Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bayside Moves Forward

Last night the Planning Board reviewed the proposed Sarasota Bayside (Quay) development. After lengthy presentations and questioning of each other by lawyers for the Hyatt and Sarasota Bayside, the recommendation for approval of the street vacation and site plan was approved.

The developers, Irish American Partners, presented the vision of "compact, cultural seaside town. The scale was compared to Cannes. The problem their designers faced was that downtown is detached from the bayfront.

They indicated that 65-75% of the retail would be national chains with the remaining being local. At this point, since there is no schedule for the proposal there are no commitment from retailers. However, the developer is confident that the commitment will come.

Everyone that testified indicated that the proposed project was great and would do wonderful things for Sarasota. But issues of traffic, the effect of construction and the lack of an agreement over details with the Hyatt were the focus of most of the discussion.

While Sam Freija, city traffic engineer, has determined that the proposal complies with the TCEA requirements (apparently determined by calculating what the current Quay allowance would be) testimony submitted by a traffic consultant for GWIZ disputed the data. In neighborhood workshops, residents of 888, 988, Beau Ciel and Marina Towers apparently raised traffic concerns as the most important issue for them. The issue of not considering the impact of all the proposed projects together was also raised - there is great concern that when all the projects that have been approved along the 41 corridor (including downtown buildings that will also pull traffic) are built this section of 41 will have major traffic problems.

The Hyatt raised a number of issues that could affect their daily operation: truck access (loading dock area), potential noise and construction activity. The Hyatt also noted that the proposed buildings would be higher (260 - 270 ft) than any building currently approved in downtown - 90 ft higher than Five Points building - and that their pool would be shaded during at least a portion of the day from November to March. The Hyatt representatives said "we do not want this to become another 1350 Main", referring to the horrendous construction issues that Palm Ave merchants have faced during the long construction of that building.

The Hyatt noted that the model that the model of the proposed project that Sarasota Bayside produced "has been very helpful in trying to understand the project."

Some of the public benefits of the proposal would be; the Belle Haven will be saved, there will be public water front access, new sections of the MURT will go through the project, the large "piazza" will be excellent public space, the "pedestal" design of the building complexes will allow stepbacks for the towers thus making the pedestrian experience more "human scale", and the design and architecture is quite strong - much different than the downtown buildings we have seen so far - and present a much needed new look. The Bayside group is actively looking for ways to provide better connectivity across 41 to downtown.

Bottom line: everyone agreed it would be a good project for Sarasota, but like all projects the devil is in the details. There could be many devils with this project but at least the Planning Board agrees that it should move forward.

The SHT story about the meeting is here.

Report on the Citizen Academy

An attendee of the recent City of Sarasota Citizens' Academy had an excellent experience. This program has been run twice and received rave reviews both times. We would urge everyone to consider participating in this progream to see how the city works and meet many of our great city employees. Getting involved is the best way to make sure Sarasota is the city we all want it to be.

With twenty four other people, I have recently completed the study of Sarsota city government at the Citizens' Academy sponsored by the Neighborhood Partnership Office of our city. It was a marvelous experience to learn of the various areas of supervision and how they work.

I have wondered what was to happen and when in Payne Park; now I know, and I've wondered about all the people at City Hall and exactly what they do in the capacities they serve. They really care. We learned of the huge number of services provided by the city available to people who are in a quandary because of problems that overwhelm.

Public Works and Engineering offered incite into the basic physical structure of Sarasota, as well as the great number of services it affords. At the Police Academy we observed in action the equipment available to maintain a safe community eg.a robotic capable of disarming threatening devices. The Planning and Redevelopment Board was an eye opener.

Now I understand why the sign for the Publix sign"opening soon" on 41 has been there for five or six years. The process to achieve a new structure is mind boggling.

Finally, we visited the Van Wezel and the complexity of that "jewel" is amazing physically and culturally. The programs it promotes for Sarasota's children are simply outstanding.

Over and above all else, it was wonderful to see the pride and dedication for our city evidenced by every single person we met.

What an opportunity this was! The next class of the Citizens' Academy will be in February. Try to be a part of it.

