Thursday, August 31, 2006

How Dense...

In a response to recent city commission decisions that lack community acceptance as well as bypass normal process requirements, these t-shirts are being sold by members of two neighborhoods as a means of highlighting the issue. The "Attainable Housing Downtown Density Bonus" plan could add up to 6000 new housing units in downtown. The School Ave proposal has the capability of adding 1800 new units to a 9 acre strip along Payne Park.

One of the proposals is the School Ave proposal, a privately sponsored comprehensive plan amendment. It combines a conventional land-use change petition to amend the comprehensive plan, with a "proffer" including the desired zoning, site plan and other specific details. Usually the land-use petition is decided first, and only then would the zoning be decided. Because this is a unique experiment, it will governing how subsequent "land use and proffers" are handled. To date, the record is not good.

After the applicant missed a filing deadline, the planning staff recommended the petition be halted. That was overruled by higher authority within city hall. When the planning staff and Planning Board recommended denial of the petition, the applicant showed up at the last instant before the City Commission with a brand-new proposal – unseen by the Planning Board, Planning Staff or the neighborhood. It passed on a vote of 3-2 without the commission receiving input from either its planning staff or the Planning Board. While legal, historically this is very unusual for a comprehensive plan amendment.

The applicant was joined at the public hearing by a new partner, Habitat for Humanity. Its director testified under oath that Habitat and the applicant had reached an agreement for Habitat to take over part of the project. Subsequently it was discovered there was no agreement, and that the board of directors of Habitat were not aware of their director's involvement. After commission approval, the applicant missed another deadline, and the planning staff again recommended the petition be halted. They were joined by the City Clerk, City Manager and assistant City Attorney.

A third and different plan was unveiled at a "neighborhood meeting" in mid-August. Habitat remained involved, but the petitioner stated there still was no agreement between the two organizations.

To date, the project has been opposed by the two nearby neighborhoods (Alta Vista and Terrace Gardens), several nearby neighborhoods, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, the City's professional planning staff, the City Planning Board, the City Clerk, the City Manager and the assistant City Attorney. All of them are saying this experiment has failed, and should be started afresh.

The petition sets a frightening example by forcing Downtown Core zoning on a residential neighborhood. Neither Alta Vista nor Terrace Gardens were part of the Downtown Master Planning process. The applicant has not wavered in the desire to create a project that would double the overall density of the surrounding neighborhood, and offered no traffic mitigation proposals.

If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere in the city.

[Submitted information]

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Citizen Frustration With Development Decisions

From the St. Pete Times

Ruling revives votes on growth

An appeals court says St. Pete Beach voters should get the chance to weigh in on the city's development.

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff WriterAugust 19, 2006

St. Pete Beach voters should get the chance to decide the direction of their community's growth, despite the objections of city officials, an appeals court ruled Friday.

In one of a burgeoning number of conflicts over growth across the state, a group called Citizens for Responsible Growth has battled St. Pete Beach officials for more than a year over land-use plan changes that would allow 20-story buildings and other controversial development in the beachfront community.

The group, which opposes the plan changes, had collected enough petitions for a referendum vote last March on changing the City Charter. But the city sued to block the election. And a developer who said the proposed referendum was costing him money by delaying his project sued Citizens for Responsible Growth.

In December 2005, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Walt Logan sided with the city, striking down three of the four proposed referendums.

On Friday, though, the 2nd District Court of Appeal said Logan was wrong and ordered that all four referendum items be placed on the ballot.

"The citizens of St. Pete Beach are entitled to express their views on how their City Commission should handle land use problems," Judges E.J. Salcines, Charles T. Canady and Darryl C. Casanueva stated in the 11-page unanimous ruling.

City officials were reluctant to comment on whether they will now schedule a vote or appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

"We haven't even discussed that," said City Manager Mike Bonfield, who estimated that the city has spent "in the neighborhood of $150,000" on attorneys' fees so far.

The ruling shows that "people can take control," said Ken Weiss, lead attorney for Citizens for Responsible Growth. "People can fight city hall and win."

It also encouraged the leaders of the Florida Hometown Democracy movement. They are collecting petition signatures to amend the state Constitution to require referendum votes on any local government land-use plan changes. So far, they have collected 100,000 of the 611,000 signatures they need.

