Thursday, December 17, 2015

Shoot first, aim later?

Letter to Ray Eubanks, of the state Dept. of Economic Opportunity from Vicki Nighswander:

Dear Mr. Eubanks, 
Safety and health are constantly brought up at County land use hearings, MPO meetings and other county and city update meetings as a paramount driving factor in considerations. However, the consequences of growth have not been embraced and brought into the decision making processes. The Comprehensive Plan is like a bible for planning purposes. It brings up and defines the communities unique variables. 
What is needed now more than ever is a dynamic process of needs assessment of the consequences of growth, not just for Sarasota County, my adopted home, but throughout this state that is experiencing huge growth and development. I would like to suggest an additional chapter for each county that requires ongoing needs assessment re. the community consequences of growth and sets plans in motion to make sure there is no further negative impact. 
Case in point in the building and development approval processes that attention be paid to not further impacting on proximity intersections that are already experiencing significant crashes. The crash data and the building approval process must start meshing. Entrances and exits from new developments and buildings must be evaluated so that the locations put the least amount of added density on already congested and high accident areas. Then it can be said for this one factor safety has been addressed. When you don't look at the ecological factors of building and development, you are missing the boat when it comes to safety and the broad spectrum of health as well. The environment has been forgiving but with growth it's reaching its saturation point and negative impacts are the result. 
Please consider a dynamic health and safety analysis on an ongoing basis focusing on the consequences of growth defined by each community on an ongoing basis. Safety and health as primary concerns of communities must be more than words. 
Here's another case in point for my area. New building has been proposed and approved for areas adjacent to I-75. The County has its traffic crash data, the state has its data. It's not put together as a health and safety concern as there is no doubt that a new community right next to a state highway with entrances and exits within a mile will cause further congestion let alone more accidents in the area. But that issue wasn't even addressed. The data wasn't put together on the County vs the State Rd intersections. I heard no discussion other than once again those in authority exclaiming that safety is first on their minds. MPO is forced into addressing accident intersections after the incident to figure out how to improve the intersection, change light patterns, change sidewalks etc. When all of this could have been thought out initially when lives and money can be saved. There is enough data out there to be on the front end of safety and health in the building approval process.
Thank you for your consideration.
The consequences of growth are upon us. 
Vicki Nighswander MAT, MPH

Cattlemen Rd. at Bee Ridge Rd. in Sarasota - a perilous intersection.

"There is no doubt that a new community right next to a state highway with entrances and exits within a mile will cause further congestion let alone more accidents in the area."

Proposed offramp delivering cars to Walmart and Wilkinson Rd., Sarasota. 

 "All of this could have been thought out initially 
when lives and money can be saved."

More retrofitting on Bee Ridge Rd.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Developer Above the Law

Pat Neal seems to think he can proceed with his controversial Perico Island project prior to and independent of legal permission:

Two days from mediation, Neal starts controversial construction on Perico Island

Bradenton Herald, Matt Johnson

PERICO ISLAND -- Two days before he's scheduled to go to court mediation over a wetland filling project, Pat Neal stood on a silty shoreline clearing to watch the first pieces of storm sewer pipe go into the ground at his newest, smallest and perhaps most controversial housing development.
The construction is the first stage of work at Harbor Sound, a four-home subdivision that Neal, chairman of Lakewood Ranch-based Neal Communities, is building for members of his family.
Under challenge for nearly a year, the project has raised the ire of local environmental groups because it includes about an acre of shore wetlands Neal wants to fill for the homes he plans to build. Those groups, which include Suncoast Waterkeeper, Sierra Club, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Manasota-88, have lined up to oppose a Southwest Florida Water Management District permit that will allow that filling to happen. Former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash has headed the effort.
Even though that permit is now in dispute and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to sign off on a second permit required to do the work, Neal is starting construction. He said he does not believe he will be denied permission to do the wetland work.
"I feel, ultimately, we will prevail," he said Monday. "If need be, we'll go to the highest court that has jurisdiction."

