Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Response to Rod Thomson's Praise for Developers: Bill Zoller

The first thing to say about Rod [Thomson]'s recent column is that it is mostly true. Developers did build houses, shopping centers, offices, etc. that most residents live in, work in, and shop in.  

The second thing to say about his column is, "So what?"  All of that is beside the real point, which is that the form and location of development are what become critically important as we grow. As we grow (whether more or less rapidly than other areas), how we preserve, protect, and enhance all of the things that we value and that contribute to what we call the "quality of life" become of great importance. Rod's statistics about the rate of growth here are probably true, but again, so what?

If we take away all restrictions or guides for our future growth, the result a few decades in the future will be more congestion, higher taxes (as the costs of maintaining infrastructure outstrip the income produced by the development), and loss of our rural lands and native habitats and wildlife to paving and endless subdivisions. 

One of the Guiding Principles articulated by the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) was: "People will want to come here until we make it the sort of place that people do not want to come to." 

It is very easy to kill the goose that lays those golden eggs. . . it may be much harder to keep her alive and laying for the long haul. That is the task, really, that we, the citizens of Sarasota County (and the region) must hold foremost; how to plan for the growth while preserving what is critical in order to keep Sarasota the vibrant, diverse, community that we all treasure.  What we have had here is, unfortunately, "planning by developers". 

As Maynard Hiss has written, we need to go back to the days when planners actually planned...made physical plans...instead of writing 1300 pages of policies and regulations and telling developers to "have at it." Planning such as Nolen made for Venice, and Frederick Law Olmsted made for Louisville, Buffalo, Montreal, and other places. These plans, by the way, have provided a framework for exceptional development in those areas for over 100 years.

The current amendments to the 2050 Plan are being made at the behest of a select list of large landowners and developers, whose goal is to make the 2050 Plan "work for them." Will those changes make it "work for us?"
- Bill Zoller

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