"I think the appeals court got it right: All political power is inherent in the people," said Ross Burnaman, who is helping spearhead the Florida Hometown Democracy drive.

Burnaman and Weiss pointed out that similar battles have been cropping up across the state, in locales as diverse as Ormond Beach and Yankeetown, as voters have tried to stop local governments from allowing growth that conflicts with existing land-use plans.

The St. Pete Beach ruling coincided with a similar one in a case across the state. A Palm Beach Circuit judge ruled Friday that a referendum on land-use changes sought by a Lake Worth group called Save Our Neighborhood should go to the voters.

In St. Pete Beach, Citizens for Responsible Growth has been battling plans that its president, former Mayor Terry Gannon, said would turn the quiet beach community into a "concrete canyon."

The group sought to change the charter to require that voters would have to approve any plan changes, any community development plan and any increase in the city's building height limits.

It also sought a requirement that any comprehensive plan or plan amendment affecting five or fewer parcels of land would have to be approved by a unanimous vote of the City Commission.
Judge Logan ruled that only the proposal to require unanimous commission votes on small land-use changes could go on the ballot. Both sides appealed to the 2nd District.

Friday's ruling pointed out that state law prohibits referendums only on land-use changes involving five parcels or fewer. That means it's all right for a city's charter to require voter approval on anything larger, the judges said.

Gannon predicted that city officials will continue fighting against the referendum. "I don't think they'll stop with the Supreme Court," Gannon said. "I think they'll go all the way to Mars

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Keeping an Eye on Ernesto

The latest (2 PM Tuesday) forecast shows Sarasota's probability of getting tropical storm force winds (>39 mph) to be 50%. The predicted track for Ernesto has again shifted a bit to the west.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Future Gridlock

A recent article in the Bradenton Herald says in part:
VENICE - Looks of disgust and an earful of complaints are what representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Department of Community Affairs received from elected officials during a discussion of growth management in Sarasota County.

Speaking before an audience of more than 20 elected officials from Sarasota, Venice, Longboat Key and North Port on Friday, Rob Magee, a planning manager for the FDOT, said local governments will soon have to present financially feasible, comprehensive plans to the state that detail their future infrastructure needs.

"I don't see the state has done any planning," Mercier said. "When you ask us to plan, it would be nice to know what the state is planning on doing."

County Administrator Jim Ley said he could not agree more because the FDOT has frequently made pledges to fund state road projects and failed to deliver. When the state pulls funding, it wrecks the local comprehensive plan, Ley said.

Sarasota City Commissioner Mary Anne Servian said she has watched as funding for state roads leading from Manatee County into Sarasota vanish before her eyes.

"We are going to be prevented from doing anything within our city limits because the state is not funding the state projects, so help me understand how the city of Sarasota can move forward?" Servian asked.

Meanwhile in Sarasota the city is moving forward with a fast track plan to allow quadruple density in downtown Sarasota. The state won't pay for road and other infracture improvement and commissioners won't believe traffic studies that show if the quadrupal density is allowed, a likely result is a major decrease in traffic mobility (from the already impaired flow).

Yet the commissioners march merrily on with their plan to "move Sarasota forward" - even though Sarasota residents will be doomed to move at glacial speed as we are all sitting in gridlock. The commission has scheduled a hearing on the quadrupal downtown density on September 7.

Apparently developers have saturated the downtown market with large luxury units and now want to build smaller luxury units but they need more density to get more units. And, of course, our commissioners are only more than happy to accommodate them - all in the name of "moving forward".

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Attack Season

The attack season has arrived in Sarasota in full force. First it was the Tramm and Vern show - each with volleys and responses - spending big bucks just to cut each other to shreds, while saying they need to defend themselves. No longer do we have the "near normal" political season with only the political signs appearing and disappearing.

The latest is an attack, apparently fronted by two teachers, on Joe Barbetta. This attack would have you believe that Barbetta is pro-development. Of course anyone that has watched Barbetta on the County Planning Board for the last 17 years knows that his record is solidly in favor of managed growth. His concept of managed growth emphasizes keeping the current urban service boundary where it is, concentrating on urban in-fill and redevelopment and putting a good public transportation in place to reduce reliance on the automobile.

