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.