Saturday, December 30, 2006

Farmers Market Day

A visit to the downtown Farmers Market brought a pleasant surprise - there seemed to be more vendors providing fruits and vegetables, those things you expect from a Farmers Market.

The picture shows a few of the numerous varieties of heirloom tomatoes offered by one of the vendors. A good addition as these are locally grown.

Recently the Downtown Partnership took over the management of the Farmers Market. The addition of more fresh food vendors is welcomed.

An interesting sidelight: I usually park in the city hall parking lot on Saturday mornings as there are almost always spots available. When I left I decided to check the Whole Foods Parking lot. As expected, only a few of the public spaces were occupied. While many people talk about the lack of convenient parking in downtown Sarasota, this particular lot remains unused.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Recent News of Interest

We are happy that the County Commissioners are taking a look at the school board decision to demolish Riverview's Paul Rudolph buildings.

The Trust for Public Land will be working with the county to identify specific parcels of land to purchase for the Environmentally Sensitive Lands program. TPL is an excellent organization. Examples (case studies) of their "Greenprinting" program can be found here.

Someone is asking questions about the fertilizers and pesticides we put on our lawns and what effect these chemicals have on the bay.

Sarasota County has purchased 3.9 acres on Longboat Key that fronts both the gulf and the bay. The land will add to exosting park l;and on Longboat Key.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Invitation

DAR Tour and Luncheon Benefits Historic Preservation:
Sarasota Architectural Salvage Tour and Luncheon
Saturday January 27, 2007 10am-2pm
10th St. and Central Avenue/ Sara De Soto Chapter House

The saved architectural treasures of Jesse White's Architectural Salvage Co. will be on view as he conducts a fascinating tour of Sarasota Architectural Salvage Company from 10 - 11am.

View treasures of the past waiting to be rediscovered! Afterwards, you'll have time to wander through the 18,000 sq. ft. warehouse on your own. Then take a short stroll through historic Pioneer Park to the DAR Chapter house (just around the corner) for a lovely lunch at 12:30pm.

This exciting affair is also an important Chapter fundraiser for historic preservation projects, open to all.

Please join us! Send the form below along with your check, and names of guests to: Nancy Johnson, Treasurer, Sara DeSoto DAR Chapter, 6469 Indigo Bunting Place, Lakewood Ranch, FL 34202-8246.
Registration DEADLINE 1/20/07
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _



Please select your level of participation below.
__$20. general admission __$30 Donor __$50 Sponsor
__$75 Patron __$Other

Monday, December 18, 2006

Is Revitalization Necessary?

While "revitalization" may be a buzzword in government circles these days, it's not always what it's cracked up to be.

On the surface, the word and all it conveys sounds great. Encourage investors to tear down dilapidated buildings in residential neighborhoods and replace them with modern condominiums. Encourage investors to build chic restaurants in old commercial districts to draw business and traffic.

Out with the old, in with the new. Encourage investors.

With government help in the way of special taxing districts, grants and zoning changes, it's happening all over the country.

Redevelopment consultants cite various success stories as blueprints of what to do at their next stop, which could very easily be your neighborhood if your house or place of business is more than 30 years old.

This is the opening of Eric Ernst's recent column in the SHT. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

When people think about their own neighborhood, Ernst says:

People see a unique place, with distinguishing elements from one block to the next. They see real people, living real lives. And for the most part, they must like what they see or they would not live there.

That's not to say they object to improvements. They simply want those improvements to build on what's there, not alter their surroundings to an unrecognizable form.

Residents of older neighborhoods can always point to eyesores that would make good targets for razing. It seems, though, that government-initiated revitalization often leaves the dumps standing and tears down the more tolerable properties, which appeal to investors.

The "revitalization concept" is too often sold in broad, nebulous terms indicating it will be "good for the community". There are projects where revitalization makes sense. But when the community pays too high a price in terms of the loss of sense of place or unwanted height and density that lead to trafic, loss of openess, loss of green space, then it becomes a question of community value vs developer profits.

Decisions are tough when these are pitted against each other. Developers throw out terms such as NIMBYism and "fear of change" as ways of discounting the community interest and feelings about a project.

If developers cannot find a way to show that a proposed project is indeed a benefit to the community - and in doing so, is able to get community approval - then more work needs to be done.