There is a real question about who is paying for these ads. At least with Hudson and Buchanon we all know who is paying. But how and why would two teachers part with upwards of $48,000 for attack ads in a county commission election? We hope the investigative reporters for the local newspapers will smoke this out.

Part of the answer may lie in the newspaper stories about developers that are pushing for rapid consideration of their projects with the current county commission in place. Apparently they fear that Barbetta will be elected and the vote on their particular proposals will swing unfavorably.

One also wonders if this is prelude to what would happen in city elections if we changed to an elected mayor. Special interest groups would have a field day attacking candidates they deemed not favorable to their interests - especially those special interests that deal in high dollar deals.

We have moved a long way from "A city of urban amenities with a small town living and feeling". We now have county politics that keeps up with the big cities. City politics cannot be far behind. The stakes are as high as the skyscrapers that keep popping up here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Picnic at Payne

On Sunday, Sept 3, there will be ground breaking ceremony for the New Payne Park. The design promises to transform this current weed patch with a nice skate park, into a beautiful "signature" city park.

Along with the ground breaking ceremony, the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association and the City of Sarasota are organizing a town picnic. AVNA will serve up some ice cream and there are plenty of things to occupy families - bands, popcorn, frisbees, a movie, skate board demonstrations and more. Everyone is invited. The fun starts a 5 PM and will end around 9:30 PM. See the poster above.

Activities will be centered near the Recreation Hall, seen on the right side of the photo.

Come out and have a good time.

Signs of the Times

These days in Sarasota the buildings keep on coming and they reach higher and higher. The Zenith is no longer the zenith.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

1350 Main Sins?

In the discussion/debate concerning the DeMarcay, frequent mention is made of the "sins of 1350 Main". These sins include disruption of the businesses that operate along Palm. They have seen less business during the construction of the 1350 Main project.

Yesterday was another down day for the merchants as the Palm Ave was closed along the 1350 Main frontage. Cars coming from the south had to turn around and find another way into downtown. Unhappy campers all around.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Modeling Downtown

Save Our Sarasota has always favored the use of models to give a 3-D view of the impact of new buildings that are proposed for Sarasota. Drawings and sketches hardly ever show the surrounding buildings and the relationship to the space.

We were delighted when we saw the letter to the editor from Jack Thompson in yesterday's SHT. Mr. Thompson had constructed a model that showed the effect of the DeMarcay project proposed for Palm Ave. next to the "1350 Main" building still under construction.

The model can be viewed at the "1350 Main" sales office across Main from the Sports Page.

Mr Thompsons letter is:

Article published Aug 21, 2006
A model of a darker downtown

On Wednesday, the Sarasota Planning Board discussed the proposal for a new high-rise next to the soon-to-be finished "1350 Main" high-rise on the corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue.

The new building would be next door on Palm Avenue. A 20-foot-wide alley would be between the two buildings.

The proposal is referred to as the DeMarcay high-rise and would be built with the intention of saving the old, vacant, historical cigar building and hotel on Palm Avenue.

Based on the dimensions provided by the developer, this building would reach new heights. It is to be 51 feet wide on the Palm Avenue side, by 170 feet long, which is 10 feet longer then the width of a football field. It would be by 246 feet, 10 inches high. That's almost as high as a football field is long.

I provided the Planning Board with a rough scale model of what this would look like in comparison with the rest of the retail buildings on Main and Palm. It gets the idea across.If this plan is approved, anybody with a sliver of land could build a similar building downtown. This would create a shadowy downtown resembling New York City -- little sunlight and a lot of shadows. So much for paradise.

Is this the idea for Sarasota in 2010 or 2020?Those who are tired of high-rise after high-rise going up downtown should take a look at my model, which is on display at the 1350 Main sales office on Main Street across from the Sports Page bar. To those who like what they see, have a nice day. Those who don't should contact both the Planning Board and the city commissioners and let them know what you think.

Jack Thompson - The writer is a retired manufacturing engineer and resides in Sarasota.

Monday, August 21, 2006

School Ave Site Plan Workshop

Observations from the School Ave Site Plan Neighborhood Workshop:

The School Ave site plan shows 4 buildings with a total of 476 units (the maximum allowed under DTC Zoning). Current zoning for the site is primarily RSF-4 which would allow 162 units.

