Wednesday, June 28, 2006


The editor is taking a vacation, visiting Wisconsin to align his molecules. There will be fewer posts for a couple weeks.

Classic Altabe

Joan Altabe's column in the Bradenton Herald is a little acerbic this week:

Then there's the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. The design of the facade is so unrelievedly embellished, without a visual breathing space anywhere, it raises the specter of the architectural peacockery Ayn Rand described in her novel "The Fountainhead": "It offered so many columns, pediments, friezes, tripods, gladiators, urns and volutes that it looked as if it had not been built of white marble, but squeezed out of a pastry tube."

Also at Lakewood Ranch is a Publix that looks like a leftover from the beginning of history, like the Pyramids of Giza. Materials play a part in the rooted look. Columns on the storefront are formed with manufactured stone made to look like ledge stone found in the mountain rock fences of Carolina. But their long, blocky shapes give the impression of brick. So what you have is Williamsburg in southern Manatee County.

Talk about a mad spree of deception.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New City Park Opens

Fredd Atkins Park officially opened on Friday June 23. Many city and county officials, city staff and residents attended this long awaited event.

Sarasota has opened a number of parks in the last couple years and this neighborhood park is certainly a winner. It presents a great gateway into Newtown.

The opening ceremony included a jazz group providing music and speeches by the politicians and city staff.

City neighborhoods were also well represented at the celebration: Amaryllis Park, the City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, Indian Beach Sapphire Shores, Hudson Bayou, McClellan Park, Cherokee Park, Alta Vista and Laurel Park all had representatives attending. Several members of the Save Our Sarasota group also attended.

City crews, lead by Duane Mountain, worked long hard days the past couple weeks to get the park ready for this opening ceremony. We thank these unsung heroes for all the work they put into this park to make it happen.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Wise Commentary

Article published Jun 23, 2006 in SHT

Eroded beaches reflect years of human interference with nature

A mnemonic device helps one remember something. The image of a sandy pickle is easy to remember, but Sarasota's sandy pickle is something I sometimes wish I could forget. I was reminded of the sandy pickle when I read that Sarasota County commissioners have been contemplating costs of $20 million to nourish four miles of beach on Manasota Key. That's $5 million a mile. Ignoring that final 280 feet in each mile, that's a pricey thousand dollars a foot. But at those prices, with more than 30 miles of Gulf shoreline in Sarasota County, if we ever had to renourish all our beaches every five years, we'd be spending as much as $30 million a year.

What is sad is not the many millions it will cost us to maintain some semblance of beaches around here. The sad part is that they were once free. By "free," I mean it didn't cost us anything and, by "they," I mean perpetual walkable sandy beaches.

Beach erosion is only a problem where human structures are at risk.

Hurricane Charley pummeled Cayo Costa, but no one is calculating how much sand will need to be pumped. The beach changed, but there is still beach. But once we start defending buildings, then the sandy walkable beach can get lost in the fray -- replaced by sea walls or rocks or whatever the current structure-protecting fad is. We've taken what was once a free service, beaches, and increasingly made them into something we have to pay for. Greed, arrogance and ignorance are all part of the story.

A hundred years ago almost no one lived on our barrier islands. Remote, buggy, with few services and no good ways to weather hurricanes, the islands moved in response to natural forces. Probably no one gave long-term consequences much thought when beachfront development started in earnest.

No one was thinking about how much barrier islands squirm around. No one was thinking about rising sea levels. No one was thinking about possibly needing to spend as much as $1 million every 12 days to move sand around. No one was thinking about how efforts to stabilize the shore can increase erosion. No one was thinking about the sea turtles.

But it is not that no one was thinking. They were thinking about how great it would be to live "right on the beach." Thinking about how clueless their predecessors had been for not seeing the incredible opportunities. Thinking about how to get roads and services out there. And thinking about how much money they could make. All this thinking led to decades of decisions -- by investors, former commissioners and engineers -- that enabled people to derail many of the natural processes that had kept the Gulf shoreline sandy. And now, if we want sandy beaches, we are going to have to pay for them.Can Sarasota County afford $30 million a year? Absolutely. That's not so much when the taxable value of the county is closing in on $60 billion. But there are two wrinkles. The first is that beach nourishing is addictive behavior -- once you start it is very difficult to stop. Eventually it will become financially unsustainable -- not because we don't have the money but because of the second reason: the costs in lost opportunity.

