By the terms of Sarasota 2050, all new development is required to be “fiscally-neutral.” But the landowner / developers have concluded that fiscal neutrality, in which all infrastructure and community services are paid for by the development project, must be eliminated. Citing unwieldiness and unpredictability, making little or no effort to find a work-around, the developers have fallen back on the time-honored tradition of back-room deals that force surrounding communities to share the bill.
On October 22, after a pro forma public hearing with zero prospect of making substantive changes to the amendments, Sarasota County’s Commissioners will be voting on whether to subsidize profiteering developers and big landowners looking for a payday at taxpayer expense. The subsidies won’t just be in the form of dollars. They will include our willingness to tolerate dramatic increases in traffic, significant loss of important wildlife habitat, impaired water quality in the County’s streams and bays, and to say a final good-bye to the remarkable rural character of eastern Sarasota County. Farm fields, ranch pastures, greenbelts, greenways, wetlands and wildlife corridors will be lost, and the patchy, fragmented habitat that remains will rapidly degrade.
Let one thing be clear: there is absolutely no demand for all this proposed housing. There are at least 50,000 sites available for development and redevelopment west of I-75 – inside the Urban Services Boundary. The most recent and credible population projections call for 16,000 new units in the county over the next decade: tapping just one-third of the capacity that already exists inside the Urban Services Boundary.
New development in the east will not only destroy the rural character of the region, it will siphon investment dollars away from the existing urban coast, leaving blight untouched and redevelopment opportunities wasted. It is a lose-lose proposition. Urban development built to current standards, however, would be much kinder to the bays and other coastal waters than the existing mashup of decaying, runoff-inducing impermeable surface. The miles urban residents walk, bike, and ride aboard public transportation benefit everyone, reducing traffic and lowering Sarasota County’s carbon footprint.
If the County Commissioners vote for these amendments, they will be on the wrong side of history, and will be voting for a de facto tax increase for their constituents. They will be responsible for the degradation or destruction of habitat that is home to endangered and threatened species such as the Bald Eagle, Wood Stork and Florida Panther, leaving the county open to potential litigation from environmental groups, and possible EPA injunctions. They will also be degrading a threatened species called Old Florida.
If you would like your voice to be heard, the Commissioners’ email addresses are here.
Attend the October 22 hearing, at 1:30 in the Commission Chamber, 1660 Ringling Blvd, and sign in to speak. For more information, go to sarasotavision2050.blogspot.com.
Andy Mele is the SunCoast Waterkeeper, an affiliate of the Waterkeeper Alliance, with 220 bay, river and sound Keepers worldwide. Visit www.suncoastwaterkeeper.org or www.waterkeeper.org.