Monday, August 25, 2008

Neal Pierce Column on City/Surburb

Pierce's column is particularly thought provoking this week. I was asked to post it:

by Neal Pierce

City or suburb? For decades that's been the choice for most Americans. Suburbs have been the hands-down winners -- by the millions, we've rushed to the urban edge.

But could we be on the cusp of an historic "back to the city" shift? The case is building.

Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of Governing magazine, says we're in the midst of a "demographic inversion."

Check such cities as Atlanta and Washington, he suggests -- they're beginning to resemble historic Vienna or Paris, the centuries-old pattern in which the people of means chose to live near the vital city centers, while the poor were left to live in the less expensive outskirts.

Atlanta, for example, is seeing so many better-off whites move in that its decades-old status as a predominantly black and low-income city may soon be reversed. Conversely, suburban Clayton and DeKalb counties are already registering black majorities while simultaneously serving as immigrant gateways.

A parallel switch has been under way in Washington, D.C., for several years as young professionals have poured into neighborhoods such as the 14th and U Street corridors that were an epicenter of the 1968 riots. Chicago has registered sensational gains in downtown living. The same phenomenon is being registered continentwide -- strong on the West Coast, even cropping up in such Sun Belt cities as Charlotte and Houston.

Why this shift, now? Industries, with their smokestacks, noise and pollutants, have largely disappeared from city centers. Random urban street violence, the scourge of urban life in the 1970s and '80s, has subsided dramatically.

And, writes Ehrenhalt in a recent New Republic article, today's youth, bored by the cul-de-sac world they grew up in, are the cutting edge of the new population move: "It is striking how pervasive the pro-city sensibility is within this generation, particularly among its elite."

The cities' revival is even broader -- not just young singles and married couples but "mingles" (unmarried and gay couples) and "jingles" (ex-suburban empty-nesters), notes William Hudnut, former Indianapolis mayor and Urban Land Institute senior fellow.

There's a big cautionary note here -- we're not about to witness abandonment of the suburbs, or rapid movement back to all our city cores. "But we are living," Ehrenhalt notes, "at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the 20th century is coming to an end."

So what are the affluent and their middle-class friends seeking? "Walkable urbanism" -- places with convenient

Read the rest of the column here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

City Hall Landscape Honored as Florida Friendly Yard

From Jan Thornburg – City Hall

Sarasota, FL: To see firsthand what a quintessential Florida Friendly Yard looks like, take a peek at City Hall, 1565 First Street. The City of Sarasota was notified yesterday its City Hall landscape achieved the highest recognition level for Florida Friendly Yards. The recognition was awarded by environmental experts at the University of Florida extension office in Sarasota County.

The City achieved the "Golden Oak" recognition level, the highest of three levels, by assuring the landscape protects our natural resources. The landscape demonstrates to the public that serious environmental issues, such as storm water runoff, water shortages, and disappearing wildlife habitats, can be addressed without sacrificing attractive landscaping. "We wanted to showcase the plantings at City Hall as an educational tool because it is a public space that receives many visitors," said Michele Mician, Neighborhood Coordinator who oversees green initiatives for the City of Sarasota. Some of the techniques used at City Hall include:

  • Planting more native species
  • Recycling grass clippings
  • Collecting rainwater and using it to water plants
  • Using drip irrigation
  • Avoiding fertilizers and pesticides
  • Positioning trees and shrubs to improve the building's cooling capacity
  • Planting low maintenance plants
  • Providing cover for wildlife
  • Purchasing plant materials from local native plant stores
  • Positioning plants according to the principals of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Moving forward with green initiatives is one of the City Commission's top five critical priorities. In October 2007, the Environmental Management Task Force, comprised of City employees, was created to oversee sustainability issues within City government. "The landscape department includes a master gardener whose expertise helped make the garden bed at City Hall Florida friendly," said Neil Gaines, a Public Works employee who is a member of the EMTF.

In addition to the Florida Friendly Yard, visitors to City Hall can also see a set of rain barrels, which capture rainwater. Ultimately, that water is used to irrigate plants and flowers at City Hall through a drip system.

For more information about green initiatives visit

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Greening of Main

From an article in today's SHT concerning the proposed downtown green policy:

The intersection of Main Street and Palm Avenue has been due for a makeover for more than four years, with as much as $130,000 set aside to install plants, brick and benches.

But for those same four years, the project has been mired in debate.

On one side, members of the downtown group Save Our Sarasota want more trees and plants. On the other side merchants and some downtown residents prefer an urban look with more brick and fewer plants.

But everyone agrees Main and Palm is a key intersection, and ought to be a model for other intersections.

Now, after several failed attempts at compromise, city officials have appointed a committee to break the stalemate.

The five-member group -- which consists of a property owner, a restaurateur, a gardener, a downtown condo resident and a person who has lobbied in the past for more greenery downtown -- will have its first meeting Tuesday to talk about improvements at Main Street and Palm Avenue.


Janice Green, who voiced concerns about an earlier plan to spruce up the intersection, hopes that the committee will come up with something more palatable.

"There has to be some greenery so you don't feel overwhelmed," Green said. "Even New York City has lots of trees on the east side.

"Green is chairwoman of Save Our Sarasota, a group that has lobbied against several proposals to make downtown more urban.

"Let's see what they come up with," Green said. "So far, SOS is very pleased with what is going on. I think it is a wonderful first step."

Carol Reynolds, also a member of Save Our Sarasota, will serve on the committee.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sarasota Green Connection Event

Sarasota Green World Café
July 3, 2008

“Creating A Safe Lawn For Your Family”

Imagine rolling in a circle of deep lush green fragrant grass. Imagine not worrying about residual chemicals or invasive odors in your own yard – a place that should be your own private escape from the toils of your daily grind. Imagine your children and pets frolicking in a chemical-free paradise.

At the July Green World Café, listen to Safescapes offer advice on how to create your own “safe” haven, or let us do it for you. Heath Jorgenson, landscape design and consultant of Tranquillescapes, and Paige Taggart Long of Safescapes, have joined forces to create a dynamic duo that is out to revolutionize the way we care for our lawns. From the products other landscape professionals apply to the gas guzzling equipment that they use, Safescapes can offer alternatives that will give you peace of mind.


The Green World Café is brought to you by Sarasota Green Marketplace and is co-sponsored by Natural Awakenings in celebration of the Earth Charter. It is held the first Thursday of every month and is FREE and open to the public. Each event features a Sarasota Green Connection (SGC) Approved Business Owner or Friend. After the featured speaker, an interactive conversation takes place that focuses on one of the Earth Charter principles.

For more info visit and to find other SGC Approved businesses, visit

Sarasota Green Connection is a division of Sarasota Green Marketplace.

Contact Mary Anne Bowie
Sarasota Green Marketplace

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Better Streets

Better Streets

Click on the above and you will find a web site describing a proposal for San Francisco to improve their streets.

Be sure to run the mouse over the street scenes to see what the same street could become.

Green space and trees make the difference. This is what Save Our Sarasota has been promoting for several years: save the existing trees and add more.

The visual change is amazing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Downtown Greenspace Policy Update

In response to the overwhelming support for greenspace expressed by citizens, the City Commission reaffirmed its commitment to downtown landscaping by directing staff to draft changes to the Downtown Master Plan to reflect a commitment to greenspace versus the current hardscape focus.

Commissioners also asked representatives from resident, merchant and property owner organizations to work together on the landscaping design for the planned renovation of the Main and Palm intersection.