Read more here:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Who is this stooge?" Hiaasen on Guv's Park Plans

Carl Hiaasen: Scott’s plan would ruin our state parks

Gov. Rick Scott is one boot-step closer to denaturizing Florida’s state parks.
A Senate committee last week voted 7-1 to confirm Jon Steverson as Scott’s hand-picked choice to lead the shriveled and demoralized Department of Environmental Protection.
One of Steverson’s missions is to fulfill the governor’s dream of opening state parks to hunting, cattle grazing and commercial timber harvesting. The second part of Steverson’s job is to take the heat for this obscene idea, and he’s getting plenty.
Environmental leaders and citizen groups have blasted the scheme . . .
. . .

“I’m not looking to commercialize parks,” Steverson said. “And I’m not looking to ruin the park visitor experience.”
Gunfire, cowpies and logging trucks — the ideal visitor experience for you and your family!
You may wonder: Who is this stooge?
. . . 
Originally, Steverson and his staff envisioned legalized hunting only in parks larger than 1,000 acres, but the Times has reported that it’s now being considered as an option for parks of all sizes.
Such a proposal would be incomprehensible under any other governor. Blue Spring, Ichetucknee, Crystal River, Cedar Key, the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock to name a few — these parks are sanctuaries treasured by Floridians.
Steverson says each one will be evaluated individually before any changes are are made. Based on his actions so far, there’s no chance he’ll do the right thing.
The governor’s obvious philosophy is that public lands don’t really belong to the public, but rather exist to be privately exploited.

See also: A letter of concern about Florida's state parks

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A letter of concern about Florida parks

The following email from a three-decade veteran of DNR/DEP explores three of the threats posed to Myakka River State Park. The committee meeting he refers to (tomorrow) is taking place today NOV 18.


Dear Chairman Dean and other Committee Members:

I am unable to attend tomorrow's committee meeting because of an important medical appointment, and am resorting to emailing you as a group.  I hope that you will give some consideration to what I am writing.  I am a little over one month retired from the Florida Park Service where I served for 29+ years, mostly in the central office.  In my positions, including supervision of the management of the park's natural and cultural resource management programs, I participated to some degree in all the discussions and decisions of the upper management team.

I regret to inform you that by all evidence at hand, the current and immediate past DEP leadership intends to change the basic mission of the Florida State Parks for the worse.  Over the last few years, DEP has already removed from the state parks' own division much of the central office oversight of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the state park system.  These responsibilities include finance and accounting, planning interpretive services for the public, managing park concessionaires, design and construction of park facilities, and even managing the day-to-day operations of parks.  I can tell you that the state park staff saw all this transfer of responsibility no less than a deliberate dismantling of the state park system.  The actions were especially confusing because Florida State Parks were arguably the nation's best state park system and no accusations of impropriety or dysfunction were ever made.  The changes were only said to be made for "efficiency" and all happened completely under the state legislature's radar.  The state park staff are quite disheartened at the recent manipulations by DEP leadership, although no current employee will be able to say so, because loyalty to top DEP administrators is strictly required and enforced with aggressive firing practices.

Your committee will consider three important proposals tomorrow.

The first issue of concern is the confirmation of Secretary Steverson.  Before my retirement, we in the central office of the Florida Park Service followed his every request to arrange policies and contracts for more aggressive timbering, cattle grazing in natural communities (not just improved pastures), to allow hunting for the first time in state parks, and to open all state parks to multiple uses for private profit for the first time.  No current staff are able to speak out against these new policies, but you probably have noticed an outcry from all the former state park directors and a multitude of former staff.  There are also citizen petitions and action groups that have formed to oppose these radical changes to the state parks as we have always known them.  All these new policies are counter to the clear intention for the state parks in both statute and rule.  I urge you to review this statutory guidance and determine for yourselves that the current direction proposed by Secretary Steverson is contrary to the longstanding legislative intent.  I am not a vindictive person, but I have no hesitancy in predicting that Secretary Steverson will do great harm to the Florida State Parks if confirmed, and I recommend that you find a way with the power vested in your committee to not confirm him.