Patricia Barkhuff

Monday, November 27, 2006

Listening to Citizens

More on not listening:

Residents and their attorneys have lined up to challenge county commission-approved growth plans that state planners said fly in the face of growth-management laws.

A group of suburban West Palm Beach residents, the growth management group 1000 Friends of Florida and environmental activist Rosa Durando filed paperwork with the state this week to participate in negotiations to settle the fate of four county comprehensive plan changes approved by commissioners in August.

The state's Department of Community Affairs last month ruled that the four comprehensive plan changes, as well as a fifth one, were out of compliance with county and state growth laws.

This is from the Palm Beach Post and reflects what citizens are being forced to do as developers use their muscle to get commissioners to over extend growth.

Throughout meetings this year, the residents said that project was too dense, compared with the one-acre lots in their community. The city of Greenacres also opposed the project, and county planners had recommended that commissioners deny it approval.

The commissioners "need to review what the professionals in planning have done," resident Jim Harangody said. The association hired environmental and land-use attorney Jane West to represent them.

This is similar to what has happened here with the School Ave. proposal. Planners and citizens opposed the proposal because of height and traffic. Commissioner passed it anyway, then the DCA had an objection. Now it appears the city may look at changing its growth requirements to allow this proposal anyway.

Why do we have no accountability to citizens - no desire for consensus building?

Another Good Read

Local author, Stan Zimmerman, has recently published his second book - A History of Smuggling in Florida: Rum Runners and Cocaine Cowboys. Check out Bob Ardren's comments.

From Amazon's description:

Who does this smuggling? Well one Florida governor and the wife of another, for starters. Hardscrabble commercial fishermen, Spanish explorers, Mafia mobsters, crew chiefs for fruit pickers, respected attorneys, just about everybody in Florida is a smuggler.

Smuggling touches every major episode in Florida's history; its discovery and settlement, the Seminole Wars, and the Civil War were shaped by smugglers. The state's repeated land booms-including today's-are heavily influenced by smuggler profits. Today's business economy is warped by the manipulation of smugglers laundering their profits.

Stan Zimmerman means neither to vilify nor glorify these entrepreneurs. Nor does he intend to leave any stoned unturned or suitcase unopened. With stories of drug runners and prostitute pushers along side the exploits and follies of Florida's elite, we are able to see why throughout its long history, Florida has always been a true "smuggler's paradise."

Stan will be signing books at Circle Books on Dec 3, from 10:30 AM to 12:30 and at Borders on Dec 9 from 1-3 PM. Stan says that Carl Hiassen will be signing his new book at Circle Books following his stint.

Please, no contraband copies allowed!

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Quote To Contemplate

Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans in the finite space of planetary ecosystem as it is of gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive. - Pardot Kynes

The above quote was on page 1 of the 1975 Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan.

Sarasota has gotten off track over the last few years, with you, Nora and Jon, we can get back on.

Sent to Joe Barbetta by:
Lourdes Ramirez
President - Siesta Key Association

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Promise To Consider

Having grown up in Kalamazoo, I couldn't pass up this article. The program started about 2 years ago and is highly successful. Something for Sarasota to consider?

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—When economists and civic leaders discuss ways to revive this economically buffeted state, the talk quickly converges on the need to dramatically increase the number of high school students who continue their education and graduate from college.

Thanks to a group of anonymous donors, no place in Michigan, and perhaps no place in America, has achieved that goal as quickly and effectively as this mid-sized, post-industrial city. The donors' novel philanthropic fund pays up to 100 percent of the college tuition and fees for graduates of Kalamazoo’s three public high schools—as long as they attend a community college or university in Michigan.

Last June, in the first year of the program, known as the Kalamazoo Promise, 400 students graduated from the three schools and 80 percent took advantage of the offer.

Many other links are available. Wisconsin is also looking at a variation of this.

Providing education for everyone, all of our children, is a requirement for success. Providing a college education for all our children is a community asset that is unparalleled.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

To Listen or Not...

Palm Beach County's planning director told county commissioners Monday that he and his staff would not "compromise our professional integrity" by supporting commission development plans with which they disagree.