Your support through emails, attendance at meetings and phone calls has been instrumental in letting our Commissioners know how important downtown greenspace is to citizens. We are so grateful to each of you for your participation in these efforts.

Steering Committee
Save Our Sarasota

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cutting down nature to save nature

Here is a nice large pine tree in Laurel Park. It no longer exists.

Seems the developer of the property has a plan for a house with solar panels on the roof. The pine tree was deemed to be a hiderance as it would shade the solar panel.

Removal was the only option.

Thus nature was cut down and removed so we could save the planet....

[A similar action in California sparked worldwide attention recently.]

Sunday, May 04, 2008

It’s a drought

The drought continues here in Sarasota – for the past two years we have had less than normal rainfall and our water supplies continue to be depleted.

At city hall a demonstration rain barrel project was recently put in place.

Stop by and check it out sometime.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Arbor Day 2008

Each year the city of Sarasota celebrates Arbor Day by planting a tree at one of the schools in the city.

This year an oak was planted at Bay Haven School.
First through fourth grade students attended the ceremony. The students helped with he planting and sang a couple songs related to trees.

Thanks to the City of Sarasota, including Public Works staff and City Commissioners for participating in the celebration.

Thanks also to the staff and teachers at Bay Haven for organizing this event - particularly to Principal Betsy Asheim-Dean, Art Teacher Deb Herbert and Music Teacher Kim Miles.

Our Sarasota School system and their teachers and staff are supported by the community and they provide an excellent education for our community's children. Thank you!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ibis in the Yard

Have you seen flocks of Ibis roaming around he neighborhoods? Probing the grass and under plants for food.

The particular yard pictured above, has not had insecticides applied in years. There are likely to be numerous critters available for these native birds.

Sarasota's Fertilizer Regulation ordinances limit not only fertilizer but also require best practices for insecticides. This can give our native species more friendly habitat for foraging.

If you want to see these birds in your yard you might consider what you put on your yard.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Laurel Park Celebrates

A few weeks ago Laurel Park, one of Sarasota's most charming neighborhoods, received the news that they had been accepted as a National Historic District. They documentation for this designation was time consuming but a labor of love for all involved.


On another note (pun intended), Laurel Park also recently had another of their "Tunes in the Park" neighborhood gatherings. Food, drinks, music and socializing were in abundance. Neighborhood social events like this build community.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Uniquely Sarasota

Anna's Deli is featured in the Pelican Press:

For almost four decades, Anna's Deli has had a simple formula for success: Make and serve sandwiches out of fresh, high-quality ingredients and don't skimp on the filling.

If you haven't been to Anna's, you should give it a try. In downtown Sarasota they are located on Orange across from City Hall.

Sarasota's unique businesses offer some of the best to our community. They contribute good products and services while improving or local economy.

Stop in and see them sometime.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Native Landscape

To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs - This is the headline from a recent NY Times article. The article points out that birds evolved along with native vegetation. When the landscape is replaced with exotic vegetation, habitat and food for the birds disappears. Habitat for the bugs and the rest of the "eco-chain" also disappears.

The article is interesting a worth a read.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Changing Sarasota

Below are two pictures of the Payne Park area of Sarasota. The first picture shows what the park and surrounding area looks like today. The second is a postcard picture of the same area when the baseball field and trailer park were still there (about 1970?).

The area just east of Payne Park has been the subject of a proposed development for the last two years. Concerns about height, density and traffic have resulted in a number of changes to the original plan.

More recently a design charette was conducted to find "community consensus" concerning these issues. A description of the charette and the result can be found at School Avenue Charette website.

The process will continue to the Planning Board and the City Commission in the next month or so.

[The picture showing the current view of Payne Park is from the Charette website. There are other aerial pictures of this site also.]

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Going Green

From the NY Times

February 7, 2008
In Many Communities, It’s Not Easy Going Green

ARLINGTON, Va. — This urban suburb of Washington seems well-prepared for a leading role in the green revolution embraced by hundreds of the nation’s cities, counties and towns.

For decades, Arlington County’s development has been consciously clustered around its subway line. There is abundant open space to plant thousands of trees. Residents also seem eager to cut back on their own energy use.

Jose R. Fernandez, who moved here last year and works at the nearby national headquarters of the National Guard, chose to settle in Arlington because he does not need a car. “I can go anywhere on the bus,” Mr. Fernandez said, “or I can ride my bike anywhere.”

But even in Arlington, county officials are reckoning with the fact that though green is the dream, the shade of civic achievement is closer to olive drab. Constraints on budgets, legal restrictions by states, and people’s unwillingness to change sometimes put brakes on ambitious plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Emissions are stubborn things. In Arlington, emissions per capita are now 15 tons annually and rising. In Sonoma County, Calif., the figure is close to nine tons. Arlington is not alone in bumping up against obstacles.

“We have been doing things like filling potholes and reducing crime since cities began,” said David N. Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, R.I., but energy efficiency requires “a whole new infrastructure to evaluate and measure.”

When Providence offcials pushed for new police cars with four cylinders instead of six, to save gasoline, there was pushback — unsuccessful — from police officers who preferred more powerful engines to pursue speeders or criminals. Cleveland’s plans to retrofit a local hot-water plant, produce new electricity and save tons of greenhouse gas emissions, molder in a file. It would cost $200 million, and there is no money — the tax base, left ragged by the loss of population and industry over the last two decades, has been hit hard again by the subprime mortgage crisis.

Nearly 1,200 miles away, in Austin, Tex., — a city that ranks high on any list of green strivers — some residents want to help but do not feel they can afford it. DeVonna Garcia’s family won an award for its beautiful outdoor display of Christmas lights — but she stayed with her old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, hearing that a friend paid $600 for energy-efficient lights.

Ann Hancock, the executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a nonprofit based in Sonoma County, a wine-growing area north of San Francisco, said that the county and its nine municipalities signed climate-protection agreements with enthusiasm more than five years ago, committing to bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions. Then they tried to figure out how.

“It’s really hard,” Ms. Hancock said. “It’s like the dark night of the soul.” All the big items in the inventory of emissions — from tailpipes, from the energy needed to supply drinking water and treat waste water, from heating and cooling buildings — are the product of residents’ and businesses’ individual decisions about how and where to live and drive and shop.

“They’ve seen the
Al Gore movie, but they still have their lifestyle to contend with,” she said.

“We need to get people out of their cars, and we can’t under the present circumstances,” because of the limited alternative in public transportation, Ms. Hancock said. And the county’s many older homes are not very good at keeping in the cool air in the summer or the warm air in winter. “How do you go back and retrofit all of those?” she asked.

County governments are also finding that homeowners’ associations can be troublesome. Carbondale, Colo., would welcome people like Adam and Rachel Connor, who bought a lot in a subdivision outside town and made plans for a house with solar panels. But the homeowners’ association vetoed the proposal on aesthetic grounds. Such associations have rejected solar projects from Southern California to the Chicago suburbs to Phoenix, prompting at least two states to pass laws prohibiting such vetoes.

“Unrealistic and unreasonable expectations,” Ms. Connor said, “should not stand in the way of us taking climate change seriously and taking control of energy security with our own hands.”

Arlington, Providence and more than 300 other communities in the United States are members of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which has developed software to help them determine the quantity of greenhouse gases their municipalities emit. They are still trying to figure it all out. Reductions and remedies are harder still.

Regional politics render ideas that are embraced in some cities unthinkable in others. In Burlington, Vt., and Berkeley, Calif., there are local laws requiring that people who are selling their homes upgrade the energy efficiency to meet current standards, whether by adding thicker insulation to the pipes, replacing the windows or putting in an energy-saving water heater. (The maximum amount to be spent is determined by the selling price of the house.)