Simply put, Sarasota County can afford anything it wants, but it can't afford everything it wants. Dollars spent thwarting or replicating natural processes on the beaches are dollars that can't be spent on other priorities.

The county's coastal agenda, for instance, is not limited to beach issues. Storm water entering bays needs treatment, red tide is capturing more attention and funds, declining fisheries and habitat need attention, recreational access is vanishing, and, despite common sense, opening Midnight Pass remains on the docket.

There are no easy answers to the sandy pickle. That's why it's a pickle. As a recent article stated: Real estate interests and politicians refuse to consider any retreat, which would be the work-with-the-natural-system response. But working against nature ultimately has three costs -- an environmental cost, a social cost and those pesky financial costs. Think Katrina and levees. We're about to find out how much our once-free beaches might end up costing us.

Community leader and activist Jono Miller is a director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida in Sarasota.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice - the longest day in the year; the day when the sun reaches its zenith. A good day to check shadows.

As we see in the first picture the sidewalk next to the tallest part of the Five Points Plaza (north side of building) is still in shadow. It will never see direct sunlight.

Lest you think that the shadow is caused by the awnings, look again. This shot is from a vantage further east where there are no awnings.

And in case you wanted to see where the sun was, when standing in the shadow, it was hidden by the building.

While this may not be very significant - after all, we know that high rise buildings block light, cause wind tunnels, trap heat and magnify noise - there may be a glimmer of good news here.

Maybe these high rises make a more pedestrian friendly space. It is clear that enclosing the sidewalk in an arcade is not required for screening from the sun. For those joggers that have a downtown route, just stick to the south sidewalks of the street, no arcades are required for shade, its always there!

Finally, maybe we should ponder the recent quote of the day: Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark - Ancient Zen saying.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

As the City Turns

It seems like Sarasota is becoming more urban in subtle as well as not so subtle ways.

Consider the choice of sculpture that graces our focal point downtown park. We recently removed the joyful sculpture of children playing (Olympic Wannabes by Glenna Goodacre) and replaced it (maybe temporarily?) with a much more contemplative and less approachable piece by Manuel Carbonell called "Torso 2001."

Carbonell says “In my search for the essence of the form and the absence of details, I struggle to give a feeling of strength, monumentality and simplicity to my work.”

Many Sarasotans are struggling with our sense of place as downtown is transformed into towering buildings with diminished open space and loss of greenery. Monumentality describes this change, simplicity does not. We yearn for the essence of place and those details that give us the texture that describe Sarasota.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

McMansion Supply

The golden age of McMansions may be coming to an end. These oversized homes - characterized by sprawling layouts on small lots, and built in cookie-cutter style by big developers fueled much of the housing boom. But thanks to rising energy and mortgage costs, shrinking families and a growing number of retirement-age baby boomers set on downsizing, there are signs of an emerging glut.

The Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel has a story about the over supply of McMansions.
These houses often boast grand, two-story entryways, three-car garages, double-height family rooms and master-bedroom ``suites'' equipped with sitting areas and whirlpool tubs. Developers market the homes under names such as the Grand Michelangelo, Hemingway and Hibiscus - while detractors have dubbed them ``garage mahals,'' ``faux chateaux'' or ``tract castles.''

Sarasota will see the effects of this trend also.

City of Sarasota Charter Review

The City of Sarasota is looking for seven City residents who are willing to serve on the Charter Review Committee from July through mid-October 2006. The Charter Review Committee will study the elected mayor possibility, city commissioner compensation, and other matters the Charter Officials deem appropriate.

You can get an application from the City Clerk’s Office in Room 110 at City Hall, 1565 First Street, or by calling 941-954-4160. Applications are due by June 30 at 5:00 pm.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sarasota School Board Votes to Demolish Historically Significant Buildings

Once again an elected body in Sarasota has chosen to take a narrow view and vote to demolish one of Sarasota's few remaining significant historical structures.

Tonight the Sarasota School Board voted 5-0 to demolish the Riverview school, including the Paul Rudolph designed buildings.