This is the lead paragraph from a story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The story about sending a plan proposal to the DCA continues:

"First of all, it makes us look ridiculous, because we've approved something and you sent up all the reasons we shouldn't have," Commissioner Mary McCarty said. "I think it puts us in a very bad light. ... You need to take out and reword staff's part of it, to support what the commissioners are saying when they're making their votes."

Maybe the question should be why have a staff if no one listens. In a council - manager form of government the concept is that professional staff are hired to make sure issues are well researched and presented fairly. When there is pressure to disregard the staff findings, then staff is not needed. This would be something other than a council- manager form (dictator?).

Have we ventured down this road in Sarasota in some of our decisions?

Joe Barbetta Takes Office on Today

From Sunday's SHT article on Joe Barbetta:

Controlling sprawl

Barbetta made suppressing urban sprawl a focus of his campaign. Days before he takes office, he still talks about the same subject.

He supports plans for the Florida Institute for Integrative Land Use on Fruitville Road. The institute, a joint venture of New College of Florida and the University of Florida, would study methods of managing growth while protecting the environment.

On the subject of traffic, he says he doesn't "want to see huge road widening projects just to accommodate cars."

He also made public transportation a key theme in his campaign. SCAT General Manager Anthony Beckford expects more emphasis on busing. Beckford, whose department already received a 40 percent budget increase in 2005, said Barbetta understands public transportation is "very good for the county in terms of not only growth management but land management."

Paying for growth is becoming much more of an issue these days as large projects have been built and announced, particularly in Manatee County.

Traffic remains a big issue in Sarasota also. The county turned down the big Bendeson proposal at University and I-75 - anyone who has tried to travel on University east of I-75 knows to allow lots of extra time as you wait for light changes several times before getting through each intersection.

And the City of Sarasota has seen the DCA send back two recent land use proposals because of lack of acceptable traffic management plans. In our view the city has not yet seen the light with regard to infrastructure needs that accompany downtown growth. At times it seems that the city is emulating North Port in its growth policies.

County commissioners in both Sarasota and Manatee know this.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What Is Planning?

Planning is the art of helping communities define and realize a vision of the future that anticipates community needs but does not unduly constrain future generations from successfully addressing needs and aspirations we can't foresee today. Planning is all about reaching community consensus about the character, quality, design, and location of new development and redevelopment and the conservation of valued environmental and cultural resources. It is also about fostering social and economic equity and local access to public services and amenities. It is about making communities better places to live, work, visit, and invest in.

This is from an interview with the Director of Planning for Oklahoma City. They face many of the same issues that we face.

We would highlight the comment "Planning is all about reaching community consensus...", something we have struggled with recently.

The interview is well worth reading.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I was wandering around Island Park looking for ways to depict Sarasota's skyline - but those pesky boats kept encroaching on the view.

When I looked at the boat names I noticed that some of them seemed to be commenting on the landscape around me. You might even consider the following photos to be self captioned.

Exactly what they are saying and to whom they are saying it to is up to the viewer.

[You may need to click on the picture to get a larger view.]

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

PACS and Local Elections

From a recent SHT editorial:
More than $20,000 from a political action committee helped John Simmonds get re-elected to the Venice City Council last week.

Simmonds received the campaign contributions from Citizens for Quality Government, which was formed in 2000. Since then, all the City Council candidates supported by the group have won. In other words, CQG is 10-0.

This is one of the reasons that the City Charter Review Committee was reluctant to endorse an elected mayor. A number of citizens raised this issue: PACS can put large amounts of funding into local elections and their advertising (truthful or not) can sway voters.

The Charter Review Committee also recommended limiting individual donations to candidates to a maximum of $200. This is the amount allowed in the county elections.

Latest on Ed Smith

Here is the latest (as of 11/15/06) plan for the proposed new baseball park in Sarasota. It was presented by Pat Calhoun at a meeting this evening.

The deal seems to hinge on whether an acceptable agreement can be found with a "partner", namely a hotel operator that would allow generation of about $10M. This would likely be in the form of a long term lease.

Since current parking is being used for the new structure, the city would look for additional parking across Tuttle in the current youth athletic park. This would require one of the three "stakeholders" (likely the BMX track or the football league) to move to a different site. A site identified as a possibility is on 17th, further east.

Bids from potential hotel developers are due by 2 PM on Thursday.