Would the idea fly in, say, Cleveland? On a statewide level, “politically, it would be a non-starter,” said Andrew Watterson, the program director of Cleveland’s office of sustainability. “Legally, I’m not sure if we could do it” because of state limits on local taxing powers, Mr. Watterson said.

But Cleveland’s mayor, Frank G. Jackson, has backed the redevelopment of three old city neighborhoods in accordance with blueprints established by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) Mr. Watterson said he hoped this sort of project would encourage a reverse migration of families who seek livable, walkable communities.

Arlington County is not having a problem attracting residents who are partial to the idea of a green revolution. But in the outer sections of Arlington, the problem is aging houses with inadequate insulation and inefficient appliances.

“We have an old house,” said Kevin Clark, who is 41 and a professor of instructional technology at George Mason University. “We got double-paned glass. We could feel the air coming in through those nice wood frames.”

Between the $13,000 cost of that repair and the money for a new refrigerator and other appliances, energy efficiencies have cost Mr. Clark and his family about $18,000. Though they have cut monthly electric bills, he is not sure how much he is saving.

Among the county’s biggest roadblocks in its effort to reduce emissions are the strict legal limits on Arlington officials. The state government in Richmond has the final authority in setting building codes, for instance. Like Cleveland, Arlington cannot require a house’s energy systems be upgraded when the house is sold. And Arlington cannot require commercial builders to install more insulation and more efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems than the state does.

As J. Walter Tejada, the chairman of Arlington County’s governing board, said, “Sometimes I think that even when you’re sneezing you need to ask the Legislature for permission.”

Laura Fiffick, the director of the office of environmental quality in Dallas — one vehicle in four is a pickup truck in Texas — said, “How do you reach an individual citizen and tell them: Everybody makes a difference.”

She added: “A lot of cities have said, ‘We’re going to be carbon-neutral by 2020.’ To me, the idea is to figure out what emissions we are going to go after and what we can do and then set the goal. When you set the bar too high, it becomes demotivating.”

As Sarasota moves toward a greener community, it is good to reflect on what is appening in other areas.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Great Cities

What kind of cities do we want to have?

Over half the world population now lives in cities, and while these cities are changing and growing at an unprecedented rate, there seems to be little discussion about what we want our cities to be like, or what the public realm can do to make cities great places to live. After all, it is the public spaces-squares, parks, streets, markets and public buildings-that define people's experience of any city. It is in these destinations where we most authentically experience a city, where we feel most connected to something larger, and where we participate most directly in the creation and preservation of culture.

Inevitably, these public spaces shape the stories we tell about cities; they reflect the character and personality of a city’s people; and they determine a city’s ultimate creativity and resilience. Increasingly, however, the growth of many cities is haphazard, and ignores the public realm, which is so important in people's lives. Many cities today, both rich and poor, old and new, are failing to reflect the needs, values, and aspirations of the people they are meant to serve.

This may be one root cause of the world's current social, environmental and economic woes. When people do not feel ownership over their community's public spaces, it affects how they view broader global concerns. For example, when the public realm of a city is challenged by problems like pollution, traffic, privatization, gentrification, and soulless monoculture, it sends a clear message that we are not in charge of our own communities. Efforts to reclaim and revitalize public spaces show that we can make a difference in our neighborhoods—and in the wider world.

Places all around the world—from Paris to Bogota to Hong Kong—are proving that improving public spaces can be a powerful way of creating cities. These cities realize that one of the major reasons people are attracted to a city is the simple desire to be around a wide range of people and communities. There are countless things that draw people to cities, from the desire to live in a neighborhood that fosters walking to a commitment to live in a more environmentally-friendly way.

The world’s great cities didn't happen overnight. They did not materialize because of any one visionary project or inspirational person. They are the cumulative result of people taking bold actions to make improvements. These actions, both large and small, helped cities evolve over time to become more desirable and livable. Throughout the upcoming year, PPS is initiating dialogue about what makes public spaces and cities themselves great - paying particular attention to the people who have taken bold actions to make good things happen. This Great Cities edition of the Making Places newsletter showcases the bold moves that are occurring in many cities today.

[From Project for Public Places - an excellent organization]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Historic Homes Tour

The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation is proud to present the 18th Annual Historic Homes Tour on Sunday, March 2nd from 10 AM to 4 PM.

This year’s tour will feature six enchanting residences within the urban neighborhood context of Gillespie Park. According to Alliance President Christopher Wenzel “Neighborhoods are an important part of Sarasota’s historical setting and help to define our city’s character, beauty and unique identity".

Gillespie Park honors John Hamilton Gillespie, the first mayor of the town of Sarasota. It will be the location of the 2nd annual Gillespie Park Founder’s Day Celebration held in conjunction with this year's Alliance Homes Tour. This year, the Sarasota Trolley will be available to ride through the neighborhood between the featured houses. It will also stop at the Park so that tour goers can enjoy food, beverages, and various activities there. Visit the Alliance booth at Gillespie Park which will have information on upcoming events as well as Jeff LaHurd books for sale. A live auction will be held at the end of the day to benefit the Alliance. Auction items will include historic valuables and contemporary items as well as gift certificates to local businesses.

$20 homes tour tickets will be available for advance purchase starting February 20th at all Davidson Drug Stores; The Main Bookshop, 1962 Main Street; The Sarasota County History Center, 6062 Porter Way; Sarasota Architectural Salvage, 1093 N. Central Avenue; and Historic Spanish Point, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. Tickets may also be purchased the day of the tour at any of the tour homes for $25.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

From the February Issue of CONA

Why neighborhoods need better community planning in Sarasota County
by Ron Collins (Bee Ridge Association)

Changing the future land use or zoning on a parcel of land almost always pits David against Goliath. The landowner or option holding developer is usually deep pocketed and stands to receive a substantial gain if the change is approved. In the other corner is usually a large but loosely connected group of neighbors, each with only a small individual economic incentive to oppose the change. Modern economic theory holds that a large group of loosely connected citizens, each with small economic incentives, cannot successfully compete against an individual (or small group of) actor(s) with large economic incentives.

Even when the neighborhood group has sufficient economic resources to effectively compete with the development community, the playing field is tilted away from them. Neighborhoods groups have a difficult time finding local land use professionals that are willing to help them. Some professionals have a conflict of interest because they have recently represented or currently represent member of the development team.

Others decline because they either hope to represent the development team in the future or they do not wish to become known as antagonistic toward the development community.

Our group recently contacted over twenty transportation engineering firms located from Miami to Atlanta to help us review a transportation concurrency study before we found one that would.

Without balanced economic incentives and equal access to professional assistance, good ideas from the public cannot compete effectively against the private desires of the development community.

Planning staff spends most of their days reviewing rezoning proposals in close contact with the development community. The planners know their job is to serve the customer, who they most often see as the development team that brings the rezoning proposal to the agency. In fact, the quality of customer service delivered to development teams along with number of approved
rezones processed are often important metrics in a planner’s job performance review. So it is not surprising that the planners’ and development community’s interest tend to align over time.

Additionally, most planner contacts with the development community are with land use attorneys, transportation engineers, site planners, architects, environmental consultants, and other experts that the planners identify with as peer professionals, which further strengthen their bond.

Those experiences sharply contrast with the planners’ typical contact with the public. Dealing with inexperienced and uninformed citizens can be a burdensome distraction for the planners.

These encounters with the public tend to reinforce the alignment of the planners’ sympathies and interests with those of the development communities.