The project that Ernst was relating to was the recent Englewood proposed "revitalization" of a trailer park. The county commissioners determined that the particular project was too intense and that other options were available. They then turned down the request for zoning change.

Stakeholders and Special Interests

An interview with Michael Romanos, professor of planning and economic development at the University of Cincinnati offers this bit of wisdom: Much is being made about the importance of ’stakeholders’ these days. What is your understanding of the role of 'stakeholders' in terms of sustainable development planning: Is the term undemocratic, revealing special interests & corruption, or an acknowledgement of how things are done since "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others"?

Professor Michael Romanos: The whole idea of sustainable development is to create a synergy among environmental, economic and social goals. Environmental and social justice are at the heart of sustainable development, so the concept, far from being undemocratic, is a vehicle to achieve more participatory democracy and more democratic planning and development.

In this sense, then, stakeholders are the beneficiaries of the plans and the development programs, and since these plans and programs advocate resource conservation, resource management, controlled growth, conservation of land, nature-friendly life styles, and several other similar principles, their interests are not ”special” interests, but rather those of society as a whole.

Now, special interests may intervene in the sustainable development/planning process in order to insert their own goals and priorities, but these are external agents, and the plans would not be partial to their concerns. If the process is carried out fairly, sustainable development planning will not favour these special interests but rather the stakeholders that who constitute the communities for which the plan is produced. It is up to the special interests to join the ranks of community stakeholders or not.

In the Santorini plan, for example, most of the professional organizations participated in the planning process as stakeholders. But some special interests objected to the direction of the plans, because they
[the plans] were advocating limits to rampant growth, management of the land and other natural resources, protection of the landscape, and regulations for construction. These special interests could join the ranks of stakeholders, and be part of the planning decision process, but in this case they felt that their personal and business interests deviated from those of the rest of the community.

The interview can be found here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Arcades Revisited - A Letter

From Dec 10 issue of SHT (letter to editor):

Impact of missing sidewalk air rights is shocking

I have lived here since 1950. I went to school, married and raised my family here, and I have always loved Sarasota. My wife's family moved here in 1932 and had a store right next to Ernest Smith and Sears and Roebuck in downtown Sarasota.

Last weekend I went to watch the Christmas parade with my daughter and grandchildren at the corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue, and was I shocked to see a building that was over the public sidewalk on both streets.

Question: Who gave away our air rights to the 1350 Main project?

I hope people know which city commissioners to blame so we can be sure not to vote for them if they seek re-election.

Raymond Shmalo

Note: the arcade and public space over the side walk has been one of the major issues that SOS has taken a position on. We also believe this was a mistake and as a result worked hard to get the use of arcades over public sidewalks removed from the city code.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

DeMarcay to Rise Up

After three meetings the city commission decided the developer of the proposed DeMarcay project would be given the added density requested under the city DROD.

This has been a particularly contentious process because of the on-going, construction caused business disruption to the merchants along Palm Ave. Dirt, dust, noise, much reduced parking, lane closures and full street closures have rightfully exasperated the merchants. The developer of the 1350 Main project has also complained about loss of views, shading of his pool and added traffic.

While the DeMarcay developers say they have much improved construction techniques that will do a much better job at minimizing disruptions, the merchants are not convinced. many of the merchants' livlihoods depend on having a pleasant, normal street.

Some of the more interesting comments made by the competing lawyers (lawyer for the DeMarcay proposal and lawyer for the 1350 Main building next to the DeMarcay):

From the 1350 Main point of view (they do not want views and shading from the new building):
  • This is not adaptive historic rehabilitation, it is "facade-ism" - commenting on the incorporation of the facades of the two historic buildings (DeMarcay and the Roth Cigar Factory) that occupy the property
  • This will result in the destruction of the Palm Ave neighborhood - the 1350 Main has a 4 story arcade over the sidewalk on Palm

From the DeMarcay point of view:

  • 1350 Main is a massive building, extending its base out to the curb (over the sidewalk) has increased its massiveness
  • 1350 Main took the light away from everyone
  • We are bringing "sophisticated growth" to downtown
  • Vast majority of people support the downtown code that was approved

Harvey Hoglund of the city planning staff noted that both historic buildings have interiors that are not worth saving (at least from an expense point of view). He noted that if the DROD is not given to the developers, a building of the same scale could be built under existing codes that may include commercial or hotel uses. Neither historic building would likely be saved as there is no real protection for these buildings.