Looking For a Roofer?

These guys were tied up on the pinnacle roof above 1350 Main.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

DCA Finds School Ave Proposal "Not In Compliance"

The State of Florida DCA has issued a statement of intent to find the proposed School Ave Land Use Amendment to be “not in compliance” with state requirements.

Once again transportation issues are at the center of the denial.

The report was issued by the state today and can be found at the City website. It includes remedial action necessary.

DeMarcay - Round One

The battle of the development lawyers began last night as the DeMarcay proposal was attacked by lawyers for the yet to be finished 1350 Main project and defended by lawyers from the DeMarcay side.

The 1350 Main construction "techniques" have caused severe disruption on Palm, with both parking and access. The thought of continuing this disruption for another couple years has the Palm merchants very unhappy as they contemplate losing their businesses. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported:
The city commissioners delayed any decision Monday about giving increased density for the project. The merchants will have to wait until a meeting next week to sound off, and some of them plan to.

"It's a bad neighbor," said Brian J. O'Connell, owner of Hodgell Gallery on Palm Avenue, after the meeting. "It's greed."

O'Connell said that merchants on Palm have lost 40 percent of their business in the past year because of construction on the street.
There is disagreement among the development lawyers concerning compatibility of the project. According to the SHT article on the meeting consultants and lawyers for 1350 Main contend that the DeMarcay is incompatible with the rest of Palm Avenue. They say that it will cause traffic problems and be dangerous to pedestrians.
"It is too much building on too small a lot," said attorney Robert Lincoln, who represents the developers of 1350 Main. Lincoln defended the 1350 Main project to commissioners.

Developers of The DeMarcay were seeking a density increase to make the project work. The project, built on the site of the former DeMarcay Hotel, will be a "sensitive contributor to the renaissance of Palm Avenue," said attorney Ronald Shapo.
This project has been in the spotlight for a while now. Issues of construction methods, disruption of merchant activity on Palm, the parking system for the DeMarcay and its wffect on Palm traffic flow and the effect of the DeMarcay towering over the adjacent 1350 Main building are all under consideration.

The debate will continue next Tuesday at 6 PM in City Hall.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Historic Preservation

There was an interesting article in the SHT concerning a proposed redevelopment on Cedar Key. The proposal includes an historical rehabilitation. The rehabilitation is being directed by Bradenton based preservation architect Linda Stevenson. She was one of the lead people working on the Ca d' Zan restoration at the Ringling Musuem.

From the article (see the sidebar):
"There are four sets of guidelines," said Stevenson.

"Preservation, which is stabilizing and keeping the components of the building as they are in this moment in time.

"Restoration, which is when you pick a period to take your building back to; for a museum-quality restoration, you would take your building back to 1880 and take away modern additions and that sort of thing.

"Rehabilitation, which is the most common thing that is done; you preserve the historic character and features, but you make it workable in today's environment and make some interior changes. You might renovate some spaces and change the use.

"Reconstruction, which is when you have enough evidence to rebuild something that has disappeared.

The Crocker Church and Bidwell-Wood structures in Sarasota will be restored to a specific time period (to be determined).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Historic Church and House Settle into Pioneer Park

The Crocker Church and the Bidwell-Wood House House are on foundations.

Saturday's dedication was attended by about 50 or so people. Harold Bubil, from the SHT was excellent as the master of ceremonies.

Many of the people that were instrumental in getting the buildings moved to this park were recognized - included were Arnie Berns, Chris Blue, Thorning Little and many others. The organization behind this effort is the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

An audio discussion of this project can be found here.

The Bidwell-Wood House is the oldest Sarasota building that still exists. It was built in the late 1800's.

While the foundation is in place, much work and funding needs to follow as these important historic resources are restored. If you are interested in helping, the Historical Society would love to hear from you.

New Blog on the Block

Well maybe an extended block - it is from Tampa.

Anyway, check out My Florida History. The description fo this new blog includes:
My goal for this blog is to increase awareness and appreciation for the great people, ideas, and places that create Florida. My work and personal research interests tend to focus on the built environment -- how and why people use and change the land. You can expect this blog to includes stories of buildings, farms, bridges, hotels, etc., and the people who made them along with tales of Florida art, culture, and lore.