Our group recently tried to call planners’ attention to factual errors and rezoning petition deficiencies during a recent pre-hearing sufficiency review. Our attempts to present this information were rejected by several staff members who told us our efforts were simply antigrowth NIMBYism. After we presented our evidence at the Planning Commission Public Hearing, staff investigated our concerns, found them to be valid and scrambled to revise their recommendations prior to the Board of County Commissioners Public Hearing.

When the interests of government planning staff and those of the development community converge, the public suffers a great competitive disadvantage

[CONA is the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations - Sarasota County]

Monday, February 04, 2008

SOS - Saving Our Statues

St Armands has saved the statues.
This story began about 10 years ago when a Boy Scout, Adrian Zack was looking for an Eagle Scout project. Adrian was familiar with the statues on St Armands Circle (Harding Circle Historic District) and knew they had been neglected for a long time. His project grew out of this knowledge and he documented the statues and their condition.

Moving forward to 2007, Ed Pinto had recently moved to St Armands and he became interested in the statues. This was part of a desire to "restore" John Ringling's vision for St Armands. Based on Ringling's original landscape plan for St Armands Circle, Ed and others thought it would be a good idea to complete the long forgotten plans.

Further research on the statute, following Adrian Zack's original work, focused on the 16 original statues that Ringling purchased in the 1920's. These statues were classical design based on Greek and Roman art.

In early 2007, Ed and a number of "partners", the St Armands Residents Association, the St Armands Circle Association, the St Armands Business Improvement District, the Ringling Museum, the City of Sarasota, Sarasota County and the Community Foundation of Sarasota undertook the project to restore the statues and add new statues in a similar classical design.

On February 2, 2008 the statue project was dedicated. Today there are 33 statues, including 21 newly sculptured marble statues.

The partnership that included private citizens, businesses, non-profit groups, and local government resulted in a wonderful addition to Sarasota's cultural heritage.

A walking guide to the statues has been produced and is available at businesses in St Armands as well as public spots near some of the statues.

Take a walk around St Armands and get acquainted with this great new cultural amenity.

To see a video discussion of the Save Our Statues project click on Commissioner's Corner.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

SOS Recommendations for City Greenspace Policy

Commissioners and Staff,

Thank you again for your actions and efforts toward making downtown more environmentally friendly and attractive and inviting to residents and visitors alike by placing an emphasis on greenspace.

A summary of our recommendations follows:

-Page IV-8.1 of our Master Plan should be changed to reflect a commitment to greenspace vs. the current hardscape focus.

-We are not asking for brick-paved areas where people congregate, such as along Lemon Avenue, to be converted to greenspace. These areas provide a venue for vital community events.

-Whenever possible emphasis should be on in-ground planting beds for environmental advantages and maintenance ease as well as aesthetics. Pots, which tend to have a colder, more sterile appearance, should be used only where in-ground beds are not feasible. Planting beds can provide a larger area of greenspace and a more lush appearance. Pots are problematic - if hooked to irrigation, they cannot be moved. If movable, they are higher maintenance without the irrigation.

--Existing in-ground planting areas should be retained even though there is currently no money for improving the plantings or maintenance. They should act as place-holders until funds - most likely private - are available for upgrades. Once paved over, they will never be returned to green.

-The proposed Main/Palm bulbouts should have roughly the same percentage of greenspace as is now in the sidewalk areas. This would provide space for additional cafe tables and more landscaping. Canopy trees should be planted to provide shade, ambiance and environmental advantages. Because of the significance of this intersection, a public meeting should be held to solicit citizen input.

-When restaurants such as the new pizza restaurant north of Epicure Cafe on Palm request the use of public ROW for tables, they should be required to provide and maintain significant, high-quality, in-ground planting beds and canopy trees (where possible) to the city's landscape specs. If their request would remove existing greenspace, they should pay to mitigate by converting nearby hardscape to greenspace. The neighborhood association should be advised of proposed changes and be allowed to provide input. -Window boxes should be encouraged wherever possible.

-Pervious areas such as Ringling Boulevard medians should not be hardscaped. When hardscaping is necessary for crucial safety concerns, it should be mitigated with new greenspace nearby.

-We understand the budgetary pressures the city is under and, accordingly, have tried to put forth recommendations that will cost the city little or no money. The request for additional greenspace would primarily affect new developments, such as the two Leiter projects on Palm, with the intent that they provide significant in-ground planting beds in the ROW in front of their buildings plus canopy trees, if possible, vs. primarily brick-paving with some flower pots. Also affected would be restaurants requesting to use public ROW for commercial purposes.

Many thanks again to the Commissioners for voting for the development of a Greenspace Policy and to the Staff for holding the excellent Greenspace Workshop, for all of their efforts and for continuing to solicit public input.

Steering Committee, Save Our Sarasota

Friday, February 01, 2008

School Ave Charrette

As part of the last Planning Board approval of Ron Burk's proposed School Ave project, it was determined that a charrette whould be held to determine what type of development would be suitable and compatable for this site.

A web site has been established to give details about the charrette. Please visit the site. If you have an interest you would be welcome to participate in this process.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ranking Sarasota

According to that bastion of business, Forbes, Sarasota ranks 43rd as the best city for jobs in 2008.

We can now all breath a sigh of relief knowing our "recession" fears have been eased.

According to the article Sarasota's highest ranking (8th place) was in "income growth" and our worst ranking (86th place) was our cost of living.

If you are looking for the best palce for finding a job, you might go to Salt Lake City, Forbes #1.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Parks and Economic Development

From the Eugene Weekly:

Downtown parks can drive redevelopment
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mark L. Gillem is a professor of architecture and landscape architecture at UO and wrote the following based on tours he and his students took of downtown parks in Oregon and Washington.

Great cities have great downtown parks. Boston Common is a 50-acre park in the heart of the city. New York's 843-acre Central Park covers 6 percent of Manhattan. Chicago's 319-acre Grant Park is the centerpiece of a downtown residential boom. Closer to home, Portland developers tore down a parking garage so they could build a new park block above new underground parking. These cities know that density and open space go together. Urban parks attract economic development, increase the desirability of living downtown, and enhance environmental sustainability.

But downtown parks are not just for big cities. They are important to smaller cities interested in attracting residents, visitors, and businesses downtown. Portland, Maine; Huntsville, Ala.,and Louisville, Ky., are all capitalizing on their impressive downtown parks. Savannah, Ga., is even replacing a parking garage with a new urban park in its historic downtown.
In our region, Olympia, Wash., has been improving its downtown parks. Beaverton built a new library and city park in its downtown. Corvallis recently spent $13.7 million on a new downtown riverfront park. Plans are now in the works to build a new $8.9 million park on a 14-acre site in downtown Cottage Grove.

Vancouver, Wash., has invested nearly $6 million to renovate Esther Short Park in the heart of its downtown. Apart from the commitment to downtown parks, Vancouver has many similarities to Eugene. Its population and per capita income are comparable. Like Eugene, Vancouver struggles with growth pressures at the edge of town and, before it committed to rebuilding Esther Short Park, Vancouver's downtown was languishing. Homeless youth roamed throughout downtown. Pawn shops, liquor stores, and for rent signs were the norm. The public investment in the park, however, brought the kind of change to Vancouver that many in Eugene dream about.

Given that Eugene has been trying without success to reinvigorate its downtown, it would be wise to learn from other cities. Eugene's focus has been on buildings. not parks. That is the first mistake. Buildings and their tenants come and go. In Eugene's case, after spending countless staff hours and thousands of taxpayer dollars on elaborate plans and complicated financial projections, the buildings did not even come. In the past two years alone, proposals for the Oregon Research Institute, West Broadway and a downtown Whole Foods all failed miserably.