It appeared from the drawings that the three buildings facing Payne Park were close to the sidewalk.

Revisions made from the April submission include storm water changes and some reduction in height.

The fourth building, sited perpendicular to the park, is designated for Habitat for Humanity. The architect (Don Lawson) indicated they were not "current" with the affordable housing definitions. The Attorney (Stephen Rees) indicated that "the goal from day one was affordable housing". He indicated the price range would be $100,000 to $208,000, although no details were given.

At the current time they do not have an agreement with either Habitat or Sarasota Memorial Hospital. They indicated that they have a "verbal understanding" with Habitat - details were not disclosed.

The developer (Ron Burks) indicated that he has $9,000,000 into the project as land cost. At this price he cannot build attainable houses at less than 50 units per acre. The developer said a viable option was to build luxury condos at the current density (18 u/a). He said it is the community’s choice, affordability with density increase or luxury condos.

Rees indicated that they have identified "a local need for workers that must live close to their place of work and they want to supply affordable housing for this group." He also indicated that Habitat is looking at a new model for how they operate - shared appreciation so affordability could be retained within the community (i.e., housing trust).

Apparently the proposal is to supply Habitat with a building shell that includes wiring, plumbing, etc, Habitat would finish the interior. Issues with this concept remain to be solved: the Habitat building would contain 129 units and the time for completing these units and who would do the work has not been figured out. The current Habitat model calls for the home owner to contribute significant "sweat equity" in his/her new home. The "condo model" might require work at a different home site.

When asked if mixed use (retail) was included in the proposal, the answer given was that the design could accommodate retail but it was not planned at the present as they did not see a demand for retail.

There seem to be many incomplete or hazy answers concerning this proposal. There is no agreement concerning how affordable housing would be accomplished. Habitat does not have a path forward - they are discussing at the local and national level - and there is no agreement with the hospital or other employer (city?) concerning housing. Recent budget issues at SMH would indicate they cannot afford to go with this approach: they have reneged on the employee retirement insurance promise and they have increased their tax request significantly as they continue their battle to get expenses under control. They must answer the question "is this the best way to get a few employees to live closer to the hospital?".

Finally, it seems more than a little disingenuous to claim that "the goal from day one was affordable housing." Everyone in the community knows the "affordable housing card" was a last minute ploy to save a failing project. But they got lucky and one commissioner switched saying "this is an idea that deserves a chance."

Next up is the commission hearing on the land use change request - the proposal that staff has indicated must be turned down because the application rules were not followed, and a likely court case awaits an approval, a case that is not likely to favor the city.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Biggest and Best Use" Or Not?

At a recent planning board meeting the topic was a request by a property owner to change the zoning of their property from RSF-1 to RSF-2. Their property is in a long (several blocks) section of RSF-1 zoning. The purpose of the request was to allow the owner to split the lot into two lots.

After all the arguments were made, two discussion views were apparent by the planning board members.

Shawn Fulker (a developer) indicated his view was to enable "the biggest and best use" of a piece of property.

Shannon Snyder and Bob Lindsay indicated that changing zoning for the purpose of building more in an established neighborhood was not the intention of the zoning ordinances and would set a precedent that could cause major changes in Sarasota.

In response to Fulker’s view, Shannon Snyder responded, "This city needs more than highest and best use, and somehow it's lost track of that."

Snyder’s response represents a view of many that live in Sarasota. Quality of life is not improved by building the biggest structure on every piece of property possible.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What Do Las Vegas and Sarasota Have In Common?

Below is an excerpt from an Urban Planning Blog. The post discusses "superstar cities and the creative class". This has been a popular discussion since Richard Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class. favorite commentary on Florida's thesis is the 2005 book review in RSUE
Ed Glaeser.

Glaeser finds the book "dead on" in almost every respect but ends "up with doubts about his prescriptions for urban planning. Florida makes the reasonable argument that as cities hinge on creative people, they need to attract creative people. So far, so good. Then he argues that this means attracting bohemian types who like funky, socially free areas with cool downtowns and lots of density. Wait a minute. Where does that come from?"