In the end, three commissioners voted for the proposal and one against.

Commissioner Palmer indicated the proposal did not meet the requirements of the DROD (emphasizing the requirement for broadening the range of housing options - ie., prices). She also indicated the intensity, the density and the heights are simply too great for this area.

Commissioner Shelin said he was committed to new urbanism and reducing sprawl - this project does that. He said he has lived in 4 different large eastern cities and knows there are ways to save historic resources and allow development.

Commissioner Bilyeu said he loves the arcades at 1350 Main and the construction issues are the result of a learning experience - the city has not built arcades on Main before.

Commissioner Atkins said he saw no evidence why he should not support the proposal.

Commissioner Servian had previously recused herself from the hearing because she had bought a unit in the 1350 Main project when it first went on sale.

The SHT story on the DeMarcay decision article is here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rosemary Community Garden

The issue with the city decision on the Rosmary Community Garden and the process used continues to stir deep feelings.

Jono Miller has written an excellent op-ed piece in the SHT. In part he says:
On Nov. 6, without bothering to notify any of the four dozen directly affected gardeners, or any neighbors or other stakeholders, the Sarasota City Commission held a 10-minute discussion to consider what is now the Rosemary Community Garden as a site for workforce housing. The commission was acting to seize an opportunity -- a grant with a mid-December deadline and the allure of $5 million.

No one asked if density could be moved off the garden site. No one asked how it did or didn't match up with the Rosemary District Neighborhood Action Strategy. No one asked what role the garden was playing in the Rosemary community or the city. No one asked if the gardeners should be notified and allowed to speak. After 10 minutes, the commissioners all voted to apply for the grant, which, if awarded and accepted, will mean the end of the Rosemary Community Garden. They had exercised their long-held right.

There are three problems: the first is why the affected stakeholders were not notified of the process. The second is the potential loss of the garden, and the third is the collateral effect on public opinion if people come to conclude that if this approach (destroying social capital, not consulting community plans, eliminating greenspace, ignoring assets, expunging a community garden, and not informing stakeholders) is representative of how advocates plan to treat the public in reaching community housing goals.

People are still debating how and why the gardeners received no notification of the discussion that could doom the garden. However that happened, it was wrong.

This lack of process and reactionary decision making is an issue that has come up again and again with the city commission.

The community garden has inherent community benefits that have not been given due consideration. This is also an on-going issue with the commission. How do we value the needs and desires of the entire community, how can we find solutions that satisify a broader segment of our community? These questions do not get asked by the commissioners and of course they are then not answered.

Sarasota's Canopy Meg

An article in todays SHT mentions a Smithsonian Magazine interview with Meg Lowman - New College professor and noted canopy researcher. The link to the Smithsonian article is here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Keeping Our Character

Our history tells our story. The history of a town tells about the hopes and aspirations of those that have lived there.

When we came to Sarasota, as nearly all of us did, we brought along with us our personal stories. Now we have a different setting for these stories to continue to unfold. Many of us have not had much of a chance to consider Sarasota's history - instead we look at what is here today and maybe try to change it into what we brought with us (our own past). Or maybe we fall prey to the extensive lifestyle marketing that shows what a perfect life can be like, if only we buy into the latest and greatest luxury development.

But Sarasota does have a unique story. When we read about its history, look at historical pictures and places and wander around all the different neighborhoods we begin to get a stronger sense of why this place is unique. Losing this character has been a frequent issue in the past few years and we face challenges today as we try to retain our character. The pressure to demolish the old and replace with expensive (but profitable) new buildings has been tremendous in Sarasota.

When people say "Sarasota is not the same old small town resort", that is not exactly true. There have been changes, changes that many would say are detrimental. But the history and the underlying character remain. The stories are still told and they still beckon new arrivals. A small town in a wonderful place with unique character is hard to beat.

But bit by bit the economic force of profit continues to exert pressure on Sarasota's character.