Eugene's approach to economic development has been to prime the pump of the private sector with parking garages, tax abatements and other forms of public subsidy. This is Eugene's second mistake.

The redevelopment focus in Eugene should change from buildings to parks. Public funds should go to public infrastructure — and the highest return on investment is with downtown parks. What has been proposed before, subsidies to one or two large investors, can skew the market for years. The lucky beneficiaries will have the upper hand when it comes to leasing and sales. Future developers will be clamoring for the same types of subsidies to stay competitive — or they will not come at all.

Vancouver's $6 million investment in Esther Short Park has attracted nearly $250 million in capital investment since 2002 in an area less than the width of three blocks in downtown Eugene. This includes Vancouver Center, a mixed-use development with 194 apartments and condominiums; a 226-room hotel and convention center; a 160-unit public housing project with ground floor retail; an upscale condo project with 137 units and ground floor retail, and a six-story office building for the city's newspaper. Without the investment in the park, this scale of development would have never occurred. According to Nawzad Othman, the developer of Vancouver Center, "Esther Short Park is the center of the redevelopment; it's a catalyst for development on all four sides."

This focus on the financial bottom line, which is what many city staff and elected officials in Eugene prioritize, should not overshadow other benefits of downtown parks. They are essential attributes of sustainable urbanism. If we hope to improve the environmental condition of our cities, then we need to add as much green space as possible. Plazas and paved urban squares can be quite nice, but they do not have many of the ecological benefits of real parks.

With their trees and landscaped open spaces, urban parks improve air quality, reduce stormwater runoff, collect carbon dioxide and provide much-needed habitat. Because urban parks make urban living attractive to a broader cross-section of people, these parks have additional environmental value associated with greater residential densities and reduced driving that results when people live downtown. In the three residential projects adjacent to Esther Short Park, residents will drive up to 5.8 million fewer miles annually than they would if they lived at the edge of town. This translates into a carbon dioxide emission reduction of up to 6.4 million pounds per year.

The sociocultural value of urban parks is well known. Parks are free spaces where people of all races, ages, and income levels can gather for all kinds of events — from farmers markets to political rallies. Beaverton's City Park hosts a summer film series that has attracted 1,500 people for one event. And the park is big enough for a farmers market that draws 15,000 people on busy summer weekends.

But the mere presence of open space is not enough to attract substantial investment. Eugene's undersized and overpaved Park Blocks are a case in point. Even Vancouver's Esther Short Park, established in 1862, failed to attract development until its remake in 2002. So, what makes for a successful downtown park? To answer this question, students at the UO last fall studied urban parks in Vancouver, Corvallis, Beaverton, Portland and Albany. They conducted more than 100 interviews and spent more than 200 hours observing, measuring and mapping. Then, they helped develop the following set of principles for the design of downtown parks.

1. Located in the Heart of Downtown

Great cities have parks at the edges and in the centers of their downtowns. Portland has the Park Blocks and Washington Park. Corvallis has Central Park and Willamette Park. Vancouver has Esther Short Park and Fort Vancouver Park. Edge parks cannot replace parks in the center of town. In Eugene, we frequently hear that Alton Baker and Skinner Butte Park suffice for downtown. But the former is across the river and cannot be considered a downtown park, and the latter is hidden behind a hill. They are also about a mile by foot from the heart of downtown. A central location is critically important because it translates into easy accessibility throughout the day. When parks are at the heart of town, with a strong visual and physical connection to neighboring uses, they become destinations to enjoy and places to pass through. The natural surveillance that results when people walk by the park enhances safety and encourages greater use.

2. Open to Many Uses

Successful parks are not just the physical heart of the city but the cultural heart as well. They accommodate all ages and abilities. They are at least an acre in size, which is large enough to have playgrounds, bandshells, open fields and fountains. They have ample places to sit and enough open lawn area to throw a Frisbee. Parks with these features attract people from all over — not just from the immediate area. They come to read, play, exercise, walk their dogs, socialize, people-watch and enjoy a bit of close-in nature. Great parks are also big enough and flexible enough to host a dizzying array of events — from concerts to movies, from wine tasting parties to farmers markets.

3. Surrounded by Homes and Shops

Housing and shops must surround downtown parks. The public benefits from the "eyes on the park," and residents benefit from what one young mother who lives next to a downtown park calls "a backyard I don't have to maintain." People pay for this amenity. At Esther Short Park, condominiums facing the park command a $30,000 premium. After all, it is more desirable to face a park than a street. Businesses are also attracted to great parks, and people are attracted to the businesses around the park. At Esther Short, the owner of a children's art supply store knows that the park has brought more business. "Families come in from the playground," she said. "The parents will take turns coming in while their kids are playing." Ideally, these surrounding businesses have active ground floor uses — they can be retail shops, coffeehouses, cafes and restaurants. Their entries should face the park, and their walls should be glazed so that people inside can still see the park.

4. Shaded by Tremendous Trees

Downtown parks do not need complicated landscaping. Rather, they need big trees located to provide ample shade in the summer. Portland's Park Blocks are the best example; they are like "a cathedral of trees with a simple floor of grass." In addition to their aesthetic value, trees have tremendous ecological value. One mature tree can absorb up to 70 pounds of carbon dioxide every year and 10 pounds of other air pollutants. It can intercept up to 760 gallons of rainfall in its crown, which can significantly reduce stormwater runoff. Trees also can pay for themselves. According to the USDA, their shade can extend the life of paved surfaces by 10 to 15 years. In addition, they can increase the value of adjacent properties by 6 to 18 percent.

5. Bordered by Streets with Parking

City streets border the best downtown parks. While this may seem counter intuitive, the streets provide a degree of separation from the adjacent properties. Without this, parks feel more a part of the adjoining buildings and less a part of the public realm. Of course, safe crosswalks with user-controlled signals should be conveniently located at intervals no more than 200 feet apart. Since many people must drive in our society, nearby parking is needed. At Esther Short Park, nearly 70 percent of the users traveled seven or more blocks; 62 percent drove, and 42 percent walked to the park. Parks must support both types of access. The streets provide a place for on-street parking, which is the most efficient way to park in the city. If placed on the park side, on-street parking enhances safety; cars provide a buffer between pedestrians and moving traffic.

6. Maintained and Secured by the City

A well-maintained park is a well-used park. The best parks are clean and well-tended and have ample places to dispose of trash. They are also well-lit, which allows for use in the early mornings and at night. In many downtown parks, people walking their dogs come at all hours and in all types of weather. Their presence adds to the safety of the park without the expense of additional police patrols. However, the value of a regular police presence cannot be ignored. Many in Eugene have said that downtown parks will only attract the homeless. While some homeless people certainly enjoy the attributes of downtown parks, other communities in our region have found ways to make their downtown parks thrive. In Vancouver, which had a homeless problem many times worse than Eugene's, the vast majority of park users surveyed felt safe during the day (100 percent) and during the evening (77 percent).

Parks designed with these principles in mind bring people downtown. They come to live across from the park, work near the park and play in the park. Enlightened cities know that urban renewal is best achieved through public investment in downtown parks. They build parks across from libraries to draw children and families into the heart of cities. They extend park blocks from the center of town to help connect the urban fabric. And they surround downtown parks with homes, shops and workplaces to make them safe and attractive settings for more sustainable lifestyles.