Glaeser continues,

The source of Florida's policy prescriptions seems to be his attempt to argue that there is a difference between his “creative capital” view and the mainstream urban view that human capital generates growth. As mentioned above, I have always argued that skilled cities grow because “the presence of skills in the metropolitan area may increase new idea production and the growth rate of city-specific productivity levels,” but if Florida wants to argue that there is an effect of bohemian, creative types, over and above the effect of human capital, then presumably that should show up in the data.

He then gets Florida's data and runs some regressions:

In fact, a closer look at the data tells us that the Bohemianism effect is driven entirely by two metropolitan areas: Las Vegas, Nevada and Sarasota, Florida.... Excluding those two cities means that the college variable becomes quite significant, and bohemianism becomes irrelevant. Given that I will never believe that either Las Vegas or Sarasota stand as stellar examples of Bohemianism, I will draw another conclusion from these regressions: skilled people are the key to urban success. Sure, creativity matters. The people who have emphasized the connection between human capital and growth always argued that this effect reflected the importance of idea transmission in urban areas. But there is no evidence to suggest that there is anything to this diversity or Bohemianism, once you control for human capital. As such, mayors are better served by focusing on the basic commodities desired by those with skills, than by thinking that there is a quick fix involved in creating a funky, hip, Bohemian downtown.

This is quite interesting - apparently Sarasota data indicates a correlation between "bohemianism" and creativity. Is this a New College or RSAD effect? Hard to say, but I haven't seen much evidence of "bohemianism" around town. And how can Sarasota and Las Vegas together show this correlation? Apparently we will need some creative thinking to address this.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

School Ave Proposal Workshop Thursday

Thursday evening, Aug 17, at 5:30 PM there will be a "Neighborhood Workshop" at Payne Park Auditorium where Ron Burks is scheduled to present his latest proposal for the School Ave property.

One e-mail message that I received concerning this meeting said:

It's a required "neighborhood meeting," apparently under the new rules for plans-which-change. Unfortunately for him he didn't file any of the necessary paperwork to make it happen officially. And he's lobbying like crazy-crazy-crazy to get the commission to approve it. "Break the rules," is his message. "You have the power to make it happen."

As noted previously, the city staff has recommended that this proposal be denied because of not meeting required filing dates. The neighborhood meeting will likely be tense, as this proposal has ignited strong opposition concerning both compatibility and the highly questionable process used by the developer in introducing major changes only two hours before the commission hearing held to review the application.

This should be an interesting meeting.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More on School Ave Proposal

We are hearing rumors that Ron Burks and Steve Rees have been lobbying the city officials hard over the staff recommended denial of the School Ave project that proposes Downtown Mixed Use land use and Downtown Core zoning with building heights of 7-8 stories (proffered by the developers) immediately adjacent to residential, single family neighborhoods.

As indicated in a previous post, Burks missed another filing deadline and as a result a City Attorney and a number of other city staff indicated in a written memo that they "must recommend to the City Commission a denial of Application 05-PA-03 [School Ave proposal]..." The denial is based on not meeting the required timetable for public notification and required hearings.

Apparently some of the commissioners may be receptive to the lobbying in spite of the staff warning that if the resolution is passed it would be in violation of city ordinances - which city officials have sworn they would uphold. There is not much doubt that those in the Alta Vista neighborhood would file a legal challenge if the application is accepted.

One wonders how the commissioners could vote for the application in face of a city attorney indicating a legal challenge could be filed, as well as the unanimous recommendation by staff to deny this application.

A Pelican Press article about the issue is here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Speculators and Sprawl

A letter to the editor in Tuesday's SHT had some pertinent comments on the Florida way of life:

The proposal by the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority to build a beltway around Tampa through presently undeveloped or lightly developed lands is an invitation for sprawl on a monumental scale -- sprawl that will make the sprawl we are dealing with now look like child's play.

Why would government invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a scheme whose only purpose is to bypass existing sprawl, when the very act of doing so will only result in sprawl squared? The answer is land speculation.

By running an expressway out through the boondocks, land that is currently appraised at the value of pastureland will, due to its location in proximity to a superhighway, become worth many times what it is now.