An editorial in the Palm Beach Post tells about efforts in Stuart to preserve some of that town's heritage.
Owners of historic homes have problems. The cost of keeping up old wood frame houses can be prohibitive. But just when the situation seems hopeless, along comes Mac Stuckey with a great idea.

Stuart voters approved another of Mr. Stuckey's great ideas on Election Day, when they made Stuart submit any plans for developing city-owned waterfront to voters for approval. "We need to encourage people to leave historic buildings right where they are," he said. "We should give people who have historic properties a tax assessment reduction and other incentives to keep their property exactly like it is."

Mr. Stuckey served on Martin County's Historical Preservation Board for three years, but said the county ordinance doesn't give a private landowner enough incentive to preserve historical structures on land that is rapidly growing in value. The law gives a "designated" historic building a 10-year moratorium on taxes attributable to restoration, but gives no help for homes already restored or for the land itself.

Instead, Mr. Stuckey suggests a 50 percent reduction in the assessed value or millage rate for the initial assessment, along with a yearly cap on increases, similar to the 3 percent Save Our Homes cap. Owners would be invited, but not required, to designate their properties as historic. Both the county and Stuart would have to approve separate historic preservation laws.

Developers won't like this plan; owners would have as much incentive to preserve as to sell their property. "I want to keep the good things about Stuart," Mr. Stuckey said. "I don't want it to look like every other coastal town. I want it to look like Stuart." His idea could make that possible - in Stuart and elsewhere in South Florida.

Instead of demolishing the historic structures that tell the story of our past, finding ways to keep them in place allows our heritage to remain with us. We came here because of the climate, the natural and cultural amenities, the small town atmosphere. This unique atmosphere has a powerful draw. We need to allow these stories to continue to unfold as this is the essence of the unique Sarasota that drew us here.

Turning character into concrete is not why we came here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ringling Museum Opens Education/Conservation Center

Over the weekend the Ringling Museum hosted an open house at its newest building, the Education / Conservation Building. This new building adds space for classes, the library, the conservation lab, the vault and much needed office space.

Public tours of the new building were held over the weekend. The building looks nice and the views from inside are spectacular.

While the conservation lab and the vault are "industrial" looking, they obviously fulfill the needed function for which
they were designed.

According to the tour leaders and Dr. Wetenhall, this building provides state of the art vault (critical, since the Museum is located near Sarasota Bay, and in hurricane country) storage for the museum's collection as well as provides arguably the best conservation lab in North America.

Next up for the Museum: an opening in early spring of the new exhibition wing.
Added note - based on the comment below, the Education/Conservation Building is on the south side of the Museum Complex, mostly on what would be considered New College property. It is sited west of the Sainer Pavilion. A map show the location.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

U-Plan for Local Development

Here is a concept that could have good use in a lot of places - even here in Sarasota.

Land-use planning for the masses
Design center allows public to try hand at shaping key corridor
BY LAURA YUEN Pioneer Press

On St. Paul's University Avenue, you can order Cambodian noodles, buy a secondhand mannequin and replace the muffler on your old Buick.

And starting today, you can create your own streetscape.

A do-it-yourself urban design center offering equipment, software and technical expertise to the public will open today at 1956 W. University Ave. The storefront office, called U-Plan Community Planning Studio, is a land-use wonk's dream, but it is already generating some grass-roots interest.

With big-box retailers sniffing around and a light-rail line on the horizon for University Avenue, supporters say it gives the little guy a new weapon in the ongoing battle to reshape the Central Corridor. In the center's sparse storefront office, interested groups can equip themselves with GIS mapping software, design tools and mega-size printers designed to help them create their own development blueprints along the avenue.

For a district council or neighborhood group engaged in a development issue, those resources usually aren't easy to come by, said Kristen Kidder, executive director of the Thomas-Dale/District 7 Planning Council. "At the neighborhood level, we're to some degree playing catch-up," said Kidder, who also is a member of the new center's management team.

"We're not on the cutting edge. This provides us the ability to be a little closer to that cutting edge." The scramble for every developable inch on University Avenue already has begun. Community activists and design enthusiasts already have lost key battles over recent bricks-and-mortar projects, including a CVS, Aldi discount grocery and Wal-Mart.