Fourteen members of the community, including architects John Howey, Joe King, Carl Abbott, Guy Peterson and Mark Smith, spoke about the need for saving this building, the belief that the buildings could be incorporated into the new campus design without loss of construction time, without sacrificing student security or costing more money.

It was apparent that the school board did not want to extend any additional time to look at the suggestions made by the Rudolph supporters. The school board wanted to make a decision and put this behind them.

A final decision on the design cannot be made in any case, since the state Dept of Education has not given permission to demolish recently constructed buildings that are "in the way" of the new design.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Voices From the Neighborhood

Sunday’s SHT had a article about the AltaVista Neighborhood and the struggle to keep the unique character that has existed there.

Developers of luxury condos keep looking for land that can be bought for a low price then change the zoning to allow maximum height and density so big profits can be garnered. Neighborhoods lose their character and charm and the developers take home big profits.

This scenario has been playing out all around Sarasota recently - the edge of the Laurel Park neighborhood, Hudson Bayou, Tahiti Park, McClellan Park, Lido Key.

The article says:

Yet whatever change may be ahead, at the very least they [Alta Vista residents] don't want to stare out their windows someday to find their backyards in the shadow of glass and concrete towers." All of us are citizens of the city of Sarasota, too," Kirschner said. "What we're seeing is hopscotch zoning. It isn't right, and it isn't appropriate."

"We're the people who make this city work," Zimmerman, a former radio and weekly newspaper reporter, says to those who joined him in reviving the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association about two years ago. "Why don't we have a say in things?" It's all rather uncharacteristic behavior for a neighborhood that, for more than 80 years, quietly and contentedly kept to itself.

The residents say that, in this battle over Sarasota's future, they are on the front line.

"What has been happening is making us demand respect and a place at the table," said Tracy Topjun, a nurse who bought her home six years ago. "We should have a voice that resonates just as strongly as the developers'."

As these conflicts become more and more prevalent, there isn't much doubt what the end result will be. The voters will make sure their voice is heard.

Our city has a policy requiring developers to conduct a neighborhood workshop prior to applying for a change in land use or zoning. The purpose is to inform the neighbors of the proposal and solicit input that could improve the proposal.

This process can work - recently a developer worked with the Arlington Park Neighborhood on a proposed project on Hyde Park. Neighbors' suggestions concerning trees were worked into the project and everyone was happy. The process works when the developer is a partner in the process, when he wants to be part of the community.

Contrast this scenario with the more typical proposal with the developer announcing his project at the workshop, answering questions minimally or with the comment "I don't know, we'll have to get back to you on that." It quickly becomes obvious that the developer has no intention of working with the neighborhood to understand concerns and then working to find solutions to those concerns. The developer is simply going through the motions.

Instead the developer is quick to cry "NIMBYism" and plead his case to the commissioners - usually behind a closed door.

A new tactic has been used in the School Avenue project: after it became quite clear that the proposal was going to be defeated, at the last minute (2 hours before the commission meeting) a change was made by offering to include affordable housing in the plan. Even though the affordability was undefined and no agreements were in place with potential partners (Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Habitat for Humanity) three commissioner were swayed and the process continues.

When the residents protested in unheard of numbers - Black Monday - the three commissioners refused to listen or reconsider.

Commissioner Shelin commented: "It is unfortunate that the recent claims by several neighborhood associations, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations and the "Black Monday" protest at City Hall have not represented the truth of a recent vote by the City Commission. The vote did not approve any of the changes requested by the developer of the School Avenue property, but simply agreed to ask for state review and comment on a piece of the possible changes -- the future land use map."

Perhaps he was not aware of the proffer that included a request for Downtown Core zoning and the 10 story height and 50 units per acre density that accompanied the land use chage request. If the land use change is granted, everyone including the developer, the neighbors and three commissioners expect the zoning to accompany the change. That is what was included in the transmitted document sent to the state for review.

Why would the commissioners ask the state to review the proposed change if the intention was not to grant the change? This seems like throwing something up against a wall to see if it sticks - hardly the kind of policy making process we expect from our elected officials.

