Thursday, September 21, 2017

The first UDC workshop: Purpose, Customers, Scope

Matt Osterhoudt, Planning Director, foreground. Chris Brimo, CGA, background

The first of three public workshops on the UDC to be conducted by the Sarasota Planning Dept. was held on Wed., Sept. 20, 2017 in Osprey.

UDC? What is it?
The Unified Development Code aims to bring together about 700 pages of Sarasota County zoning rules and 100 pages + appendices of Land Development Regulations.
The project began in March 2017 and is designed to last about 18 months, through Summer 2018.
$285,000, from Zoning funds.
To clean up conflicts, contradictions, outdated references and other incompatibilities between Sarasota's Zoning Code, last overhauled in 2003, and its Land Development Regs (LDRs), even older than that.
Calvin Giordano & Associates (CGA) - Florida consulting firm.
According to Sarasota County Planning Director Matt Osterhoudt, there is overlap, redundancy, and inconsistencies between the zoning code, which regulates everything from land use to chicken tending, and the LDRs, which are the rules that a few big developers use when they propose new developments.  
Bringing these two codes into harmony will save time and money for those that use the codes. This seems an eminently sensible thing to do.
Main beneficiaries?
The developers, builders, and contractors who need a clear, well ordered set of rules to look to when they are proposing new developments.
And the Public?
The public, the communities that are impacted by new development, is - or should be - a constituency that is addressed here. But it's not clear whether that is the case. (See also this open letter regarding the public's role in planning).
At the UDC workshop there were in fact more members of the public than there were members of the developer and builder communities. People with questions about impacts, with concerns about weakening the Comp Plan, and with strong objections to current rules that fail the public interest. One example: the weak and very narrow notification policies that require developers to let folks within 500, or 750 feet of a target site, know that a rezoning is proposed. 
Another example: antiquated land use designations out of sync with the rapidly changing landscapes of Sarasota County. Recent example: A developer proposed a demolition waste plant in a burgeoning residential, retail, and eco-tourism area because of a land use designation from 37 years ago -- a time when no neighborhoods, schools, businesses, or nature preserve were there. 
What's the problem?
At the workshop, when members of the public noted that certain notification procedures for public lands seem to fail to reach people who will care, and who will be affected if a proposed development (such as a waste plant at the Celery Fields) were to go forward, the response was that surplus lands are "outside the scope" of this UDC code overhaul.
At this point, Sarasota County Planning appears to view as its main customers those developers and builders who must use these codes every day in order to do what they do. Fair enough. And the project seems well organized to accomplish its task. 
Planning views the Board of Commissioners -- its employer -- as another constituency it must please.
But it's not clear whether Planning fully recognizes that the Public who elected the Board, and whose taxes pay both the Board's and the Planning Department's wages, have standing here as well. 
What can be done to give the Public clear relevant standing?
As environmental advocate Jono Miller put it after the hearing, one way to address this is to have the public involved up front, early in the "scoping session" that designs projects like the UDC code, sets project parameters, and decides whose interests will be served.  
More representatives from the Public were at this workshop than developers, builders or contractors.  
Builders and contractors will surely benefit from a cleaned-up, better organized code. But will our communities see any benefit to their concerns about notification, updated land use, and more? Maybe we need to be there as equal participants when future such projects are scoped. Advisory boards could reserve seats for the public interest.
What's next?
The public interest here is entirely distinct from that of the developers, builders and contractors. It needs to be better understood and integrated into the planning process. 
One can hope that the openness of the Planning Dept. to record all comments on the UDC update, and to transmit them to the Board, will register. 
Matt Osterhoudt also stated that he and fellow planners will make themselves available to meet with any individual or group that wishes to do so.
Anyone may get in touch with Planning via any of three ways:
  • Meet directly with Matt Osterhoudt or Bill Spaeth of Sarasota Planning.
Better understanding of the needs of those who use county codes, and those impacted by that use, can come from closer dialog.

Two more public workshops are planned in October and November. The first revised code document is expected to be ready to be seen in December.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Public Workshops on County Planning Updates

The senseless proposal for an industrial waste facility at the Celery Fields revealed some disturbing facts about  how planning has been failing the people of Sarasota County.
E.g., Sarasota's land use map is out of date, its multiple codes do not mesh, and County planners apparently are not required to consult the community, or notify anyone of major changes to, or sales of, public lands.

The County is working on updating - and will have public meetings beginning Sept. 20th. 

