Celebrate their efforts and successes…they are our downtown neighbors and workforce. Mostly every speaker (young and old) agreed that housing was an issue for our city. The main argument for the neighborhood was "not in my back yard". I will be the first to say I am a skeptic of developers but "not in my back yard" is not an appropriate argument. I do not believe the Young Professionals or the Partnership came to the table to hurt neighborhoods. They came and asked for the kind of planned growth that has been talked about for many years in our beloved city. They stated 2/3 of their membership qualified for this housing. They stated 20% of their membership was made up for non-profits, teachers, city/county workers, etc. They stated fact and they deserved to sit there and give those facts as citizens. Your groups wrongfully used their names and slandered them. I commend their leadership for standing up for their membership. That is what they were elected to do by their peers. The neighborhoods stated they were "rich kids". How does the neighborhood know that? Did you survey their memberships? The residents of the neighborhoods are working people but we bought our homes when the prices were more affordable. These kids do not have the same opportunity. If we don't pay attention to our future leaders, (who are working very hard to live here), we will loose them and our city will loose the energy and luster we have worked so hard to get. I am happy that you all own your home but my guess is if you went to buy the home you live in today you would not be able to afford it. As a city we have agreed to include all. I have always been a supporter of neighborhoods but I am gravely disappointed in your attitudes and exclusions of our committed workforce.

Gretchen Serrie said...

Dear anonymous 11:49 AM:

You make the mistake of thinking that requiring planning board and staff review of a project with a last minute major change means the objectors are not in favor of affordable housing or are saying "not in my neighborhood."

The "NIMBY" accusation should be thrown in the garbage can along with "greedy developer." Let's stop the name calling and argue issues.

We have a right to expect our commissioners to make not only the legal choice, but to make the "right" legal choice. They were offered four legal choices. The only fair choice to both neighborhood and developer would have been a review of the project.

Of course we all want affordable housing...and as soon as possible. Lots of those in opposition to the Burks project had been working to create affordable housing before it even crossed the radar of some of the most recent advocates. This is not meant to question the sincerity of your support of affordable housing, but a response to your questioning of ours.

This is not an issue of whether someone supports affordable housing. It is one of process. And it is a very serious issue.

As for the namecalling...the most emotional among us always cross the line...some neighbors and some YPGers/DTPers have done so. We only waste time trading our litany of hurts and insults...because there have been harsh and insulting words from each side.

What we need to do is agree that we want an inclusive, fair process for project review. We did not have that with the Burks project.

Neighborhoods are fearful, not of what will be built in their backyards, but that the process by which it is decided what will be built, once breached, will continue as a precedent.

Anonymous said...

"Three rogue commissioners who would appear to be corrupt".

Perhaps the editor of the Herald Tribune reads this blog. There might be a good story here.

In any case, well before the next election comes due we should become intimately acquainted with all of the candidates campaign finances and past ties to the development industry.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Burks gave $500 (the maximum allowed) to Martin, Palmer, and Shelin for the last election. He also gave $500 more to Martin and Shelin for the runoff.

Also very interesting that three candidates returned contributions because they were from persons who had projects that might come before the commission and the candidates thought accepting the contributions would be a conflict of interest. Those candidates were Palmer in this election cycle and Servian and Mason in the previous cycle.

Other candidates accepted contributions from the same developers.

Wish more candidates would follow the example of Palmer, Servian and Mason.

Anonymous said...

Thank you are on the right path. This is an issue of citywide inclusion and a community coming together to solve an urgent problem that could crush our local economy. We are strong as a city but we all need to read what is happening to workforce around the country...cities are competing for these kids. Workforce (young and old) is leaving us. For every two baby boomers to retire there is only one worker to fill it. There are resources out there to read on this national issue. Again, thank you Gretchen, thank you for being the first voice of reason. As for the other two comments...STOP POINTING FINGERS AT COMMISSION. They do what they think is right. We may not always like it but it is democracy. Great…a commissioner took a legal $500 from a developer (who was not a known developer at the time). We would all do the same. We are a community...all of us together. WE ALL need to put egos aside. If Mr. Burkes had given the neighborhoods this new plan to review I feel the reactions would have been the same. The arguments from the neighbors may have been different but it would still have been “we don’t want it”.

If anyone has a better solution for workforce housing I am certain the commission will listen. They want solutions. No one has these yet. Mr. Burkes has given the best solution so far. Like Mayor Atkins said..."this is the closet we have come to a solution".

A park on this site is not a solution to workforce housing. For the city to purchase the 9.5 million dollar land from Burks, knock down the buildings, landscape, hire planners, etc...It would cost the taxpayers upwards of 15 million to complete. I know there is money out there for such acquisitions but don't you think it is selfish to take 15M from another part of the community when there is already 40 acres available next to our neighborhood???