The second issue is the proposal by DEP to manage its own divisions more autonomously (SB 400).  The bill currently assures the continuity of the Division of State Lands.  I urge you to amend the bill to also assure the continuity of the Division of Recreation and Parks.  The division has a long and honored tradition within Florida government as the administrator of Florida State Parks and is specifically listed as a partner agency with the Department of State's Division of Historic Resources in managing the state's most important archaeological and historic sites.  I am very worried that DEP leadership has plans (certainly secret so far) to further manipulate the state park system with authority provided with this bill.  If no such plans are afoot, there should be no objection by DEP to ensuring the continuity of the Division of Recreation and Parks in an amendment to this bill.

The third issue of concern is the free day admission to the state parks (SB 570).  Over my entire career within the leadership of the state park system, we discussed park fees countless times.  There are a couple of "take-aways" that I would like to share with you.  The first is that private recreational businesses near state parks always resented that our fees were so low that they could not compete on a level playing field. Consequently, they always wanted us to raise our fees to be closer to market value.  Independently, we also wanted to raise fees a little bit at a time over the years, because we wanted to achieve more financial self-sufficiency and also because it was very clear that we were under-valued. Unfortunately, we were usually denied by the Governor's Office or DEP, including again recently.  So be forewarned that even though free admission might seem as though it would increase attendance and benefit the financially disadvantaged, in reality what it will do is to further compromise private recreational providers.  Also importantly, it would also leave a gaping hole in the state parks' budget.  Replacing the budget from another source opens the door to those who would further change the financial structure of the state park system.  You probably will also hear that this would be a problem for many parks that are already at capacity.  This is absolutely true.  I recommend that you not approve this bill as it will do far more harm than good.

Thank you for your consideration of these points.  I will close by testifying that our state park system is being undermined on many fronts without justification.  I have seen it happen over the last few years and the current threats are the worst so far.  Your committee is faced with an important opportunity to preserve America's best state park system and honor the legislatures before you that thoughtfully declared what it should be.   

Mr. Dana C. Bryan
Tallahassee, FL



Chair: Senator Charles S. "Charlie" Dean, Sr.
Vice Chair: Senator Wilton Simpson
Other Committee Members:
Senator Thad Altman
Senator Christopher L. Smith

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Towering fiasco?

From the Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA - County officials still haven't approved final building permits for the Nathan Benderson Park finish tower as tweaks to an agreement about how it will be paid for continued through October, Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates' president told board members Wednesday.
Paul Blackketter said SANCA, the nonprofit that operates the 600-acre county park and lake, is also still collecting detailed cost and construction information at the county's request and he hopes officials will grant final approval by mid-November. His team submitted a draft of this information Tuesday, he said, and still needs to deliver a few additional items.
That draft shows that the county wants park staff, among other things, to submit an accurate cost estimate, proof of a contingency reserve and a pledge agreement that the park's foundation will cover the project in full.
Construction on the park finish tower, an important element to the 2016 Olympic Trials and 2017 World Rowing Championships scheduled at the venue, was supposed to have started in August . . . 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Making beautiful water features - at CONA

CONA logo graphic
Sarasota County Council of 
Neighborhood Associations - CONA

monthly meeting
Monday, November 9, 2015 at 7 p.m.
Making neighborhood water features beautiful, natural, and healthy
Speaker:  Russ Hoffman
  At its Monday, November 9 meeting CONA will host Russ Hoffman of Beautiful Ponds, an expert lake, wetland, and preserve manager, who is recommended by conservationists and has won awards from the Audubon Society recognizing his environmental commitment. 