All three public "workshops" are in Nokomis:

Public Workshops

Nokomis Community Center, Main Hall
234 Nippino Trail 
Nokomis, FL 34275
September 20th – Public Workshop No. 1
October 18th – Public Workshop No. 2
November 7th – Public Workshop No. 3
6:00 p.m., or as soon thereafter as possible.

Is this rational planning?

Earlier this year, a large, heavy-industrial waste processing plant was proposed for public land at a fragile intersection in an East Sarasota district including a sensitive nature preserve, nearly 1,600 homes, an elementary school, a busy commercial area and several industrial parks.

The justification given for the proposal was that 25 years earlier, the public property was designated as a major employment center.

Sarasota County processed the proposal with no outreach to the surrounding community - the thousands of residents, stores, businesses and school which weren't there a quarter of a century ago.

The public land where the waste plant was proposed was placed on the surplus lands list by County Administrator Thomas Harmer with no public consultation or advisory.

In processing the application, the County acknowledged none of the immediate, mid-term, or long-term consequences of placing a 16-acre waste plant at the heart of this upcoming district.

On Aug. 23, 2017, Commissioners Al Maio and Michael Moran voted to approve the rezoning and special exception for the waste plant. Commissioners Charles Hines, Nancy Detert, and Paul Caragiulo voted it down.

"To plan" means, "to decide on or to arrange in advance." Proposing to site an industrial waste facility in an environmentally sensitive area with tourist amenities because 25 years earlier it was designated as a possible site for light industry is not a plan. It's a calamitous anachronism.

How do we get from here to more commonsense, rational planning?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Speak up for Land Conservation Wednesday, Sept. 20

Dear Citizen,

Your voice is needed on Wednesday, September 20 to stand up for land conservation funding in Florida. We need YOU to tell your local elected officials exactly what you meant when you said YES to the 2014 Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

Last year, the Legislature put an astonishing $0 into the state’s highly regarded Florida Forever land conservation program. This is an unacceptable amount and an affront to the millions of Floridians who voted for more parks and increased protections of our most important natural areas. The Sarasota County Legislative Delegation will meet at the Sarasota County Commission Chambers in Sarasota at 9:00 a.m. – your participation is needed!

This meeting is your chance to tell your elected officials in a public setting that you want more funding for Florida Forever. Remember, if your elected officials don’t hear from YOU, they will only hear from the special interests and paid lobbyists in Tallahassee.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
9:00AM to 12:00PM
Sarasota County Commission Chambers
1660 Ringling Boulevard
Sarasota, FL 34236
Google Map


  • When I voted for Amendment 1, I understood it to be a way to restore funding to Florida Forever, which was traditionally funded at $300 million a year. I expect the Legislature to appropriate 40% of Amendment 1 funds to land conservation programs like Florida Forever. 
  • The Florida Forever program has three vital objectives - to protect important natural landscapes, help build community parks, and ensure that rural agricultural lands aren’t paved over. 
  • Florida is rich with natural beauty, wildlife, and wonderful state parks. I want more of our taxpayer dollars going to programs that build more parks and protect more of our lands and waters. 
  • Florida cannot thrive without an abundant supply of drinking water. Seventy-two percent of Florida – 25 million acres – is privately owned. Scientists and land managers have identified an additional 2 million acres for conservation, including lands necessary to protect the water quality of our state’s most important springs, rivers, and coastal areas. I encourage you to use Amendment 1 funds to protect these important places.
  • Florida should protect our agricultural lands from development. Farms and ranches play an important role for wildlife and recharging our drinking water supplies. 
  • All Floridians should have access to nearby parks. They provide recreational and educational opportunities and offer Florida’s families a place to reconnect with each other and with nature. Please support the purchase and development of more local parks. 
  • Although the primary purpose of the Water and Land Conservation Amendment was to set aside money to acquire conservation and recreation lands, less than 4% of those funds have been allocated to land conservation statewide from 2015-2018. In comparison, almost 25% of Amendment 1 dollars have been allocated to pay for expenses previously paid for through General Revenue. End this misappropriation this year and restore funding to our most important conservation programs like Florida Forever. 
  • The Charlotte Harbor Estuary and Myakka Ranchlands are the last two remaining properties on the Florida Forever Acquisition list located in Sarasota County. When purchased, these properties will provide significant ecological benefits for our aquifer and for the mitigation of sea level rise in Sarasota County. What is your plan to see these properties secured for future generations? 
Do not miss this opportunity to engage with your legislators. If you need any further information, do not hesitate to contact me at 850-629-4656 or visit our Advocacy page for more information:

Thank you.