The battle for Sarasota's future indeed is here. It is truely unfortunate that many of the commissioners have not listened to the citizens during the last 5 years. A vision for the downtown was agreed upon by everyone; then the changes started lead by the development interests and we are still acceding to their demands. Now that the change is pushing into neighborhoods at an increasing rate, the residents are fighting back. Their voice is loud and it will be heard.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Should Sarasota Be Like Paris?

Commissioner Bilyeu recently took a trip to France and has commented many times about what he saw in Paris and how Sarasota should consider Paris as a model worth emulating.

One thing about Paris is that their downtown is height limited [see the Urbanism/Architecture heading at Wikipedia]. This contributes significantly to the city's charm:

A building's height was also defined according to the width of the street it lines, and Paris' building code has seen few changes since the mid-19th century to allow for higher constructions. It is for this reason, save for a few 'pointed' examples, that Paris seems an essentially flat city when compared to some of the world's other metropoles.

High buildings are allowed only at the city perimeter. This is what tourists see when they visit.

Recent news stories are indicating Parisians are not too happy with the direction of their city:

For while tourists flock to the capital, the locals are leaving, fed up with the traffic, the pollution, the lack of affordable housing and office space, parks and open spaces. The number of Parisians, currently 2.1 million, is shrinking at more than 1% a year. The city has lost an estimated one in 10 of its jobs over the past 15 years as firms move to cheaper and quieter locations.

"We must absolutely allow all those Parisians who want to stay in their city to stay there. That's why we are making an enormous effort in terms of housing, in terms of places for economic activity and creating green open spaces in terms of quality of life improvements for the 21st century."

This sounds similar to issues that have been raised in Sarasota; no affordable housing, traffic increasing, pollution and skyscrapers blocking light and air. Our economic activity is driven by building housing for the wealthy.

Are we headed toward a city of retirees and wealthy part-time residents with no services? Do we want to be more like Paris?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Saving Sarasota - One House At A Time

This house - shown on blocks - formerly sat on the corner of the North Trail and 16th Ave.......

it was moved to this empty lot on 12th across from Pioneer Park.....

where it filled the empty lot nicely.

The house now resides next door to this house - the home of Kitty Kelly, its new owner.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Can We Save Riverview?

This week's editorial in the Pelican Press.

For history’s sake, Riverview must be saved

Plans to raze the old Paul Rudolph-designed Riverview High School in favor of new buildings have met with serious resistance from the community.

And with good reason.

Those of us who’ve lived here for some time have seen many such buildings – often sharing Riverview’s Sarasota School of Architecture connection – destroyed in the name of “progress.” It seems, especially lately, when some semblance of historical relevance – art, some call it – is on the left side of the scale and “progress” – money, some call it – is on the right, you can bet dollars to cornerstones the scale will lean starboard.

It’s time to put our feet down on the port side. And it may already be too late.

Long ago, before most of the Sarasota School of Architecture homes and buildings were razed and replaced with sun-blocking, view-swallowing monstrosities, Sarasota looked as though it was truly making a name for itself in the annals of modern architecture. The Sarasota School, as it was called, had gained proponents worldwide, and many of its design elements are still being used today in a wide variety of architectural applications.

Riverview High School is one of the few remaining tangible connections to that past – to what Sarasota could have been if the almighty dollar hadn’t supplanted art; if greed hadn’t eclipsed our sense of history, our sense of place.

This community should have enjoyed a lasting, living legacy with its Sarasota School of Architecture. Instead, the School and what it represented are rapidly becoming relics of the past. And remaining structures designed and built in this style are becoming rare as dinosaur bones.

The school district has already paid approximately $1.2 million for an in-depth facilities assessment by the firm 3D/International, or 3DI. Unfortunately – and this is really where they misstepped – the Paul Rudolph-designed structures were left out of the assessment because they were intended to be razed, no discussion necessary. This, despite a 2004 memorandum to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary Norris from BMK Architects overviewing its extensive 2002 Long-Range Facilities Review on Riverview High School, which stated: “Plan on replacing all existing buildings on campus ... with the exception of the original Rudolph buildings, which should be rehabilitated.”

Because of this short-sightedness (which often leads to historical structures being destroyed), the school board agreed to pay an additional $30,000 to have the buildings added into the 3DI study after the fact (which includes travel expenses for consultants to do the work that should have been done initially). The school board was scheduled to hear the revised report on June 13.

