Monday, January 25, 2016

Degrading Sarasota County, one wetland at a time

From Dan Lobeck, Sarasota attorney and citizen advocate:


On Tuesday, January 26 shortly after 1:30 pm at their downtown Sarasota location, the Sarasota County Commission will consider allowing a developer to pave over 4 ½ acres of very rare and valuable forested wetlands for commercial development and to create traffic gridlock at an important intersection. 
It is a public hearing, with the right to speak for up to five minutes.
Sarasota County staff is recommending against this, and would require that the wetlands be preserved on the 8 ¼ acre site at University Parkway and Honore Avenue. They point out that most of these wetlands were agreed to be preserved in a previous business park approved for the site, so the developer would violate the requirement of the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan that there is “no reasonable alternative” but to destroy the wetlands. 
Staff reports that the particular wetlands “are very rare in Sarasota County” and “have a high degree of environmental importance for water filtration, assimilation of nutrients, floodwater storage and as a refuge and habitat for a wide variety of species that rely on this urban environment.” “Such isolated habitats within the urban environment,” staff says, “are becoming increasingly more important to migratory species.” 
The wetland destruction would be “mitigated” six miles away on Manatee County property unconnected to any Sarasota County habitat, which staff says also violates the Comprehensive Plan requirement that mitigation (where there is “no reasonable alternative” to destruction) should be on-site or nearby. 
If this is approved, it will follow a brand-new pattern of the Sarasota County Commission allowing destruction of valuable habitat for mitigation in Manatee County, as it granted to Benderson Development last year for expansion of the University Town Center.
The proposed commercial development would also create severe traffic congestion at the University Parkway-Honore Avenue intersection which can only be solved by a large, expensive road and intersection improvements and a traffic light. Two lanes must be added to University Parkway from Honore to Medici Court and to Honore Avenue from University Parkway to Desoto Road, if the traffic is to be handled. However, amazingly, transportation staff recommends – without any evident concurrency analysis required by state law – only to require the developer to add the traffic light. There are no plans for the other improvements. 
So not only do valuable wetlands get paved over, but another stretch of University Parkway, and of Honore Avenue, and their intersection, gets gridlocked. 
The Planning Commission, which the County Commission has stacked with development interests, unanimously recommended approval of the developer’s proposal. (Earlier on the County Commission agenda, the Commission will most likely pass over citizen advocates Lourdes Ramirez and Ray Porter to appoint two developers and a development contractor to the Planning Commission, if they follow what they have done before). 
Will the County Commission act again to let developers pave over wetlands which their environmental staff says are required to be preserved, and gridlock the roads in the process? 
-- Dan Lobeck

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