This sounds quite interesting.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Decision: No Elected Mayor

The Charter Review Committee voted tonight against a proposal to change the Sarasota Charter to have a directly elected mayor.

Two members of the 7 person committee voted in favor of an elected mayor and the other 5 voted against the proposal. Members Shelton and Luzier voted for the elected mayor proposal.

Until tonight's action, all the preliminary votes had favored changing to an elected mayor.

During the charter review process, many citizens had spoken against having an elected mayor, citing a variety of reasons. Similar proposals had been voted down by the electorate three times in recent years.

Recent issues with negative ads, "dirty politics", issues concerning listening to residents as opposed to developers, probably all played a role in the decision.

One member of the committee indicated that community members spent significant time speaking with the Charter Review Committee and gave many arguments for their beliefs - primarily that Sarasota should not have a directly elected mayor. This input was discussed openly and critically. The discussions lead to the decision that was ultimately reached.

In this case the process worked well. There was good citizen input, the committee members listened to the input, they applied their own personal knowledge and expertise and made a decision based on all the input. The decision was made in the interest of the community.

Thanks to all those that worked long hours on this process: committee members, staff and citizens. Your service and commitment to making our city an excellent city is appreciated.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Negative Ad Loses in Sarasota

Maybe Sarasota has seen a breakthrough.

Wednesday morning the local election news had stories about voters that were really negative about the negative ads. (Two negatives make a positive, right?)

Keith Fitzgerald commented that he believed his opponent's negative ad was an element of his victory. Here is a Democrat, first time political office candidate, in a heavily Republican district that refused to run a negative ad even though his opponent did so. He did have harsh words about his opponent's use of false statements in her ad. But he stuck to the promise he made - he would not run negative ads.

In the end Fitzgerald won a close contest.

We hope that other negative ad producers take note of this result and think long and hard in future Sarasota political campaigns.

New College Plans For Future

In mid September New College had a groundbreaking ceremony for the new dormitory buildings they are constructing. These buildings are on the east campus.

The New College campus is on Sarasota Bay.

Currently they are working on a campus master plan that should serve to guide their expansion over the next 50 years.

New College has been a strong positive influence on Sarasota for many decades. Their plans for the future promise many positive decades to come.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sarasota Skyscraper Scene

Condos and office building on Gulfstream facing the bay.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Van Wezel Light Dimmed?

Last week the Director of Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall was fired. John Wilkes had been the Director for about 12 years (2 time periods) and has generally been acclaimed as being the artistic and business force behind the success of the hall.

Recent newspaper articles have described the problematic areas of the Van Wezel Hall.

Reading "between the lines" would suggest that the probability of poor communication and "loose control" lead to the termination of Wilkes' contract. Whether the firing was justified and whether it will cause damage to Sarasota's reputation as the center of "Florida's Cultural Coast" will be debated.

The Van Wezel has been a great success story for Sarasota (not withstanding the infrequent but significant budget issues). Keeping it as a strong player in Sarasota's cultural scene must be continued. Anything less would be a tragedy.

More about this at the city manager's blog site.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dicey Pineapple?

In the November issue of Sarasota Magazine, Kim Hackett has an interesting article about Pineapple Square.

Apparently funding from the project bankers requires 99 paid condo reservations before the project can begin (financed). At press time for the magazine, Simon was "only a third of the way there."

While the project is scheduled to begin construction in January, Simon has indicated that if residential units are not sold, construction may be delayed.

Many new condos are under construction and not many buyers are available. Added into the mix are the Benderson proposal on Main, the Sarasota Bayside (Quay) project, the Grande Sarasotan (recently opened their sales office) and the DeMarcay on Palm, all of which are in the planning approval or pre-sales process. Following close behind is Michael Saunders' project on Orange. A number of townhouse projects are also under construction in Burns Court and Laurel Park. And we should not forget the 5 unsold units at Marquee en Ville on Fruitville.

Lots of competition for Pineapple Square.

In today's declining real estate market (with the speculators back in the closet) the competition for real buyers is getting tougher and tougher each day.

Mr. Simon has a tough row to hoe,
in order to get his Pineapple to grow.