Our transportation planning should not further the interests of speculators who have a position in raw land.We are so far behind now, in terms of existing highways failing to meet demand because of traffic generated by development, that it will take at least 20 years just to catch up. It would be foolish on our part to allow a beltway to be thrown farther out into the hinterland and then try to catch up to the development that would necessarily follow.

More highways in different places will not help. We need to start being smart in planning, by getting the most out of our existing rights of way and by increasing funding for public transportation operations through our urban cores.

Don't let land speculators call the shots. We must use our taxes to make the property in which we have invested -- our homes and businesses -- worth more through intelligent and efficient transportation planning and implementation.

Richard C. Thomas

Richard makes an excellent point. For too long, land speculators in Florida and elsewhere have used government decisions to line their pockets at the expense of tax payers. We all know the havoc speculators have wrought on affordable housing in the last couple years.

Investing in public transportation is much more efficient than building more roads in undeveloped areas.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

CCNA Affordable Housing Meeting

On Saturday, Aug 5, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations’ (CCNA) monthly meeting focused on Affordable Housing. Invited guests, including Martina Guilfoil (Community Housing Trust), Don Hadsell (Sarasota Housing and Community Development) and Susan Scott (Sarasota County Deputy Director), spoke on what they thought neighborhoods could do to help with affordable housing.

CCNA has been looking at the issue of how to take positive action so that affordable housing in our community becomes a reality. CCNA understands that there has been much talk over the last couple years concerning the rapid rise in home prices, real estate taxes, home insurance, and rental rates; this has been accompanied by many discussions about what we should do. Little has actually been done.

Thus the CCNA attempt to find specific things that neighborhoods can do, in their own "backyards", to help achieve more affordable housing.

SOS believes that this is a good approach: focus on what can be done now and finding ways to make it happen and do this with a grass roots, bottom up approach.

Much needs to happen to make a dent in affordable housing. City and county staff should provide specific information about the numbers and location of current affordable housing (rental as well as ownership). This needs to be known for an area wide basis - many people that live in Bradenton (and other more affordable areas away from the City of Sarasota) work in Sarasota, which will continue as these areas have generally lower home prices and rental rates. This should lead to good policy decision making concerning what the need for affordable housing is: how many, what price, where located (relative to jobs and transportation). Strategies to create affordable housing in the best places could then be developed with community discussion.

In the mean time, some of the suggestions from neighborhood leaders included:

  • Actively look at allowing "granny flats" in neighborhoods and parts of the city that feel comfortable with them. It is likely that some issues would have to be addressed as part of this approach. Issues might include questions of absentee landlord making a duplex of the house and flat, off street parking requirements, beefed up code enforcement, etc.
  • Work with developers to allow more density in specific areas where affordable housing could be appropriate. Places near public transportation and accommodating mixed use could be requirements. Density without height may be more appropriate than tall buildings.
  • Neighborhoods need to be active in telling state representatives that release of the Sadowski Funds for affordable housing is needed now. This is the tax on house sales - "document stamp" - that was intended for affordable housing. So far the Florida legislature has been reluctant to release funds for affordable housing and has even "raided" the fund for other uses. Pressure on state lawmakers is needed for release of these funds.
  • It was suggested that neighborhoods pressure the county to put significant fund dollars from the sale of the North Port lots into the CHT. It seems that county commissioners are sitting on the funds.
  • The Sarasota CRA should be immediately expanded so TIF dollars can be used for affordable housing in north Sarasota. Mayor Atkins was at the CCNA meeting and indicated that so far zero dollars have been spent from TIF for affordable housing even though this was a significant reason for creating the CRA.
  • TIF dollars could be used to purchase the apartment building on Ringling that is for sale. This could be an affordable rental site in downtown.
  • CCNA has indicated support of the CHT effort to put affordable housing on Laurel St in the Alta Vista neighborhood.
  • Consider support of the newly announced Habitat for Humanity projects (Cohen Way proposal, "Puppy Park" east of the dog track, and a new proposal on Central Ave).
  • Support for Newtown, Amaryllis Park and Janie Poe for the redevelopment of the public housing land in a manner that allows residents to continue to live in this community.
  • The city budgeting efforts to achieve a "living wage" for all employees was applauded. Can this be extended to other employers in the city and county? Chicago's recent action regarding "big box" stores was cited as an example.
  • Participation in a community meeting of all affected people and organizations to be convened by the CHT.
  • Use grass roots efforts to actively put pressure on Sarasota City and County governments to put realistic affordable housing plans in place as opposed to developer welfare type efforts like the current 4X density bonus for downtown areas.