Regardless of the results – so long as the buildings are not deemed unsafe and beyond repair – every effort should be made to save the Paul Rudolph-designed structures and incorporate them in a forward-thinking manner into the layout, look and feel of the new school.

Then, former and present Riverview staff and alumni would really have something to be proud of, something much more than another paint-by-the-numbers school.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Vision

In the April issue of Sarasota Magazine, Richard Storm wrote an excellent article covering Sarasota's current building boom.

He begins with a description of sleepy Sarasota in the early 50's, touches on the Sarasota School of Architecture and brings us to the Med-Rev zone.

A significant change in how we thought about our cities, towns and suburbs had been happening during the 90's. As Sarasota began thinking about these concepts and how we might change our downtown, the ideas of pedestrian friendly, walkable, human scale and similar concepts were discussed thoroughly in a series of community discussions lead by Andres Duany, a leading practitioner of New Urbanism.

The result was a Downtown Sarasota Master Plan - a vision of the community, by the community and for the community.

As Richard describes the next few years:
We left those sessions ready to work with the appropriate officials to craft codes that would bring the vision to life. Doing so, we believed, would ensure a future Sarasota responding to our needs and dreams. Most crucially, we believed that the financial forces behind future development shared our vision of a place crafted with community well-being in mind, even if that meant the sacrifice of some profit.

Behind the scenes, however, the vision was already beginning to fray and fade. The sound of people rushing to obtain building permits before the adoption of the new plan became deafening. Even prominent business leaders who had participated in the lengthy charrettes and voiced enthusiastic support for the plans joined in the stampede. Buildings unlikely to pass muster under the new codes were submitted in great quantities; many of them were approved; some are now nearing completion. And architects began to have belated second thoughts about design....

Planning authorities caved, and the area, which had been Downtown Edge, was redesignated Downtown Core, putting Burns Court in peril of isolation as a cute zone surrounded by massive towers or, worse still, of being gradually gobbled up and demolished in spite of the historic designations assigned to several of the buildings in the area. So much for the power of pride in a graceful and human solution to the challenge of the contemporary city.

Now, with disputes raging about arcades, building heights, architectural standards and other parts of the plan, we seem to be in a sullen standoff, with much of the public complaining that the process is rushing past them toward an imposed and artificial urban entity. Even when the concern about Main Street arcades was dealt with by the City Commission, removing them from code requirements now with the promise to revisit this potentially interesting aspect later, the atmosphere remained tense and confrontational.

What underlies all of this is the replacement of vision by squabbling, and, alas, the greed that is responsible for many of the bloated and vulgar buildings that have begun to deface downtown, unfriendly buildings that might have been given a human scale had they been part of a functioning master plan. They would have been forced to meet the street in a consistent way, given setbacks to reduce their perceived mass and compelled to contribute to the communal life that characterizes a great city.

The community vision has not been accomplished; we are not even close.

We were warned by Duany that if we didn't act quickly and adopt the new zoning code, designed to put the vision in place, the vision process would have been wasted. Well, as everyone knows, a couple challenges to the code effectively delayed its adoption, then, two years later, the commissioners decided that developers and property owners still hadn't had enough time to make application under the old code so the time was extended. Finally 6 years after the process was begun the code was put in place. Yet even today the code continues to be modified to accommodate each new proposal that is submitted.

The vision has been completely lost. Downtown is literally closing in on us (witness the 1350 Main building) as developers look for ways to get more space to sell: covering the sidewalks with condo covered arcades, and covering streets with retail and condos.

Is it too late to achieve any of the vision? Richard Storm ends his article with "We must bring the vision thing back." Many of us think it may be too late for most of downtown.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Public Servants

The recent series by the Sarasota Herald Tribune concerning public servants and ethics, perks and "bending" the law, reveal much about the difference between "political gain" and "community service".

We read about Senator Mike Bennett's financial dealings with state agencies that fall under his purview as he either heads up or sits on committees that make critical decisions for these agencies.

In Sundays editorial "Bending it like Bennett - Senator and other legislators stretch ethics laws to the limit" the editors conclude:
Bluntly put, if elected officials can't make a living without doing business with the agencies they help oversee, they really ought to get out of politics and focus on making a living full time.

Good advice indeed.