  Come hear Russ Hoffman discuss how neighborhoods can develop the natural beauty of their water features economically while making them ecologically beneficial. He also will discuss how to turn your bare water features and shorelines into gracious, sustainable, and natural attractions for people and wildlife without the unnecessary chemical spraying often recommended unwisely.
social 6:30 p.m. - meeting 7:00 p.m.
at the Sarasota Garden Club

neighbors helping neighbors since 1961


November 16 - special CONA party - make your reservation today
for more details see

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Benderson Trucking Scheme told to take a hike

The County Commission denied Benderson Development Co's petition seeking to build a trucking distribution center adjacent to the Celery Fields, a bird sanctuary and outdoor park with a growing reputation nationally and internationally. The vote was 5-0.

The hearing on the Petition can be viewed online at this link:

Background on the Petition here.

  • The Petition presentation begins at 4 hrs, 49 minutes.
  • Public Input begins at 5 hrs. 46 minutes. John Krotec spoke first. Some of the input was highly informative. At least one speaker was a land use specialist, another was an architect. Some brought copies of the Compromise agreement developed over years by the Fruitville Community and the County and landowners; some brought maps, others did calculations showing relative size and impact that a trucking facility would have on a plan for a mixed-use development.
  • The Public Hearing is closed at 7 hrs. 59 minutes and the Commission's discussion begins right after that.

Many citizens have emailed the County Commission to thank the Board for its decision to deny the Benderson Petition. According to the information presented by some of the public hearing speakers, the Board would have violated the law to do anything else. 

Those who worked hard to develop the Fruitville Initiative and those who came out to hold the County to it deserve our sincere gratitude.

Fruitville Initiative Mixed-Usse Vision by Stefano Polyzoides

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Letter to Sarasota Commission - with stylish celebratory hat

Dear County Commissioners,

You will be relieved to know I am unable to make it today's county commission meeting to participate in public comments relating to Randy Benderson's proposed truck stop / distribution center. However, it is with great disdain to even take the time to write you, as I know this is falling on ears stuffed with Benderson dollar bills.

Your rapid destruction of the 2050 plan the people of Sarasota worked so hard on is admirable; I mean, talk about fast ambitious execution! It is apparent there isn't a single one of you in the bunch when it comes to understanding the damage you five (and past commissioners) have navigated for Mr. Benderson.  

And so now you give us this. Another farce of a community public comments commission meeting when we all know this deal was done a long time ago. It will be amusing to watch you all ask questions as if you "don't know" the answers and perhaps you will even shelf this Benderson request for a few months and bring it back renamed "Project Asphalt" to confuse the public like you did with a past agenda item titled "Project Mango." You are all really, really awful actors. It is difficult to watch you fumble and fudge your questions steering the subject so it lands pat where Randy wants it to.  

The fact that you all seem hell bent on screwing up any small increments of land, especially within proximity of the world famous birding Celery Fields goes to show you all think that the nature around here is infinite and will never run out or be soured by all the asphalt and rearranging approved by you.  People come here not just for the big box Benderson mall, people actually come here for the nature too.  

Whatever, the deal is done. I'm certain of it.

I can only hope that when this truck stop gets the green light that the wee people of Sarasota will all receive stylish trucker caps with Bendersonville embroidered on it. It's the least you can do for us plebes.

With the utmost respect,

Adrien Lucas

"This petition disrespects and disregards the original vision" - John Krotec

What's driving whose Vision?

David Brain teaches at New College and was a facilitator at several meetings of the Fruitville Initiative - a seemingly progressive effort by Sarasota County planners to work with the local residents and landowners to come up with a mutually beneficial and workable plan for key land parcels near a key exchange - the gateway exchange - for Sarasota County on Interstate 75 at Fruitville Road.