Save Our Sarasota has long felt that citizen involvement and action is the key to getting what the community desires. The CCNA efforts are exactly what is needed to find affordable housing solutions. Building community trust through community involvement is required. Finding top driven, developer proposed solutions are not likely to be in the best interests of the citizens.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sketches for Proposed Super Wal-Mart

Six sketches have been produced showing design concepts for the proposed new Super Wal-Mart at 301 and MLK. These sketches are at the Newtown Redevelopment Office (police substation building) on MLK across from the Goodwill.

Everyone is invited to review these sketches and make comments or vote for a favorite. The sketches will be available until the end of next week (Aug 18).

Stop by and take a look.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sustaining Sarasota

Creating a sustainable Sarasota means focusing more on promoting economic, capital, social and spiritual growth than on population growth. Many communities with stable populations develop these other areas and provide a high-quality, attractive living environment for their citizens.

A community that deliberately plans to preserve its unique character will prosper economically and distinguish itself from other areas that accepted the defeatist slogan of "inevitable growth" at any cost and overdeveloped themselves into oblivion.

These are great words of advice from Jon Thaxton, Sarasota County Commissioner, in his recent SHT guest editorial.

This applies to the city of Sarasota as well as the county.

The city has concentrated on growth of luxury condos in the center of downtown. The stated desire of the political leadership is to create a lively, walkable, pedestrian friendly downtown.

The problem is that diversity is lacking and other than the unsustainable building projects there is no economic growth.

Meanwhile we are rapidly losing our unique character. We are looking more and more like the Ft Lauderdales of the east coast with the towering luxury condos that cut off water views and create canyon effect in our streets. Growth that magnifies the seasonal traffic issues and strains our infrastructure. 4X density policies raise serious concern about Coastal High Hazard safety and evacuation.

We need to refocus on deliberate growth with a very high priority on retaining the unique character of Sarasota. We need to make sure we have a sustainable growth model - growth that all of us can live with.

As Jon Thaxton puts it, the model followed in too much in Florida seems to be:

For most counties, build-out isn't deliberately planned, but results from a series of incremental, isolated decisions. Development approvals overstress infrastructure such as roads, parks, schools and jails. When more infrastructure is built, more development is approved that again crowds the infrastructure.

This mindless cycle repeats itself until all available land is developed.

Sarasota is too unique and too good to sell off to the developers so they can achieve maximum return. A sustainable Sarasota will yield a comfortable return for all of us.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

School Ave. Proposal Faces Serious Snag

On Aug 2 Mike Connolly, of the City Attorney’s Office, met with Billy Robinson (City Clerk), Chris Gladdue (Clerk’s Office), Peter Schneider (Deputy City Manager), Jane Robinson (Director of Planning), Mike Taylor (Deputy Director of Planning) , Doug James (Senior Planner)and David Smith (Senior Planner) to determine the status of the School Avenue proposal for a land use change to Downtown Mixed Use.

The reason for the meeting was the developer (Ron Burks) had not filed the required application papers for public notification and scheduling of the required public hearings in time to meet the required Sept 25 date for the adoption hearing.

From Attorney Connolly’s memo describing this meeting:

The unanimous opinion of the City’s professional staff was that the City’s Zoning Code does not provide any vehicle by which the rezone application can be brought to a first reading by September 25, 2006. Understandably it is the recommendation of the City’s professional staff that the City Commission must follow the Zoning Code procedures currently in place for review and approval of rezone and site plan applications.

Based on the foregoing, it is the conclusion of the City’s professional staff that staff must recommend to the City Commission a denial of Application 05-PA-03 [School Ave proposal]...

The failure of the applicant to meet the conditions set forth in the transmittal Resolution can be asserted by any affected party as a basis for legal challenge to the Plan Amendment.

It is apparent that for the proposal to continue forward in the current adoption schedule would be a violation of City Code. A violation of this would surely bring a suit by one or more affected parties.