Other local public officials have received scrutiny in the same series of articles.

Sarasota's Commissioner Mary Anne Servian downtown condo deal was the subject of an article and a letter to the editor.

Ideally we would like all our public servants to serve the public's interest. We understand that while this may be somewhat idealistic, it is nice to know that questionable activity will likely get scrutinized by local media.

Our expectation is that the public interest is foremost in the minds of those we elect. The appearance of personal gain should be scrutinized, discussed and clarified. Lingering doubt feeds cynicism and clouds citizen participation. The best communities have strong public servants and highly participative citizens.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Walk in the Park - Laurel Park

With the discussion about Selby Five Points Park fresh in everyone's minds, a view of this gem of a park, within walking distance of downtown, might be helpful. If you haven'e walked around Laurel Park, on Laurel Ave., stroll over and enjoy a little "WOW factor".

This park is smaller than Selby Five Points Park yet is a gorgeous bit of green space.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A New Direction?

"I continue to argue that we – the planning staff – needs to have input into these draft agreements before they go to the city commission." -Doug James, the city’s chief planner, explaining his concern about the process of finalizing the Pineapple Square agreements in an email sent to Planning Director Jane Robinson and City Manager Mike McNees earlier this week.

The above is from SRQ’s "Page 1 Daily e-newsletter".

At Wednesdays DRC meeting a number of proposals were reviewed prior to "sign-off" by various city departments. Several applicants were told they needed to change something or submit something, but the process would continue to the next stage when that was done. Others were told that after changes were made the applicant would have to return to the DRC sign-off meeting.

In the middle of the meeting Doug James walked down to the table and said that Pete Schneider and the City Auditor had met with department heads to be sure all understood the process for officially filed petitions. If they go through the DRC and there are changes to be made, it will help if, no matter how minor the changes, they go back through the Clerk with copies sent to the planning staffer in charge of the project who then will distribute copies to all DRC members for review before something goes to the Planning Board. The DRC agreed not to allow short cuts any more.

Many of the city’s practicing land use professionals were in city hall chambers at the time and heard this discussion. When they left the chambers, they gathered in the hall outside and animatedly expressed indignation and opposition to the apparent changes.

Too many changes in development proposals, changes at the last minute, no time to properly address changes - these conditions weigh heavily on our city planning staff. These professionals do not want to hinder the process, yet they understand that we have high standards and the standards must be upheld. Shortcuts lead to poor projects and ultimately to criticism.

The last couple years of explosive growth have been a challenge for all of us. The apparent new direction of the city commissioners and city staff, making sure that a complete and proper analysis has been completed prior to decision making, is a welcome change.

Active Citizens

The following was written by Bill Zoller and published in CONA Comments, the monthly Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Sarasota County is a community of active, involved, citizens. In the county and in each incorporated municipality, citizens serve voluntarily on various advisory boards, and they put in long hours at no pay.

One of the most time-consuming advisory boards is the Planning Commission … be it of the County or of one of the cities. One former long-serving member of the County Planning Commission, Bob Earley, is experiencing health problems, and CONA wishes him the very best in that situation. CONA has appreciated the years of diligent effort that Bob put into his service on the PC…he was always thoughtful and thorough as he addressed each issue that came before the PC. Bob is a perfect example of the reason that we need a planning commission made up of concerned citizens, instead of a "hearing master", as many developers are pressuring the BCC to institute. I surely prefer to take my chances with the likes of Bob Early than with some hearing master!

In addition to the many official advisory boards, there are many neighborhood activists who give endless hours in their quest to safeguard and to improve their neighborhoods. Recently, I attended a monthly meeting of a City of Sarasota neighborhood association whose members are fighting what they see as a major incompatible development scheme at the edge of their neighborhood. So far, their protests and objections seem to have received lip service from a majority the City Commissioners, but the developer has received the ok.

Nevertheless, all across the County, citizens such as these are realizing that they can go beyond a 3-2 vote of a commission if that vote will, in their opinion, lead to the destruction of their neighborhood. Citizens from the City of Sarasota, to Venice, to North Port are beginning to investigate their charters to consider undertaking amendments that would prevent some of the unfortunate decisions that seem to favor the ever-increasing spread of sprawl or the decline of the quality of a community. Perhaps if the BCC and the North Port City Commission will not act to control annexations, the citizens of North Port will find a way to do it themselves.