Here is part of his letter to the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners regarding the current plan to permit a giant truck distribution center within the Fruitville quadrant:
 "I have reviewed the site plan and proposal to “amend” the PED Code, Master Development Plan and Interconnectivity Plan, as represented in the documents submitted to the County. It is clear to me that this is not really an amendment but a significant abandonment of the principles and purpose of the Fruitville Initiative. If the BCC were to approve this petition, it would be a profound and tragic betrayal of trust. It would be a betrayal of the private property owners who have stuck it out through this long process, at substantial cost and through long delays. It would be a violation of the promises made and expectations raised by the County in its engagement with the neighbors and other stakeholders who contributed their time to the forging of an important agreement—an agreement that became part of the Comprehensive Plan. Over the course of several years, I had the privilege of working with and getting to know the property owners, the neighborhood activists, and the cadre of engaged citizens who worked so hard to shape the Fruitville Initiative. It took literally years to build the foundation of trust that enabled the formation of SPA3 and the development of the critical area plan. In my opinion, approval of this petition would be a disastrous betrayal of that trust."

The Fruitville Vision

A similar view from Jon Susce, who has covered the County's dealings with Benderson Development Inc. in great detail:

In 2009, a public planning process began, which involved landowners, Sarasota County government, and the neighborhoods adjacent to the 420 acres. Subsequent workshops represented hundreds of hours of citizen involvement in the future of their community and yielded a coordinated development strategy in a the form of a public-private partnership named the Fruitville Initiative, with expenditures for consultants related to creating the Fruitville Initiative totaling $864,691.

For the past five years, neighborhood activists surrounding the area have been actively involved in a sincere attempt to plan and orchestrate the development of this key entryway into Sarasota. The collaboration was intended to produce a beautiful, walkable residential and commercial mixed-use development plan that harmonizes with the Celery Fields bird sanctuary.

Unfortunately, all of this has changed as Randy Benderson is expanding his sprawl from the University Parkway/I-75 Corridor to the Fruitville/I-75 Corridor by proposing to build a commercial distribution center featuring multiple loading docks built to serve a constant flow of tractor trailers, which is similar to the one Benderson has built in an Industrial Park in Oneco.

TODAY Benderson is bringing before The Sarasota County Commission a plan which will finalize his intention to place a glorified truck stop, similar to the one he recently placed in Oneco, to the property adjacent to the pristine Celery Fields.

Benderson Truck Depot Plan

The Benderson Vision?
More background here and here (click or just scroll down). The Sarasota Board of County Commissioners meets today to consider approving this transformation:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Breaking the Bond of Public Trust

This editorial appeared last August in the Herald Tribune. It is reposted here in advance of the County Commission hearing on the "Bendersonville" initiative that promises to destroy years of collaborative effort on the part of the County staff and residents of the Fruitville area of Sarasota County, and landowners.

