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.