Poll after poll of the entire Tampa Bay area is indicating that residents are getting "fed up", and as I have reported in this column, are making plans to move to less-fraught areas of the country.

Our own Giovanna Deveny, and her husband, Jim, are now back in the quiet little town of Huntington, W VA. She tells me it is heavenly! Some of us still have a glimmer of hope that we can, working together across a network of citizens who are willing to put forth the effort, change the direction of the "growth un-management" that it seems to me that we have in our area.

One recently-elected Sarasota city commissioner has been complaining that he isn’t paid enough, and wants his salary doubled … he has to go to so many "events" after hours. Pay to go to parties? Perhaps he needs to check with planning commissioners and see how many hours they work … for no pay!

Working together we can make a difference…. Join our efforts!

Save Our Sarasota agrees fully with Bill's comments. We encourage residents to get involved with your community and neighborhood. Find ways to bring your interests and expertise to help build a better community for all. Getting involved will be a great experience - you will learn much about how communities "work" and you will meet a bunch of the best people in town!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Are They Listening?

SARASOTA -- The practice of allowing developers to submit last-minute changes to their plans without going through neighbors and city staff has got to stop, the city manager told commissioners on Monday.

The commission, which has quickly approved some of the changes in recent months, took up an unusual motion to stop considering such last-minute plans.

"If this would alleviate some of the fears of the neighbors and citizens of Sarasota, then we need to codify it," said Mayor Fredd "Glossie" Atkins after Monday's meeting.

Neighborhood leaders, who dressed in black last month for a silent protest, were enthusiastic about the motion, which could get voted on at the next commission meeting. They hope there will be no more votes on last-minute developer changes.

... Mayor Atkins said that neighbors are "over-sensitive" to the last-minute issue because of recent events.

[From the Sarasota Herald Tribune]

Sarasota’s Comprehensive Plan says:

It shall be the goal of the City to achieve healthy and livable neighborhoods by:

  • Maximizing opportunities for all citizens to have meaningful involvement in the decisions that affect their neighborhood

Is the current discussion a step in the right direction?

We certainly hope so.

The residents of Sarasota have a long history of being involved in the decisions that affect our quality of life. As Sarasota winds its way through a period of explosive growth, the quality of life that we have enjoyed and expect becomes threatened. Traffic, high rise buildings, limited parking, escalating real estate prices, diminished green space, limiting views and access to the bay and gulf, higher levels of air and water pollution all become constraints to enjoying life in Sarasota. Growth brings these negative effects. Careful planning and listening to citizens is the only way to deal effectively with these negative effects.

Participation by citizens in the government process must be encouraged, not limited.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Five Points Park Public Hearing

What: Special City Commission
When: Thursday, June 8
Time: 6 PM
Place: City Hall - 1st Street and Orange

At this public hearing, the Commissioners will decide whether and how to proceed with the potential re-design of Five Points Park, downtown Sarasota's premier green space.

The Planning Staff will present six conceptual sketches that were designed based on input received from the public at a January workshop and through responses to a detailed questionnaire that was distributed to solicit additional citizen suggestions. The planners have conducted a model public process.

The questionnaire results and public comments at two workshops indicated strong consensus that the park should be designed for primarily passive uses with occasional large public events and festivals such as presently occur, and that the green area should be expanded with additional grass and flowers.

The Downtown Partnership has submitted a 7th design as another example of how the park could be designed. It replaces all of the grass with brick pavers and two planting areas. This design has not been reviewed by the public as have the other six. In a letter to the city, the Partnership proposed that a hard surface such as pavers be used rather than grass.

SOS's Steering Committee strongly believes that the park should remain an urban park of grass, flowers and trees and should not become a brick-paved urban plaza. Lemon Plaza, located just one block away, already fulfills the function of a plaza.

A recent Chicago Tribune article stated that many major cities are going to great lengths "to squeeze a little more green space into the hustle of urban life." We strongly urge the Commissioners to be part of this nationwide trend and not allow Five Points Park to be paved over. We believe it should be a lushly landscaped oasis in the midst of all the downtown hardscapes.

We are also asking the Commissioners to continue to solicit public input throughout the process.