Jonathan Webber
Deputy Director, Florida Conservation Voters

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Growth a health, safety and welfare issue?

Valerie Preziosi and her husband, Jan Svejkovsky, left their home on Big Pine Key on Friday, along with their two cats. They booked a hotel room in Orlando but then changed course for Waldo, in north-central Florida, when the hotel didn’t answer their calls. Then, as Irma wobbled, Waldo found itself at risk of flooding. Like many evacuees, they had fled from one danger zone to another. So they drove even further north to Macon, Georgia.

In Irma, Florida became a giant bottleneck . . . 

The article in the Miami Herald raises unsettling questions for Bill Zoller:
Could growth (or too much of it) be a “health, safety, and welfare” issue? 
It is sometimes surprising how something like an Irma can trigger unexpected issues. The question of evacuation routes in Sarasota County is one that has bounced around for years (think: River Road), and eventually it has seemed to get a big shrug. In the event of a hurricane’s taking direct aim on Sarasota, can our government assure us that it would be possible to evacuate?  If not, what are the implications? That question must be answered…by our government officials.  Shall we ask them?


A lesson from Hurricane Irma: capitalism can’t save the planet – it can only destroy it - George Monbiot

The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Irma, shelters, updates

FPL has a site that tracks power outages by zipcode.

As of Sunday, 9:20 am, with Irma over the Keys:

Sarasota County has 10 shelters open - see this page for updates.

Manatee Couunty opened 23 shelters - check this page for which are still open.

National Hurricane Center home page

Latest Advisory - also here - Levi Cowan's page.

WUSF has continuous coverage out of Tampa/St. Pete.

Ventusky - visualization of various weather components.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Has this partnership made sense for the people?

Pat Rounds has researched the convoluted Rowing Park deal between the Benderson developers and Sarasota/Manatee County in detail.  In response to the statement by former Commissioner Thaxton quoted in the Herald Tribune, Rounds made the comment below.

"...The original concept was for a youth rowing facility that wouldn’t require enlarging the lake to make a full 2,000-meter course. He thought it might cost about $2 million, Thaxton said..." 

Yet in a few short years at the urging of some local rowing clubs and Benderson Corp., a youth rowing facility that should have earned its way to greater investment was permitted by the County Commission to morph into a $40+ million dollar public investment "partnered" with a hollow pledge of corporate funding for a finish tower, boat house, permanent grandstands, restrooms and amphitheater to match the many millions in taxpayer revenue that built the infrastructure, including a man-made "regatta island". 
Where is the boat house? Where are the permanent grandstands? How about some restrooms---not Port-o-Johns? No amphitheater? Why not? Because the County Commission didn't require SANCA to sign a binding commitment to raise the $22 million to pay for those permanent buildings. Benderson Rowing Park was billed as a world-class venue. It's anything but.  
Three weeks before the World Rowing Championships, the park looks like the circus is setting up with rented bleachers, canvass tents where rowers can shower, and portable toilets----all paid with public $$$, not private. It's all been a clever shell game, with the joke on Florida and Sarasota County taxpayers. After the WRC leaves town, what next? More rentals at public expense to accommodate future events?  
Doesn't adjacent UTC benefit from being able to use the infrastructure (e.g., sewers, water retention ponds) created for the rowing park and paid for with public dollars? At least one party made out handsomely. Isn't this called jumping on the trolley without paying the fare?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Maley on Beruff

Editorial from Bradenton Times:

The Power of the People

Dennis Maley
Sunday, Sep 03, 2017
The Bradenton Times

Democracy is a high-maintenance animal, and it likes to be touched. In recent weeks, Manatee County activists have demonstrated just how crucial the role of the citizen truly is when it comes to our democratic process.

For several years, Carlos Beruff has been intent on developing an ultra-ambitious project on a huge parcel of land that sits on the Sarasota Bay in southwest Manatee County. First called Long Bar Pointe and now Aqua by the Bay, the proposed development is unlike anything Manatee County has ever seen.

The only problem is that Aqua by the Bay, as proposed, does not comply with a number of Manatee County's rules on coastal development (more on that here). Normally, however, that might not be such a problem for Mr. Beruff, who has invested a lot of money in making sure that he wields considerable influence over the board, which makes all of the important land use decisions for our community.