Opponents of those developments contend they discourage pedestrians and transit riders and have no place on the future home of light rail. Another big fight, at Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue, could soon erupt over a proposed Home Depot and Best Buy.

To get the design center going, community planning group University United received $125,000 from the Minneapolis Foundation, which University United says will go toward its goal of operating the U-Plan studio for at least four days a week over the next two years.

All services are free, at least in the initial stages. Participants will be able to use the mapping software while analyzing area demographics, traffic counts, property values and other characteristics along the Central Corridor, said staffer Julia Burman, who has applied some of those tools through her work at the Northeast Community Development Corp. in Minneapolis.

Seeing that kind of data plotted on a map allows folks to better grasp the bigger picture of their communities, Burman said. District councils that use the center also might find it easier to visualize the kind of development they want to see, with the use of software that can create images of buildings of various heights and sizes in relation to the existing streetscape.

Some of the community councils have expressed interest in using the center as they rethink uses for the Unidale Mall site as well as an upcoming redevelopment project on North Snelling Avenue. Two private property owners also have signed up to use the studio, said University United's Brian McMahon.

McMahon has enlisted GIS support from students at Macalester College, the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas.

Starting next spring, architects with the American Institute of Architects-Minnesota will share their expertise at the studio at workshops designed to envision new development along the avenue by individual blocks.

Tim Griffin, of the St. Paul on the Mississippi Design Center, will oversee the program.

With many development issues facing both the city and the county, this kind of tool would seem to be particularly useful. Maybe our city and county planning departments could look into the feasibility for such a center in Sarasota.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Community Garden

The protest of the city's Community Garden decision is growing a life of its own. At the Monday commission meeting, 19 speakers gave their views on changing this 11 year garden old site to affordable housing. Much emotion and obvious close ties to the garden plots was expressed. The community that has formed around this endeavor has deep roots indeed!

The latest SHT article about this indicates the city will help look for a suitable alternate site for the garden - not exactly what the gardeners are looking for.

Had the city's plans to convert the property been better communicated before a decision was made, city commissioners don't think there would have been as big an uproar.

"Communication has always been our Achilles' heel," said Commissioner Mary Anne Servian. "That information didn't get out to all the gardeners."
This is exactly the issue that so many citizens have pointed out to commissioners in the last couple years. No plan is in place to help guide decisions, the commissioners react to specific proposals that are "put on the table" with little or no citizen input until after the decision is made. Reaction instead of planning will always be problematic.

This is more than a communication issue, it is a process issue. Lack of a clear process that is followed will result in citizens that react negatively - rightly so.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More On Siesta Density

The Siesta Key density decision that was described yesterday was covered more extensively in the Pelican Press. Their article is worth reading as it focusses on the difference Joe Barbetta has made on the BCC decisions. Joe brings many years experience and solid decision making to the county commission.

Dumb Growth, Smart Name?

John Thaxton has written an excellent op-ed piece in today's SHT. The subject is how the "smart growth" label is often used incorrectly and the result is more sprawl.

He concludes with the following thought provoking summary:

Smart Growth should be the way we build new development, not the reason. "Smart Growth" in the wrong location, or done without a financially feasible infrastructure plan, is nothing more than dumb growth with a smart name.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

County Votes Against Adding Density

A message from our neighbors in the county:

Congratulations Siesta Key residents and thanks to Siesta Key Association for fighting and defeating Sarasota County proposal (RU-136). This county sponsored proposal would have legalized construction of duplex housing on undersized, non-conforming lots on Siesta Key.

Although commissioners Mills, Mercier and Staub had previously voted in favor of this proposal (Patterson & Thaxton voted against), SKA’s research into county records, and hiring of attorneys to fight the county, showed proposal would be illegal under county law.

All commissioners (5 to 0) voted against RU-136 despite objections by special interests.

It is a shame that citizens’ groups such as SKA need to hire lawyers and do research the county itself should have done and that citizens need to persuade elected officials not to vote in favor of special interests and contrary to the greater good.

Thanks to all sensible growth supporters who emailed county commissioners in opposition to RU-136. It made a difference. Commissioners received 400 emails on this issue.

If we don’t want irresponsible, destructive growth and catering to special interests, citizens need to step up and be heard and, unfortunately spend time and money fighting Sarasota County’s special interests.