G.S. Heffner: County breaking trust on Fruitville Initiative

Published: Monday, August 17, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 14, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.
We want to share with the citizens and leaders of Sarasota County our growing concern about the integrity and survival of the Fruitville Initiative.
In 2009, a public engagement and planning process began, involving landowners, Sarasota County government, and the neighborhoods adjacent to the 420 acres now known as the Fruitville Initiative. These county-hosted workshops came to represent hundreds of hours of citizen involvement in the future of their community and yielded a coordinated development strategy in a public-private partnership.
According to county records dating from 2009 to 2014, expenditures for consultants related to the Fruitville Initiative totaled $864,691. Given that time spent by county staff on the Fruitville Initiative was not tracked, we can safely assume that this has been a million-dollar conversation.
For the past five years, the Fruitville 210 Community Alliance has been actively involved in what appeared to be a sincere attempt by Sarasota County government to plan and orchestrate the development of this key entryway into Sarasota.
The planning effort resulted in the adoption of a comprehensive plan amendment and form-based zoning code that essentially constitute a contract between the neighbors, property owners and the county. The Guiding Principles of Future Land Use Policy envisioned an area that included walkable, coherent street networks, public and civic spaces, multi-modal transportation systems, environmental preservation and ecological features sensitive to and networked with the Great Florida Birding Trail to its south.
The initiative’s intent was to present a unique development form and not result in the "typical big box" development commonly seen adjacent to interstate interchanges anywhere in America.
It should be noted that the Fruitville Initiative included 42 acres of county “surplus land,” situated north of the Celery Fields and west of the Fruitville Library. Sarasota County held a place at the table, and we had trusted that their leadership would ensure the successful implementation of the initiative’s Guiding Principles.
Sadly, the clear vision and informed leadership we hoped for has been displaced by an apparent willingness to compromise the plan. For the citizens of Sarasota County, the most costly compromise (in terms of dollars and cents) comes with the hasty sale of the public’s 42 acres to Benderson Development Company. We all remember the Great Recession, and the four-year free-fall of our state and national economy. However, this is now the third straight year property values have increased in Sarasota County and by 2014 those values approximated pre-crash numbers.
Good stewardship recognizes that a limited resource should never be sold low, but held for a higher yield. In 2003 a state-certified appraisal of the 42 surplus acres indicated a market value between $4.3 million and $5.1 million. Despite that realistic appraisal, Benderson Development (one of two bidders) recently closed on the property for a disappointing $3 million.
The company now proposes building a commercial distribution center featuring multiple loading docks built to serve a constant flow of tractor trailers. To facilitate the plan, Benderson will need to request variances to the form-based zoning plan that the Fruitville Initiative rests upon. Benderson Development’s unique hold over Sarasota County seems to have severely skewed our commissioners’ ability to weigh public monetary interests and to remember their comprehensive plan commitments.
An additional compromise threatens the Fruitville Initiative that cuts deeper than simply losing money on a poorly negotiated land deal. From Dearborn Street, to the North Trail, to Myakka City, neighborhoods across Sarasota County are regularly invited to county-sponsored workshops. The premise of these gatherings is to hear from the citizens and discover what their hopes and needs are in their corner of the world. Our concern is ethical in nature, as these conversations form the bond of public trust. If the leaders in our county can be enticed from the commitments of a multi-year, million-dollar conversation in Fruitville, what will they do with your neighborhood dialogue? Citizen involvement is critical to the vitality of its local government. That involvement must never be carelessly dismissed, but rather, carefully nurtured.
We all want progress in our communities, but progress means getting nearer to your goals. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road. The man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” Fruitville 210 Community Alliance urges the leadership of Sarasota County to return to the Guiding Principles of the Fruitville Initiative and stand by them. That commitment to public trust will serve the citizens and the future of our county well.
G.S. Heffner is chairman of the Fruitville 210 Community Alliance board of directors.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Is Sarasota County Hallucinating?

How did Sarasota County's plan for Fruitville go from this . . . 

to this?

The Bendersonville Initiative

The Detail
Cathy Antunes

The Fruitville Initiative began when Sarasota County approached five landowners about working together to plan high value, walkable development at the Fruitiville-Interstate-75 interchange. Rather than standard big box retail, gas stations, fast food or strip malls, the County wanted to coordinate development of the 42 acres of public land next to Fruitville Library with 300 adjacent acres owned by private landowners. The private landowners agreed. Public workshops attracted hundreds of residents. The collaboration produced a beautiful, walkable residential and commercial mixed-use development plan that harmonizes with Audubon’s Celery Fields bird sanctuary. The County paid a national expert $500,000 to put the plan on paper, and passed the Fruitville Initiative in 2010. Today, the County has reneged on the plan, selling the public’s 42 acres to Benderson Development for a bargain-basement price. On October 28th, this Wednesday afternoon, Benderson’s plan to build a trucking distribution center will be presented for a vote to the Sarasota County Commission (to attend and give public input, see details below). The Browardization of Sarasota County (aka Bendersonville) continues. MORE . . .