DTP and YPG did not slander or name call at the table…read the public record. They did not use anyone’s names in the facts they provided. I was so sad to read on these blogs that people resorted to using names of individuals that none of us have taken the time to get to know. What these groups say may be true. Pay attention neighbors...these kids have their act together and they know who they represent. Just because the representatives of YPG probably makes enough money to live here does not mean the entire group does. I took the opportunity to read their by-laws. They are very legit and did not sink a single penny of the organizations money into marketing affordable housing. They did it on their own. It means that much to them. Their by-laws read that ANYONE can be elected as long as they are paid members. Obviously the membership sees strong leaders in this dynamic and growing group. I suggest if we don't want high-rises on that property we ask their leaders to organize us!

Anonymous said...

The issue is one of PROCESS.

1. Mr. Burks Application (with the consent of the Director of Planning, the City Manager and the City Attorney) was returned in November for failing to meet required deadlines. His attorney "had a conversation" with the Director of Planning and that decision was rescinded.

2. Mr. Burks continued to a point within hours of the Commission meeting under one proffer that had failed to survive the review of staff or Planning Commission, then dropped that proffer.

3. Mr. Burkes came to the table with a just-revised proffer absent details or a signed agreement between the parties he referenced as his partners.

4. The City Commission refusd to provide staff or the Planning Commission any time to review the mew application - in itself a violation of the process envisioned in the applicable rules.

5. The City Commission voted to approve an application neither they, nor their professional staff nor their advisory Planning Commission had so much as read.

Others may be better able to parse the fine legal points and the Commissioners' departure from each. But Young Professionals and Neighborhood Leaders can all agree that we all need follow the law and due process no matter the "greater public good" may be touted as the objective.

srqwriter said...

To the writer one post above:

When the YPG representatives criticized the fact that the young woman who had found an affordable house and purchased it had some help from relatives, they opened themselves to the same criticism. That is not name-calling. There was probably not a young person there who had no received help from a parent. Those with parents with the greatest financial means most probably had received the greatest help. No problem, but let's be fair.

Click onto the "State of Florida Corporations Online" link above and under "Officer/Registered Agent Name List" write "Burks Ron" and check on the corporate affiliations and consider rethinking your criticism of the young woman whose family gave her a little help buying her modest home.

NikkiQ said...

Process is a fair and wonderful thing. As I am reading everyone’s rebuttal am I to assume the argument is no longer about the buildings but the lack of process?

Also, why is Mr. Burks the bad guy? He approached YPG and talked to us. Maybe he didn't approach us correctly the first time, but he asked everyone what we wanted to see and accommodated neighbors when he saw adversity. I actually heard one woman say, "I don't want those perverts looking in my back yard."

Look at the neighborhood's comments. Do they make sense? If the lack of process is YPG's problem, let us address that. If development is our problem, let us address that. Which one is it? Of course, everyone can agree we need to follow law and due process...however, no law was broken and government strays away from due process every day...both on national and local levels. I was stunned at the commission's decision, but they have the right to make that decision. We elected them as our voice. They're looking at a total picture...a picture for our entire city...the neighborhood is only looking at themselves.

Check the public record....YPG never mentioned the young girl who had help buying a home...the DTP did. I think it is wonderful her parents could afford her the luxury to live in SRQ…Many people do not have the same luxury.

Now, back to my original point...why slam Michael Saunder's son ("There was probably not a young person there who had no received help from a parent")…he never spoke at the meeting. Do you know his stance on this issue? Is his opinion on some public record you read and are hiding?

Are you blaming him for being born? Are you saying he does not deserve what he is working himself into? What is your point in consistently referencing him??? Do you know if his mom has helped him? Did she tell you? Did he tell you? Did he say anything about the girl who had help from her parents at the table?

Using him as a pawn for your comments is uncalled for. It only makes the points of the neighborhood weaker. You are dragging someone into a situation and you do not know where he stands personally. All we know is, he's the Vice-Chair for an organization that qualifies for attainable housing.

I'm sure if you had a company, you would love to teach your children how to run it. I'm sure you would love for them to take it over. Why are you still pointing inaccurate fingers? If you want to solve the problem, go tackle the issue. Don't slander someone’s child who Vice-Chairs an organization that publicly took on affordable housing 2 years ago. Do research, get your facts straight.

Maybe Mr. Burks decided to pursue affordable housing because of Michael's son. Who knows? Your assumptions will continue to make your efforts look unfounded if you keep it up.

SRQWriter, you imply that Mr. Burks' affiliation with Michael Saunders is the latest news. We all know the relationship between him and the company. So what!? Are you saying he should not have the opportunity to build?

Your statement implies you know a secrete about Mr. Burks...I believe it's very clear to everyone that he is affiliated with MSC. Does he not have the same rights as a citizen because of that?