There are some excellent advice in this message. Citizens need to get involved to protect the quality of life we came here for.

The SHT article on this County Commission decision gives some County Commissioner comments.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Community Conversations - Value Judgements

A week ago the city commission was asked to donate land that has been used for a community garden for the last 11 years so that affordable housing could be built instead. The request was based on the need for temporary artists visiting Sarasota as part of the cultural venues that Sarasota is noted for. The group that asked for the land indicated that they could fund a building but could not afford the land. They suggested that the Community Garden land on 6th and Central.

A number of gardeners asked that this particular lot be kept as a community garden. They argued that it not only provided green space within the city but that the gardener community crossed social and economic lines and provided a unique and wonderful sense of community. The gardeners have been working this plot of land for more than 11 years. The city has described the land as being in a "land bank" for future use.

Jono Miller, New College environmental professor argued that while affordable housing is important the community garden in Sarasota was also important. We should not have to give up one to get the other. Later he wrote the following e-mail on the subject:


Things happen. You meet someone and agree it doesn't make sense to have a serious relationship and 36 years later you're leaving a City Commission meeting to drive together to Tampa to pick up your soncoming back from college. A friend leaves an abandoned puppy with you for a weekend while she finds someone to take it permanently and fourteen years later you're wondering if house guests can smell the pee from your old incontinent dog. You pick a place to go to college and find, for whatever reason, it might be a place to live.

I'm sitting here with the most recent copy of the New College student newspaper, the Catlyst.

The lead story relates how student efforts to vote were thwarted. How after decades of being able to use the college address to vote, this year students had to use arcane dorm addresses (and re-register if they changed dorms!). Then on page four there is a story about two students who tried to vote for Jennings and when they got to the review page, their vote was gone.

Things happen. But these are our young people, many voting for the first time and this was their first experience with local government. That has nothing to do with you. Except imagine that context and then coming to your first public hearing.

Imagine being told not to get excited because nothing had been decided only to hear moments later that two weeks previously something HAD been decided, without any notification of the people being affected.

Imagine hearing the City Manager say he will always bring matters to the Board before letting those who will be affected know about it.

Imagine hearing the land was vacant, which it probably is from a real estate point of view, but certainly not in the sense of being abandoned or neglected – it is probably the most nurtured and fawned-over two thirds of an acre in the City. Imagine it is the first, and maybe only place where you feel safe talking with strangers in Sarasota because you share a common bond.

Imagine hearing that providing temporary residences for a couple dozen of out-of-town artists is apparently more important than the needs of about fifty people who live here in the City right now. Imagine being told it was play when it feels like work, or that people who speak on its behalf are elitists, or that it is about flowers and not food. Imagine elected officials who can only see it as they did many years ago, as a nasty sandspur patch, when the students experience it as a vital third place, where people from many walks of life meet and interact. For some, this month has seen their first vote and their first hearing.

For whatever reason, many New College students want to learn togarden. Its not really down the center line of what one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country is supposed to be doing.

But it is important to them. And I support it, not because I think they willbe feeding themselves, but because working in the soil is an act of faith, because it fosters humility, and because, usually, they have little idea what they are doing. Nowadays they are likely to sit intheir dorm rooms and Google "vegetables" and "Florida" and come across some list made by someone in Gainesville and then they find an online seed company and order seeds. I don't need to tell you how that works.

There is a garden on campus outside my window. But here students arejust talking to themselves.

I tell them they need to forget the computer and go downtown and find someone who knows what grows and talk to them. We are raising a generation that is not learning how to find real people who know something and ask for guidance. Sending them to Sixth Street has been one part of the antidote. If you want to call them elitists, that's fine --- some probably come from wealthy families and head to WholeFoods after struggling in the garden. But I'm telling you their"playing in the dirt" is just as important as moving off campus and"playing house" or being on a team and "playing Ultimate Frisbee" –all this playing is preparing them to be responsible engaged adults that can take care of themselves and their community. And while most of our students graduate and take off for graduate school or whatever,some stay, despite the housing situation and make Sarasota a morevibrant place to live. They fill any number of roles from waitresses and house sitters to teaching or selecting the films you'll be seeing at the Sarasota Film Festival.