County Commission will decide whether to adopt the new Bendersonville Trucking Center on Wednesday afternoon:

Sarasota County Commission meeting, Wednesday October 28th, 1660 Ringling Blvd.  Commission Chamber, Sarasota, FL.  
Here's the Agenda
The site plan presentation, public input, Commission discussion and vote will occur in the afternoon (item 10), sometime after 1:30pm (exact time depends on how quickly the Commission will move through other agenda items – see agenda link below).  Because it is a public hearing, citizens who sign up to give input at the meeting will each have 5 minutes to speak.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Schools suffer as Developers get free pass

Dan Lobeck: School impact hardly begins to meet unfunded needs

Published: Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 23, 2015 at 2:31 p.m.

On Oct. 20, Sarasota County School Board members betrayed taxpayers and schoolchildren and bowed instead to the developers who bankroll their campaigns.
The School Board adopted a very low school impact fee on new residential development — less than 26 percent of the full fee recommended by their expert consultant. It will be the third lowest school impact fee in Florida.
This despite an unfunded need of $326 million to build at least six new schools over the next 10 years, mainly to serve urban sprawl east of the interstate and south of Venice. The new low fee will cover only 13 percent of that cost, putting 87 percent of the expense on the backs of the tax-paying public.
So how will the School Board pay for new schools? Even the recommended full fee would only pay half of the cost, but with 87 percent unfunded the shortfall is severe.
The School Board, through its state association, is trying to get the Legislature to raise our school property taxes.  MORE . . . 

CONA Fundraiser Nov. 16th

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations, CONA, will hold a fund-raising event to celebrate our fifty-fourth anniversary at the elegant Michael's On East Wine Cellar on Monday, November 16 at 7:00 p.m. Please see the attached invitation for the details.
CONA has been the collective voice for homeowner and condominium associations, neighborhoods, and residents for fifty-four years. CONA charges its member organizations very low dues, $50.00, and everyone who is a member of that association is included in that organizational membership. They keep their members informed about our activities, meetings, and programs and send a representative to participate in those important to the neighborhood. 

Many elect to join individually to support our efforts, even if their association has a membership or if they are not affiliated with an association. Individual members receive our meeting notices directly. All those purchasing tickets for this fundraiser also will be offered the option to select a free individual CONA membership for 2016 (value of $30.00).
CONA is an all-volunteer organization and does not contribute to or endorse candidates for elected office or political committees. Our only agenda is to protect the character of our neighborhoods and quality of life for our members throughout Sarasota County.

Please consider buying tickets to this event that will be a lot of fun and a great way to meet old and new friends while supporting a really worthy organization. The hors d'oeuvres at Michael's are also spectacular! Compared to most charitable fund-raising events, $50 per person is quite a bargain.

If you cannot make the event, please consider purchasing a ticket or two as a donation to CONA. If you'd like more information about is our web site.

Looking forward to seeing you on November 16!

Thank you very much for your support!

Kafi Benz

President, Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phoenix Sun: A compendium of brute Benderson/Blacketter tactics



With more than 42,000 rowers, coaches and support staff from across the globe planning on traveling to Southwest Florida for the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, THE SARASOTA PHOENIX has come into possession of a video which clearly shows Randy Benderson's "point man" for the event, a wild, out of control, abusive and intoxicated Paul Blackketter, verbally abusing and physically threatening a fellow employee of the Benderson rowing facility.

The video clearly depicts a completely out of control, enraged Blackketter, no doubt verbally abusing a fellow employee with the most foul, disgusting and repulsive language.

Blackketter is the six figure ($175,000) Executive Director of the Randy Benderson controlled entity called Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), which under Blackketter's direction manages the Nathan Benderson rowing facility. Blackketter, as mentioned above is also Benderson's point man indirecting the operations for the 2017 international rowing event and all other events at the facility.

Link goes to an earlier version of this story, which is still developing. . .