You are encouraged to attend this hearing and speak in support of green space.

SOS Steering Committee

Riverview High on Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Most Endangered List

The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation announced their 2006 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites list at the Annual Statewide Preservation Conference, in St. Augustine, Florida, on May 18, 2006.

One of the sites highlighted is our own Riverview High School. Currently threatened with demolition.

Riverview High School, Sarasota – Designed by architect Paul Rudolph in 1957, this jewel of modern architecture characterizes the elements of design that came to be known as the nationally-acclaimed Sarasota School of Architecture. Riverview High School marks a transition in Rudolph’s career and was his largest commission in Florida to date. The school is threatened to be replaced with a new, larger, school.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Needed: A Plan for Affordable Housing

The following was printed in today's Sarasota Herald Tribune:

Neighborhoods seek a citizens task force on affordable housing

The "Black Monday" rally at City Hall initiated by three city neighborhoods turned into an unprecedented gathering of 175 people from 21 city neighborhoods. It is a mistake to dismiss them with the usual labels -- "naysayers, not-in-my-backyard" -- and ignore the substance and extent of citizen dissatisfaction, particularly over lack of input into recent major changes to our city plan.

Every caring, responsible citizen places affordable housing as a top community priority. The neighborhood affected by the School Avenue project, already an area of affordable work-force housing, is actively and enthusiastically collaborating with the Community Housing Trust to bring more affordable units to its neighborhood.

Unbelievably, our city does not have an affordable housing master plan. Such a plan would analyze and develop goals for all affordable housing needs, assess the current stock of affordable housing, identify all city areas where more can be placed, assess infrastructure and traffic impact, and study best practices in other communities. Without a road map to guide them, officials are prone to fast-track piecemeal initiatives benefiting whatever interest group gets first in line.

The generous downtown density bonus, of great monetary benefit to developers, is predicted to generate only 300 affordable units over 10 years. Except for the city property on Palm Avenue and the State-Lemon parking lot, just sold for retail and high-end condos, downtown and the bayfront appear to have negligible affordable housing potential. It is obvious, however, that single-family neighborhoods of year-round residents will be asked to accommodate affordable housing.

And they will, if they respect the city's decision-making process and know they are part of that process. Neighborhoods will have to give until it hurts, but developers also must give until it hurts; 10-percent affordable units, as proposed by the city, does not hurt. As Mayor Fredd Atkins said in voting against the downtown density bonus amendment, "Not enough bang for the buck!"

Neighborhoods want a city leadership that not only requires compromise of them, but sees every sale of city property, change in land use, rezone, street vacation and variance as an opportunity to negotiate affordable housing units. This is not happening.

Our neighborhoods want straight talk. Told that the comprehensive plan amendments Sarasota sent to Tallahassee, after preliminary local approval, mean the city is "simply agreeing to ask for state review and comment on a piece of possible changes," they ask, "When has the state turned down a comprehensive plan amendment and when has a developer not regarded the commission vote on such an amendment as a land-use promise?" Neighborhoods agree with affordable housing experts that inclusivity is a must for success, not "in lieu of" housing separate from primary developments or segregated, stand-alone towers.

Respect for the guidance of the city's Planning Board and professional planning staff is fundamental to the deliberative process. Any substantive change in a project should generate a new staff and Planning Board review and recommendation. Respect for the recommendations of consultants also should be a given, in particular the Duany Plan, developed through a two-year, community-wide visioning process. That plan has been seriously compromised, without community input, a few short months after its approval. Breach of standard procedure, even if "legal" (as we were reminded), breeds mistrust and suspicion.

Neighborhoods have requested establishment of a Citizens Affordable Housing Initiative, a task force that will work to identify affordable housing opportunities and evaluate proposals. Who can better recognize potential infill sites, large and small, and make recommendations for compatibility (another word for respect and compromise) than the citizens themselves? With participation comes buy-in.

Quick fixes are not solutions. Proposals will be embraced, and initiated, by neighborhoods if realized through a sound, deliberative, inclusive process with our leaders utilizing the ideas and energies of citizens to create long-term, positive change.

Written by Gretchen Serrie. She has lived in this community with her family since 1972. Gretchen is a member of Save Our Sarasota.