Mark L. Gillem, Ph.D., AIA, AICP is an assistant professor in the departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the UO. Erik Bishoff, Jesse Golden, Jackie Kingen, Allison Kinst, Jessica Kreitzberg, Eilidh MacLean, Martina Oxoby and Ann Winn participated in the seminar.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mooring Field and Marina Jack - A Saga

"There's a war going on here over who owns the water-the rich or the many."*
Written by Harry Hilson in 1980, these words ring true today, as does much of his satirical Ahoy City Hall*. In this little book, Hilson made a direct attack on City Hall's efforts to get rid of the perceived riffraff occupying the Sarasota bayfront and also on the lucrative contract awarded to Marina Jack. Today's debate about the creation of a municipal mooring field has its echoes in this earlier era.

It seems there is always a certain tension between those who want things neat and orderly and those who prefer the picturesque and a more laissez faire approach. In 1980, the orderly crowd got the upper hand and the City Commission took steps to control the bayfront by passing a new regulation requiring boats to moor in an approved location. The number of approved locations was significantly smaller than the number of existing boats, and the regulation was widely perceived as an effort to get rid of the more eccentric elements of the bayfront community. Turned out that it also stepped on a lot of middle class toes, and within two weeks boaters collected 1,000 signatures protesting this action. Although the regulation was approved by the City Commission, community sentiment prevailed: the police chose to enforce it in such a fashion as to render it meaningless.

Municipal involvement at the bayfront has a long history. A public marina for Sarasota was first proposed in 1959, but voters rejected it in a referendum. Nevertheless, by 1963 the project was underway, using $500,000 from a bond issue and $100,000 in general funds. (This time around, they skipped the problematic referendum.) The money provided not only the land for the marina, but Island Park itself, all created with fill and completed by 1965.
The initial contract to build and run the restaurant, pier and docks was never put out for public bidding, and the history of this lease is very complex. Although the first contractor, Marina Mar (i.e., Gulf Oil), successfully completed the construction, they quickly ran into problems actually running the marina, and rent payments to the City became sporadic. Long-time residents still recall the many problems of this early phase.

In 1968, Marina Jack (then owned by Jack Graham) bought rights to the contract and then signed a formal lease with the City, essentially taking on the original 30 year lease which provided for a rent payment of 3% of gross sales. In 2006, that contract gave the City $327,433 on gross sales of just under eleven million dollars. Seems like a pretty attractive deal for Marina Jack, doesn't it? Hilson thought so too:

"What is this - some new form of government? A City Commission which acquires prime real estate, builds a complex facility, and then leases it for only 3% of the gross? It almost sounds too crooked to be true: but it's not crooked at all, just a far out deal."

Flash to 2005: the deal continues. Although the existing lease was not due to expire for another 22 years (due to numerous lease extensions that had already taken place), Marina Jack, now owned by Bob Soran, requested a twenty year extension to 2047. Having recently acquired O'Leary's, Marina Jack asked that the O'Leary lease also be extended (another 33 years) so that both leases would expire at the same time in 2047. In exchange for this additional time, Marina Jack agreed to take on the management of the soon to-be-created public mooring field and - in 2027 - slightly increase the minimum rent. In 2047, this contract will have been in effect for 84 years without once having been put out for public bidding. To date, no independent audit of Marina Jack has ever been performed and the last appraisal of the lease was done in 1994.

Why would the City agree to a 20 year extension? The City wants an organized mooring field for a variety of reasons including environmental concerns, insurance issues, and aesthetics. Not everyone agrees that a mooring field is desirable, but for the moment let's accept that we need a mooring field and that someone will have to operate it - either City employees or a contractor.

Given its long term relationship with Marina Jack, perhaps it is not surprising that the City would look to this known entity first. And perhaps Marina Jack's suggestion that they might exercise the no competition clause in their contract also had something to do with the decision? A 10/27/2005 memo from Deputy City Manager Schneider notes that "Marina Jack would not exercise its non-compete provision in its lease with the City if the lease extension were approved." In an article in the Pelican Press, the City's director of general services gave another reason. She said that "Marina Jack has made significant capital improvements to the leasehold in recent years and it needs the extension to amortize those." (Pelican Press, 11/23/05). Yet another factor is that state law requires there be no profit generated by the mooring field - this is a condition for the City obtaining the submerged lands lease from the State. The most frequent reason given for the extension was that that since there could be no profit and Marina Jack needed to be compensated in some way for their cooperation, a long extension of the current lease was justified. Whatever the reason, the City decided to move ahead without competitive bids and without making the lease more favorable for the City.
What is most surprising, however, is that in spite of the long process that the mooring field proposal has gone through, few financial details have been hammered out with Marina Jack. The agreement brought to the Commission for approval was almost embarrassing in its lack of detail and clarity. It seemed clear that the agreement was a long way from being ready for approval and yet, there it was to be voted on. At that City Commission meeting (12/17/07), Commissioners Clapp and Kirschner asked a great many questions and Mayor Palmer insisted that the Memorandum of Understanding currently being worked out with Marina Jack be returned to the Commission for approval even though Deputy City Manager Schneider said he thought this was unnecessary.

This Memorandum of Understanding is essentially the only card the City has left in negotiating details of an agreement that will expire in 2047. Surely that deserves some serious attention to detail. As Ronald Reagan famously said years ago, "Trust, but verify." Particularly when agreements are being made that will span decades, it is the City's fiduciary responsibility to its citizens to ensure that public dollars and property are being protected.

Kate Lowman
Guest Contributor

*Ahoy City Hall or throw me a line I'm sinking, Harry Hilson 1980, J.R. Isgur Co., Houston TX

[Part II follows]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mooring Field and Marina Jack - A Saga

[Part II - continued from the above post]
This Memorandum of Understanding is essentially the only card the City has left in negotiating details of an agreement that will expire in 2047. Surely that deserves some serious attention to detail. As Ronald Reagan famously said years ago, "Trust, but verify." Particularly when agreements are being made that will span decades, it is the City's fiduciary responsibility to its citizens to ensure that public dollars and property are being protected.

Here are some of the main issues that have not been resolved:
Rates for using the mooring field. The figure most frequently cited is $15 per day with a 10% discount for longer stays. Many of the current residents can't afford this. They are being asked to transition from a place where they can anchor indefinitely and for free to one where they can stay only a maximum of six months at considerable cost. No distinction is made between large and small craft. As Hilson said, "Happy Jack runs that marina like Admiral Jack's Private Yacht Club. How do you do that? Simple: charge the hell out of the public and in that equation you'll end up with just those folks who can afford to romp around on public land and water."*

How much has Marina Jack already invested in this project? Numerous comments have been made at the City Commission table about the $450,000 that Marina Jack has "already contributed" to this project by expanding the showers and other facilities. Marina Jack currently supplies these services to its customers, but a mooring field will require additional facilities. Not only was there confusion as to whether Marina Jack had "donated" this money, but there were no clear statements about exactly how much had been spent and on what it had been spent. Were they simply improving services for their existing business or was it really all for the mooring field? Since it turns out that Marina Jack will get this money back from the mooring field revenues, and the expenditures were never approved or reviewed by the City, these are details that turn out to be pretty important.

Profit vs. non-profit: Since Marina Jack is a for profit enterprise and the mooring field must be non-profit, how will the accounting for these two entities be managed? Particularly since the City is obligated to pay 90% of any losses for the mooring field, there is an incentive for Marina Jack to shift costs to the mooring field. (That 90% would be deducted from the rent which Marina Jack pays to the City.)