I'm not asking you to set aside your affordable housing agenda so New College students can play in the dirt. (I think they may only have one plot anyway). I'm just telling part of the story of one of the 28 plots. I think it is obvious you decided several weeks ago what you wanted to do with this land without hearing any of the other stories. (Or consulting the Rosemary District neighborhood plan?)

That is flawed public process and if there is any way you can back up and do this right, I think you should. I think you owe it to the people you cut out of the process. You should have to listen to the other 27 stories before you vote to take this away or even to relocate it.

Relocation pits gardeners against park users, who will justifiably argue "their" park is being nibbled away. People take ownership and fight for things they care about. They get emotional.

Your comments last night reveal that you have set on this path without knowing all the facts, or at least without hearing all the stakeholders. Plain and simple, that is wrong and I think most of you can see that now. I expect more from my City Commission. I won't ask you to open your hearts, but I will ask you to spend some time in the community garden. I haven't been there since January, so don't take myword for it. See for yourselves.

And I will ask you to open your minds. We were told this entire site is about one acre. We all know you/we aren't going to scratch the surface of the affordable housing need with this one acre effort. This is about getting started. But you need to ask if you want to start by destroying community and alienating a broad cross section of this community. Less than 2/3 of an acre is the garden. Why aren't we talking about putting some units on the parking lot site and transferring the remaining units elsewhere to city or private property?

I can't remember ever heading downtown to oppose more units downtown.

I support downtown growth and affordable housing. I will show up to support rezonings if that what it takes. What's more I think a lot ofpeople would support adding a few units here and there in the RosemaryDistrict if it means we can and leave the garden. Instead of hiring landscape architects to design "green space" citizens have created it for free by themselves (with some mulch and water).

I know that eleven years ago you or your predecessors didn't intend for this to happen --for people to get attached to the "temporary"garden. But things happen. People have created a specialized densely-used "micro-park" where diverse citizens not only come to re-create but to have social interactions they can't have anywhere else. No one expected that.

But things happen. Go see for yourselves and be open to rethinking this. That's all I'm asking.


The SHT has an extensive article about the community garden in today's paper.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Request For Your Help

A message from the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA):

CONA member, Siesta Key Association, needs your help to oppose a change in county law allowing much higher densities on Siesta Key and elsewhere in County. CONA’s board has taken a position opposing this proposal, now it’s your turn.

Do something to help Siesta Key residents stop destructive, neighborhood unfriendly, dumb growth by:

· Attending hearing to speak against RU-136, (Dec 4 at 1:30 1660 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota) or

· Email county commissioners today to tell them you oppose RU-136:

Paul Mercier:
Jon Thaxton:
Shannon Staub:

At the last vote on RU-136, only Nora Patterson & Jon Thaxton voted against increased density. Commissioners Mercier, Staub & Mills voted in favor of RU-136 changing law to allow much higher densities.

Message & details from Siesta Key Association below:
The proposed change, labeled RU-136, will be heard by the Board of County Commissioners next Monday, December 4th after 1:30 PM. Sarasota County Government Administrative building, 1660 Ringling Blvd, 1st floor auditorium.

Recently, Sarasota County staff and developers have focused their attention on the number of homes that will be built on Siesta Key. Of course, the County staff will claim that if the new change to the law is approved, the number of additional housing units will only be 35-48 units.

However, SKA's research finds this number to be too low and has estimated the increase to be about 350 additional housing units.

This estimate does not include parcels that are 'partial' lots which are even smaller than the old platted lots now under discussion. These partial lots, which the Zoning Administrator recently advised may be buildable, can add hundreds of more units to SKA's estimates.

The Siesta Key Association urges you to attend this important meeting and let the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners know of your concerns with the proposed amendment to allow increased density.

In the meantime, please email the Commissioners with your comments and concerns on RU-136.

Thank you for your support. From the Directors of the Siesta Key Association.

For more information, contact Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key Association

CONA -- Sarasota County Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, Inc. Neighbors helping neighbors since 1961.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Winter Reading

Are you up for some serious reading during the long night time hours we are experiencing?

Planetizen, a web site all about planning and development news, has recently published a "top 10" list of planning books. Some of the titles are intriguing. Take a look.