Beruff, through a litany of financial entities from which he makes political contributions that legally skirt campaign finance limits meant to limit the influence of any single individual, has been the primary benefactor of several board members. The Miami native was the driving force behind Commission Chair Betsy Benac's 2012 campaign and added another friendly face in 2016 when he helped get Stephen Jonsson, a banker with whom he'd had many dealings, get elected to the BOCC.

Beruff looked poised to add another pro-development vote to the board in that election, until former state rep. Ron Reagan's Beruff-sponsored campaign began to implode, perhaps at least partly because of an exposé in this publication that demonstrated the numerous conflicts of interest that the support would create, were Reagan to be elected. While that investment didnðt pay off, Beruff nonetheless enjoys a pretty solid relationship with a decidedly pro-development board, most of which is flush with developer money from Beruff and elsewhere. He even hired Commissioner Carol Whitmore's son-in-law, an attorney, to work on Aqua by the Bay. While the ethics commission ruled that Whitmore had no conflict of interest, one certainly has to wonder whether gaining another vote was on Beruff's mind when he made the decision.

Beruff's investments often pay handsome dividends. Consider this, you own a piece of land that our county's rules say can be developed one way. Mr. Beruff buys that property and submits a wildly different plan that fails to comply with said rules. Through his influence, he's able to get a development plan approved with much more favorable allowances. Usually it's greater density, which translates to more homes on the same amount of land, or, as is the case with Aqua by the Bay, where he is seeking much greater height than is allowed and a complete reconfiguration of the natural water features to the detriment of the local environment.

Influence with other entities, such as our local water management board, which he once chaired, make it even easier for Beruff to prevail. Once he does, that land he acquired is worth far more than it was when he purchased it, allowing him to make a profit far greater than the cost of attaining that influence even before ground is broken on the first home.

Given how much influence he has at his disposal, Beruff is probably going to be able to get the rules bent and the regulations modified in his favor, provided the decision isn't under a microscope. That's where the people come in. Manatee County happens to be blessed with an inordinate amount of retired experts when it comes to most environmental issues. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise, as so many people like to retire to our coastal community anyway, and if you've spent your life working on coastal issues it suggests you've got a passion for the subject. If so, where better to spend your golden years than one of the most ecologically-splendid coastal regions in the world?

That passion has been Beruff's Achilles' heel, driving a number of such retirees to point it at this project and fight the county to enforce its own rules, even if it means the developer does not get his way. The fight's not over yet, but they've begun to back the developer to the ropes. That's not really the way it should work of course, or at least they shouldn't have to work this hard. Ideally, county commissioners would do their jobs and county staff would do theirs and the brain trust in our retirement community could spend their days enjoying recreation amid that beautiful environment rather than fighting tooth and nail to protect it.

But while Beruff's influence remains obvious and activists, no matter how impressively credentialed, have to wage a disparagingly uphill (not to mention expensive) battle just to ensure that our government and elected officials do what they should, their success demonstrates just how powerful the will of the people still is, despite the laments of so many disenfranchised citizens who say that big money and special interests have rendered democracy all but dead.

Elected officials serve at our pleasure, and while they may fear the backlash of politically-powerful players who show little mercy and demand complete loyalty for their financial support, they ultimately fear voter backlash more -- provided the citizens make it known that they are paying attention. I've always answered the argument that big-money is the greatest threat to our electoral process with the counter-argument that apathy is much more dangerous because that's what empowers the money in the first place.

Bombarding voters with slick ads and cheap-shot attack campaigns only works when the voters aren't paying much attention. If the citizens know that one of their elected officials is a stooge for developers or some other special interest, all the ads to the contrary arenðt going to change that impression. If they don't know who their elected officials even are, however, and have no idea which way they voted on key issues but still show up to vote as many of them do, that money can go a long, long way.

In the end, it's simply a matter of convincing elected officials that we are more dangerous than those who sign the big campaign checks. When they believe that, they typically vote the right way, and the best way to ensure that's the case is to make your voice heard by showing up at meetings, pestering your representatives with calls and emails, and letting them know that their continued service requires their representation of the will of the people.

If you're reading this column, chances are pretty good that you fall into the first category and have probably been one of those voices reminding commissioners who they really work for. If so, I salute you. Keep fighting the good fight and, more importantly, keep spreading the news to your neighbors, recruiting more informed voices so that the will of the people will continue to prevail.