On 1/7/08, Commissioner Clapp renewed questions about the agreements, stating that there were widespread concerns about Marina Jack's "sweetheart deal" and emphasizing the public's need for openness and transparency. Three items were agreed upon:
1. Audit the claimed expenditure of $450,000 to determine how much should be allocated to the mooring field (ie., should some be allocated to Marina Jack or O'Leary's?)

2. Audit the proposed operating expenses of the mooring field to make sure only those costs directly associated with the field are allocated to it. This is to ensure that no costs for operating Marina Jack and O'Leary's are charged to the mooring field.

3. Do an "appraisal" of the use of City land and resources used by the Marina Jack and O'Leary's operations to make sure the lease payment to the City is fair and equitable. Determine the fair value of the use of this land and resources. This will require comparison to similar agreements elsewhere (in real estate terms: comparables).

This measure passed on a 3-2 vote, supported by Commissioners Clapp, Kirschner and Atkins. Mayor Palmer stated that, even though many hard questions needed to be resolved with the Memorandum of Understanding, there was no point to conducting an in-depth analysis since the lease did not expire until 2047. She also noted that Marina Jack had invested a great deal of money in the bayfront and had helped make it a great community asset. Commissioner Shelin said he could not support the proposal because it was "putting the cart before the horse", (i.e. the Memorandum of Understanding.) The three Commissioners voting in favor of the measure all stressed that public confidence and trust in the City and its agreements demanded greater clarity.

As an outside observer, one has to note that asking these questions two years ago before extending the lease would have been even more timely, but better late than never. Fortunately, several of the Commissioners are asking hard questions and we can only hope the answers are forthcoming. Unless these details are fully worked out and there is some independent review of the numbers, it should not be surprising that many members of the public will continue to view this as another sweet deal and giveaway of public dollars.

Kate Lowman
Guest Contributor

*Ahoy City Hall or throw me a line i'm sinking, Harry Hilson 1980, J.R. Isgur Co., Houston TX

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hiassen on Population

Carl Hiassen's latest column talks about the growing population of Florida: the latest data and what it all means. As usual Hiassen has some excellent comments on the state of State. Below is an excerpt.

The beleaguered sense among many Floridians -- that they're not only being overtaxed but overrun -- will not soon go away. Politicians who resist calls for strict land-use reforms and continue to shill for special interests risk being dumped from office by those whom they've ignored.

It's happened already in scores of municipalities where voters got fed up watching their green spaces malled and paved while the waterfronts went condo.

The social equation isn't complicated. The more people you cram into a place, even a place as vast and geographically diverse as Florida, the more stressful life becomes for everybody. It also becomes more expensive. Ask anyone in New York or California what happened to their taxes as the populations of those states swelled.

A bipartisan group that advocates semi-sane growth policies, 1000 Friends of Florida, last year predicted that the state's population would double to 36 million by 2060, and that seven million acres of agricultural land and wilderness would be converted to concrete and asphalt.

That was before the real-estate market tanked and the subprime mortgage racket imploded, but there's no denying that even an overcrowded Florida continues to hold some mythical allure, whether you live in Dubuque or Port-au-Prince.

Despite their rising disillusionment, about 62 percent of those interviewed for the Leadership Florida poll said they'd still recommend the state as a place for friends or relatives to live.

For strangers? Maybe not. Because growth is an exalted industry unto itself, rather than the natural result of a broadening economic base, lawmakers have always focused on attracting hordes of new residents at all costs. The first casualty of such a fast-buck mentality is the quality of life.

One out of five Floridians surveyed in November say they are ''seriously considering'' moving elsewhere.

This is what's known as a message. And, for those who've sold out Florida's future to enrich their campaign coffers, it breaks down like this:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sarasota Green Space Workshop

For Immediate Release: January 9, 2008
Contact: Jan Thornburg, Public Information Officer 941-954-2613

Sarasota, FL: Let’s talk about green space! You’re invited to attend a public workshop about downtown green space Tues., January 15, 2008 at 6pm at Payne Park Auditorium, 2100 Laurel Street.

The meeting is designed to help facilitate the creation of a strategic green space plan for the City of Sarasota. This plan would place a high priority on green space in the downtown. It would also create a vision for downtown parks and green space.

The workshop will include presentations from staff members, including City planners and arborists. The discussion will touch on many varied subjects, such as:

  • What “green” really means
  • Vegetation types (including which trees and plants are more environmentally friendly than others)
  • The role of green space in the downtown master plan
  • The parks and connectivity master plan
  • The City’s recent tree inventory
  • The tree protection ordinance
  • The cost of maintaining green space
  • Possible incentives for Xeriscaping, creating “green” roofs and courtyards
  • Ground plantings along Main Street
  • The City Commission requested significant public input the development of the new strategic green space plan. Please join us at the workshop!

For more information please contact Senior Planner John Burg: 941-954-4195.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Visit by Chicago Alderman Mary Ann Smith

“Most communities do not go for speculative development...the social cost is too high.”

Mary Anne Smith, Chicago’s 48th Ward Alderman for over twenty years, shared her expertise with the City Commission on January 4th as part of the Commission’s “Sustainability and Solutions” workshop and with CCNA (City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations) at the Coalition’s January 5th meeting.

Smith is known as a leader on sustainable development, affordable housing, walkability, the environment and green development. In addition to turning a declining North Chicago neighborhood into a vibrant hub of mixed use, affordable housing, walkability and more, she has developed a model for developer-neighborhood collaboration, and proactively participated in Mayor Daley’s remarkable Green Renaissance in Chicago.

Reproduced below are some of Jude Levy’s notes on Ms. Smith’s visit:

This was Ms. Smith’s first trip to Florida, first visit to Sarasota . She was mightily impressed. As she drove around, she especially enjoyed the clusters of historic buildings and the perceived empathy with the natural environment. One of her first points: “Government needs to be the watchdog for saving these important resources”.

What with global climate changes and shifts in demographics, there need to be creative solutions. Delighted to know that the City is working with ICLEI. “You are probably working on a local plan and the city of Chicago would be happy to work with you on a plan, through Michele Mician.” She referred to David Sucher’s book, City Comforts, which supports the Chicago mayor’s greening policies.

Yes, we must create walkable, livable communities. Traffic is a barrier and divides people. Traffic calming is preferable to stop lights. Need alternate transportation to free elders from owning a car.

What creates strong community identification. Historic buildings contribute. Who is being served by your policies? Hopefully, everyone.

In her ward they have down-zoned and rezoned to take zoning for 15 story buildings zoning down to five story buildings. How do they do this? By making the case that those being served want it this way. “Work things out early so it won’t have to be done confrontationally. Those who live in the district should have the greatest voice.” This isn’t about no-growth, this is about building for everyone and a sustainable future. Community and peer pressure can stand up legal challenges. The key is community consensus. There’s the fairness.

She explained how the city bought a slum landlord’s apartment building with TIF funds and created new working class housing. They used other affordable housing funds and tax credits. It’s LEED certified. They laid down three national historic districts (this gives commercial interests tax breaks).

We don’t want big box businesses; we want to preserve small local businesses. Then the money stays in the community. Only 30% of receipts from big box businesses are returned to the community.

Give the residents a visual preference survey. Where would they prefer to live, shop, walk, have a meal? Put the restaurants in first and the rest will come. Think about where your grandchildren could walk safely by themselves. As for diversity, her motto is: Be creative or die! Age, economic and racial diversity is key to success.

In Chicago , all of the stakeholders in her ward vote through a board. She considers their decisions binding on her vote. “Decisions made will last for 100 years. We have to take the long view. The local people call all the shots,” she said. They use charrettes to get all parties around the same table. What works? Putting high end places next to affordable housing.