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Housing vs Tourism: A new view in Barcelona

In 2007, Ada Colau put on a black leotard, a yellow cape, and a Zorro mask and gate-crashed a campaign rally in Barcelona. For two and a half minutes, Colau commandeered cameras, holding up a cardboard sign—“Housing Out of the Market, Like Education and Health”—while she delivered a speech on irresponsible development. “We don’t want to hear that the solution is to build more,” Colau told the crowd gathered in the small city square. “We have devastated our territory more than enough. There are a lot of houses. What we need is that these houses fulfill their social role.” When she was done, she dashed between a pair of parked cars and sprinted down the street. 
She didn’t know it then, but her appearance as a superhero was one of the first steps on a path to city hall. In June she was elected mayor of Barcelona, with the support of a coalition of leftist political parties. She campaigned on fighting inequality
         .   .   .   .

Colau sees parallels between housing and tourism; she worries the latter’s growth is hurting citizens and has declared a one-year ban on new hotel licenses. She has angered the Spanish government by removing a bust of former King Juan Carlos from city hall’s main chamber; announced her intention to rein in Airbnb; and taken aim at banks, threatening to fine those that keep their properties empty, rather than rent them out at subsidized rates.“As mayor, I can talk to the banks on a more equal footing than I could when I was just a citizen,” she says. 
“There’s a wide consensus to say, ‘Guys, we need these houses, not to speculate but for the families that need them. First we will offer you the opportunity to collaborate and lend us these houses that you’re not using and that aren’t going onto the market. We’ll improve them and put them to use. And if you don’t want to collaborate, we’ll try other instruments to give you an incentive.’ ”

More . . . 

Still More  . . .

Friday, September 4, 2015

Science Doesn’t Matter Much to Water Management District Board

Bradenton Times
Dennis Maley
Thursday, Sep 03, 2015

Last week, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted to ignore the recommended order of an administrative law judge and allow local developer Pat Neal to destroy high-quality wetlands in order to build four McMansions on Perico Island.

When it comes to understanding how our local environmental resources are squandered, the story of this development is instructive. It shows a flawed process in which those who decide the fate of some of our most precious resources are often the same ones who have demonstrated the least respect and appreciation for it. 
SWFMD originally voted to issue the required permit. The challengers, which included TBT publisher Joe McClash, asked that an administrative law judge review the application and issue a recommended order. After three days of presenting evidence, expert witness testimony and scientific explanations as to why the proposed development would be devastating to the local ecology, that administrative law judge’s findings of fact led him to issue a recommended order that the water management district deny the request for the permit. 
In the somewhat backward process of such matters, that order than was given back to the same board who was already poised to pass it. At the meeting, Neal’s team was able to present all of their supporting arguments for ignoring the ALJ’s ruling, while McClash and his partners, which included Sierra Club, F.I.S.H. and Manasota88, then had just 20 minutes to convince the governing board to follow the ALJ’s recommended order.
Read more. . . 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A key distinction in Sunshine

Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Letter to the editor 
Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.
Sunshine and listening

I read with interest the guest column last week by Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman. After serving in the Legislature for 12 years I came to the conclusion that one of the greatest things we ever did was pass a strong Sunshine Law. However, I hate to see it twisted by the courts in such a way as to prevent elected officials from listening to the citizens for fear of being sued.

I believe that when the Sunshine Law was drafted and passed, no one ever thought that two elected officials could not be together to listen to the very people who elected them. The Sunshine Law was and is there to ensure that the elected officials do not do act [act] behind the public’s back.

Our elected officials should in fact be encouraged to meet with and listen to their constituents. Are the citizens who have pleaded for attention or help required to have multiple community meetings so they can tell their story? I don’t know about you but I admire those elected officials who take time to listen.

I believe the meeting that Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Chapman attended was not a Sunshine violation. The meeting was never intended to make decisions. The meeting was arranged so that the commissioners could listen to issues that could not be explained or voiced in a time-constrained City Commission meeting.

I would hope that our courts would wake up and realize that when elected officials are meeting with the public to listen, either by themselves or for that matter multiple other commissioners, they are providing public service, and that is their job.

Mike Bennett
Manatee County Supervisor of Elections
and former state senator