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