Predictability is what developers want. “Deciding who you are and what you want to be, that is the competitive thing to do”.

“Only a badly informed decision-maker would make decisions negatively affecting the quality of life.”

As for storm water runoff, use permeable pavers. Chicago is repaving its alleys. Trees do a magnificent job of absorbing runoff, but you need trees with deep roots (note: palms don’t have deep roots). Use native plants. There are low tech, low cost solutions to these challenges. Start experimenting with porous concrete and asphalt. Encourage rain barrels to save rain water from going down the drains. (The City could encourage water vaults in new buildings.) She pointed to Chicago’s encouraging roof top gardens, even situating bee hives there. “It’s fun. There’s grant money available to these things. Encourage green buildings. Encourage pedestrian and bicycle transportation.”

Using less energy is a matter of safety for the city. She’s on a crusade. Sarasota is a natural for solar energy.

Greening the city enhances mental and physical health. Sarasota, unlike Chicago, has the possibility of landscaping lushly. “Your plantings last year round. I am envious. Continue greening,” she urged.

Who will pay for the landscaping? The greenscape on Michigan Avenue has turned the City around economically. Maintenance has to be thought through in advance, she remarked. They had put in underground irrigation, created special service areas. Many corporations have underwritten the landscaping.

And…Mayor Daley is “drop dead serious about greening”. The landscape ordinance turned everything around. The Mayor proposed it at the beginning of his first term and, despite all the scoffers, stuck to his plan, and now Chicago is the role model for cities across the country.

[Article submitted by Jude Levy]

Lunch on the bay at Lido Key Bait Shop.

From left: Mary Ann Smith, Ernie Constatino, Susan Chapman, Dick Clapp, Gretchen Serrie, Lou Ann Palmer, Pandora Siebert.

Monday, January 07, 2008

"Citizens Bill of Rights"

From the 1000 Friends of Florida web site:

1000 Friends of Florida instead supports a "Citizen Bill of Rights" to address the genuine and legitimate citizen dissatisfaction with the existing process. We will work with the Florida Department of Community Affairs to quickly implement as many of the following principles as possible, which would be applicable to all plan amendments and related land development regulations and development orders:

Mandated Citizen Participation Plan--Developers must prepare a citizen participation plan, including a process to notify impacted property owners and neighborhood associations, and conduct developer workshops with citizens to identify all issues of concern prior to any public hearing. The developer must present to the commission a list of all issues raised, and indicate if and how they were resolved. Unresolved issues then become the focus of discussion, rather than an afterthought discussed in two or three minutes of public testimony.

Neighborhood Participation--Each local government must compile a list of all neighborhood associations (with contact person) operating within the jurisdiction, and within 10 days of the filing of any applications or proposals filed for plan amendments or land development regulations the local government shall notify potentially impacted neighborhood associations.
Seven Day "Cooling Off" Period--Plan amendments cannot be changed in the seven days prior to the advertised public hearing. This will allow the citizens, commissioners, and others to fairly evaluate the document and not be subject to an endless "shell game" of last minute changes. If the plan amendment is revised within that period, the hearing will be postponed unless all affected parties agree otherwise.

"Super Majority" Vote--It shall be easier to require a "super majority" vote for many types of plan amendments that directly impact on growth and development decisions.

Protection from SLAPP Suits-- In order to promote more active involvement, private citizens and organizations shall be shielded from any developer-initiated SLAPP suits.
Improved Ability for Citizens to Challenge Local Government Decisions--Current citizen standing and legal review standards shall be improved to make the process more equitable, quicker and less costly.

"No Free Density"--The judicious conversion of rural land to urban density--in the form of compact, walkable, mixed use communities in appropriate locations--shall only be undertaken in fair trade for significant public benefit. This shall include the permanent preservation of natural and agricultural lands and open spaces.

Florida's population and developed land are projected to double over the next 50 years, and the state faces many uncertainties due to the impacts of rampant sprawl, the loss of urban lands, and climate change. Now, more than ever, Florida needs a visionary and workable planning process. The key to better growth management is more active and effective citizen involvement in the process, as outlined in the Citizen Bill of Rights.

While we appreciate the sincerity and dedication of those involved with the FHD amendment, we do not see it providing this better role we all desire for the public at large. In our judgment, it will produce results with many unintended consequences to the detriment of a sustainable quality of life we all seek.

1000 Friends will work to flesh out and expand the Citizen Bill of Rights, and work with the Department of Community Affairs and the 2008 Legislature for successful implementation.
Save Our Sarasota notes that Sarasota has adopted several of these within the city and county already. We believe there is merit in all these items and support 1000 Friends of Florida in their efforts to change Florida's development rules to move toward this "Citizen's Bill of Rights."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sarasota's champion is gone

Early this week, long time Sarasota friend, Bob Ardren died. He had been battling cancer for a while. Many in Sarasota and nearby that knew him are saddened by the loss of our friend.

The Tampa Tribune obituary:

Former Tribune Columnist Bob Ardren Dies At 67
Mike Wells of The Tampa
Tribune Published: January 2, 2008

Sarasota's champion is gone.

Bob Ardren
Former Tribune correspondent and longtime Sarasota resident Bob Ardren died Tuesday of cancer, said his longtime companion of 24 years, Cathy Ciccolella. He was 67.

For more than 20 years, Ardren wrote the Tribune's "Suncoast Shelter" column, analyzing new housing developments. His last column for the newspaper was published in July 2004.

At the time of his death, Ardren was the city reporter and a columnist for The Pelican Press, a weekly newspaper based on Siesta Key. He received multiple awards from the Florida Press Association.

He joined the Press in 1994, writing extensively about the city of Sarasota in news stories and his twice-monthly column, "Muttered on Main," covering life and events in downtown.

"It's going to leave a huge hole for us to fill," Press editor Anne Johnson said.
"He's been a great voice for us, downtown and the city of Sarasota," she said. "He was one of our greatest strengths."

Ardren also wrote about local waters, boating and the environment in another twice-monthly column, "Sarasota Waters.""Bob exemplified a Florida lifestyle," friend George Meyer said. "He came to Florida and it was like 'Ah, here's my home.'"

Many of the civic leaders Ardren criticized in his columns respected him a great deal, Johnson said.

"Some still remained a source for him after he wrote about them, and some ended up being good friends," she said. "He loved downtown Sarasota and it showed," Johnson said.

"He was protective when he felt things were going the wrong way. He could be pretty blunt about things, and yet he was so fair."

After attending the University of Iowa, he became a reporter for United Press International in Indianapolis and Detroit, and later worked in public relations for General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., and Louisville, Ky., Ciccolella said.

He relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, as an editor for the Meredith Publishing Co.

After moving to Sarasota in 1976, he briefly worked for Walt's Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant before becoming director of public affairs at Sarasota's John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, where he was also curator of the Ringling Circus Museum for a time.

Ardren was a regular contributing writer for Sarasota magazine and The Islander newspaper on Anna Maria Island.

He was a former president of the Florida Attractions Association and a founding member of the Sarasota-Manatee Press Club, Ciccolella said.

Other survivors include daughter Traci Ardren of Miami Springs; son "Joe" Eugene Ardren of Sarasota; and four grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Betty Hille of Norfolk, Neb.; and brother, William Ardren of Treasure Island.

No formal funeral will be held; instead, a celebration of Ardren's life will be held in Sarasota at a date and place to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Pines of Sarasota, Sarasota, FL 34236, or TideWell Hospice and Palliative Care, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238.