Monday, October 31, 2016

"Take the current draft back to the drawing board"

Below is the full text of a comment from Sarasota County resident Glenna Blomquist offered at the hearing of 10.25.16:

October 25, 2016 Comments at Public Hearing for Comprehensive Plan Update
Glenna Blomquist

Let's reminisce about the 1980s when a number of influential planners became interested in ways to guide smart growth in the United States, and in Florida.
I want to turn the clock back to a time when officials made attempts to put laws into place; laws meant to protect - clearly and fearlessly - the public and the environment. The 1985 Growth Management Act had some power of enforcement. Tallahassee kept a close eye on how counties interacted with developers because they didn't trust counties not to yield to local pressures.
Fast forward to 2011, thanks to our Tallahassee legislators, it became a blind eye, and the counties began to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of citizens. Developer money was able to influence growth like never before with some negative outcomes. Wise people knew that counties might not be trusted at the hands of developers who were flush with money. How true, as we see demonstrated in Sarasota County.
As a county, we need rules that protect us from ourselves and give the public opportunity for recourse against agents in our community who wish to disrespect existing communities and our natural environment.
Yes, property owners have rights, but not the right to diminish greatly the quality of life of people living in Sarasota County, and even get off scot-free without contributing to the costs of infrastructure. The County does not have enough tax dollars or funding to keep infrastructure current, so this is a major concern when adding population, no matter what demographic.
If we want smart development, we have to define it. We have to make those who benefit from development – immediately, and in the long-term – pay for the significant costs of the infrastructure and environmental protections that need to be in place concurrent, or even before, dumping population in an area.
In the past, some people have taken drastic measures against counties. For example, in 2001, Karen, a resident of Martin County, became incensed about zoning changes in her neighborhood, changing the density from 2 units per acre to multi-story residences of 8 per acre.
Karen won her case in district court and the newly constructed occupied residences were demolished under court order. How did this happen? The courts said the developer violated the county's comprehensive land use plan.
Our comprehensive plan still goes to the state for cursory and rubber-stamp review. However, Tallahassee has decimated State authority to guide counties towards manageable growth with demands of concurrency of infrastructure. It is up to us to make sure our comprehensive plan is loophole-free and that it enables the public to defend their communities from bad development.
For Karen, the court found the Martin County Comprehensive Plan established a hierarchy of land uses, paying deference to lower density residential uses, and providing protection to those areas. The "tiering policy" required that any new structures added to the area must be both comparable and compatible to those already built and occupied.
How I wish these "rules of the game" had been applied when, only a few weeks ago, a zoning change was approved for my neighborhood that changed the zoning from 1 unit per 10 acres to 2 units per one acre. Never mind, that 750 homes will be built on a dead end 2-lane county road near a narrow bridge, now dubbed "a killing zone" for pedestrians because there is no pedestrian shoulder. Development in my neighborhood clearly went awry, because roads are not capable and concurrent and there is no money or plan for improvement. Going forward, I don't want to see this happen to any other neighborhood.
Problematic situations are not being addressed in part because stringent and clear verbiage is lacking from the comprehensive plan, and more significantly, because our officials lack the will to deny developers' plans. And now the proposed changes as drafted will be even less protective.
The public needs a strong comprehensive plan that makes it possible to police intrusive development and defends the interests of current residents of Sarasota County communities.
Please take the current draft back to the drawing board.

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