This likely means that any proposal for land use change of this property would have to be in the 2007 cycle.

At this point it is not known why the developer missed the required filing dates. It has been noted by the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association that filing dates for this proposal were missed two times previously, yet the city planning staff allowed the process to move forward.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lively and Walkable

On a visit north this summer, we spent an evening in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. Lincoln Square has a very lively "Main Street"; the stores all stay open until 9, restaurants later.

Only a couple buildings were higher than 3 stories (one was a new library, another was the old library building now being used as a music center). And, the tree lined street felt very comfortable - pedestrian friendly for sure.

In the center of the Main St area was a small plaza area.

On a Wednesday evening the plaza was packed; the event was a fiddle contest. A steady stream of amateur fiddle players, sometimes accompanied by other musicians, each played for a couple minutes and were followed by another fiddler. Many people of all ages enjoyed the free entertainment. Diversity of age, ethnicity and economic levels being was apparent.

Apparently there are weekly evening events along with a number of weekend events.

This street is likely one of the model streets that urban designers study to see what makes a lively, pedestrian friendly street - it certainly was lively and pedestrian friendly when we visited.

This area seemed to have all the elements that Sarasota is seeking for our downtown. The 4-6 block area had a variety of retail, restaurants, bars, museum and library. A celebrated Louis Sullivan building graces the middle of a block.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ballpark in the News

Ed Smith Stadium and baseball in Sarasota are becoming more of a hot topic.

In this week's Pelican there is a story about what is under the field - a landfill and remains of an asphalt plant.

David Grimes paints a funny picture of the "concrete mausoleum" saying that:
Once inside the stadium, the city needs to grab the fan's attention so he or she does not stare at the hideous architecture and keel over in a coma. Almost everyone finds a trained seal on a unicycle to be a riveting sight. If trained seals are unavailable, we could use city commissioners.

Meanwhile Siesta Key business people along with the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau indicate they think the majority (and maybe all) of any increased bed tax should be used to support tourism marketing.

A while back several city and county officials took a road trip to Clearwater to visit the "state of the art" ballpark there. This ballpark has been identified as the wish list model by the Reds organization. Pictures and a description of this facility can be found here.

And the pressure is on. The city and county have until Oct 1 to submit a plan for a new stadium if they wish to get the $15 million state grant for a new stadium.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Towing Zone

The historic Belle Haven Apartment building is soon to be moved. It is in the wrong "parking spot" and soon will be towed to its new location.

As part of the Quay redevelopment, now called Sarasota Bayside, this building will be moved about 200 feet to the north.

A lot has been scraped in preparation for the move.

Apparently one of the largest firms in the country that works in the field of moving buildings has been hired to do the job.

It should be quite an interesting process.

Here is what the building looks like today. It has been suggested that the new use will be a restaurant. Currently it serves as an office building, although not that many years ago it was still an apartment building.

We applaud the developer for finding a way to save this beautiful example of Sarasota's past and for going the extra mile (200 ft?) to actually save it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In the Zone

"There’s a war brewing downtown – a war between two developers." says Bob Ardren in a recent Main Street Beat column in the Pelican Press.

He talks about the developers of the proposed DeMarcay building on Palm and Chris Brown, developer of the 1350 Main project that hopes to open late this year.

The two developments are next to each other and the issue is that the new building will block air, light and views - as well as allow observers from the new condo tower to look down into the pool area of the nearly complete one.

These are much the same issues that neighborhoods face when developers propose new tall structures next to existing homes.

Now we are seeing "Not In My Back Yard" turn into " Not In My View Corridor".

Ardren says things may turn ugly as the developers do what they can to protect their $$$.

If you haven’t read the article, take a look, it’s a good one.

Meanwhile at several recent city meetings, Palm Ave business owners have been complaining about the continuing construction zone that is having significant negative effects on their business.

Palm Ave has been a unique shopping area for many years; its charm and vitality draw many people to downtown. This last year of heavy construction has significantly dampened their success. The risk of future business decline or business loss on Palm is significant as more construction projects are approved.

We urge the planners and commissioners to listen closely to the current Palm Ave. business owners who risk losing their livelihoods. How can these businesses be kept healthy? Any new project approval must contain provisions to allow normal parking and shopping activity on Palm.