Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Subscribers to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune might want to read this . . .

What has the Sarasota Herald-Tribune come to?

Twitter account of Herald-Tribune
"News Editor/Gun Writer" Lee Williams

On March 28th, 2018, Sarasota Herald-Tribune news editor Lee Williams interviewed NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. 

This is what happened next:

Gun Writer and newspaper editor calls
Parkland response 'macabre and evil,'
asks NRA lobbyist 'How can we help?'

Lee Williams -- the Gun Writer columnist who also happens to be a Sarasota Herald-Tribune news editor -- hosted a half-hour podcast Wednesday with Marion Hammer, the Florida NRA lobbyist. 
Hammer said she thought gun-control advocates had a game plan ready to use victims and families of the next mass shooting in America, which happened to be in Parkland, Fla.  Rather than ask follow-up questions for details and corroboration, the Gun Writer shared her outrage over the gun-control response. 
“I don’t even know how you’d sit in a room and come up with this," Williams said. "That is so macabre and evil.”  
Hammer described how lawmakers in Tallahassee were lobbied for gun-control votes in the days after the Parkland murders. The families of victims were brought in to ask how they'd vote. 
“None of that’s been reported,” said Williams — who directs news coverage for the Herald-Tribune, but declined to have Sarasota reporters share his interview with a highly sought-after Florida news source. 
The Gun Writer did agree that media pressure was a huge factor in the Tallahassee gun-control vote. And he wanted to know when the Florida NRA would be updating grades on state lawmakers. 
“That was my next question," Williams told Hammer. "What can we do to help?”

Is it time for practitioners of actual journalism to take a hard look at what this newspaper, formerly owned by the New York Times, has become?

Monday, March 26, 2018

FPL: Three current options for power lines

(Eds. note: Details about the comparative quantities of residential housing on each of the three main roadways for the power line options have been clarified and updated.)

This is quick summary of the March 26th meeting of FPL reps with the Bee Ridge neighborhoods at Laurel Oak regarding possible routes for new powerlines. For more on the plan, click here.

Each of the three possible routes would connect the Howard substation at Proctor by I-75 with the Bobwhite station at Lorraine Rd. on East Fruitville Rd. The project is deemed necessary to provide for present capacity in the area. Future construction, such as LT Ranch and Hi Hat Ranch, ultimately will add over 20,000 homes south of Clark Rd. and east of the Bee Ridge Extension, and will require further power installations at some point in the future, FPL spokesmen said.

Uwe Hinrichs chair of the Bee Ridge Neighborhoods Committee, opened the discussion by noting that representatives of more than a dozen communities had worked with Sarasota County for 15 years on the improvements to east Bee Ridge Rd. - widening, roundabouts, and low-impact landscaping were among the results that transformed East Bee Ridge into a quality thoroughfare. Hinrichs and others noted that this would be an unfortunate time to site tall power lines along Bee Ridge Rd.

Although FPL didn't ask for a show of hands or voice vote on which of three routes (shown below) is preferred, one man asked those who oppose siting the power line along Bee Ridge Rd. to raise their hands.

Pretty much every hand in the room went up.

The image below shows the three routes, but the Bee Ridge route shows two options at the right - east from Bee Ridge Extension. The FPL reps said the first choice had been for the route east of the extension to go north past Artistry, but after meeting with an unidentified advisory council made up of businesses, nonprofits, and residents (they declined to provide names of their council advisers), FPL decided to prefer the south option, going south of Rothenbach park, north of Misty Creek.

Lines will be 80-130 feet high
A woman from Aberdeen Pines noted that her research on Google Earth showed that the longest "footprint" for the power lines would be along the communities of Bee Ridge -- approximately 13,000 feet. On Clark, they would run by neighborhoods for 7,000 feet, and on Fruitville for 1,500 feet (or a little more if you count Sun 'n Fun).

To a question about the impact of tall power lines on property values, an FPL rep said that FPL studies show that the impact on the market for home sales and the values of homes was often "insignificant," eliciting a strong skeptical guffaw from the crowd.

Power lines typically might disrupt AM radio, but do not affect cellular service or FM transmissions, according to Daniel Hronec, an FPL engineer.

The ultimate decision on where the route goes is up to FPL and is not subject to higher approval. The company will decide by mid-year, said Rae Dowling, FPL manager for this area. More background here.

Concierge service for developers, bum's rush for taxpayers

Big Development Wins ... Again

Dennis Maley
Sunday, Mar 25, 2018

On Tuesday, Manatee County residents were twice reminded who really runs this community: developers.

Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting included plenty of plot twists but the story ended the same way it always seem[s] to. First, we were told that Commissioner Stephen Jonsson would not be voting on whether or not to give developers a 10 percent subsidy on impact fees that are supposed to be paid in order to cover the cost of new growth. It turns out Jonsson’s son, an attorney, had just gone to work as in-house counsel for politically-connected developer Carlos Beruff. 

That’s the same Carlos Beruff who, after enjoying a long and fruitful relationship with Jonsson, a banker, went on to bankroll his 2016 county commission campaign, in which he defeated smart growth advocate and recently dismissed member of the Manatee Planning Commission (yes, those two things are related) Matt Bower.

As unseemly as this may appear, it actually seemed to bode well for the matter at hand. Since the item was a vote on scrapping a long-delayed return to collecting the impact fees at their prescribed rate, that meant that a possible 3-3 deadlock would kill the issue and they’d finally return to 100 percent next month, as scheduled. Since three commissioners—DiSabatino, Trace and Smith—had already balked at making the discount permanent, it seemed as though the public might win for once. More on that in a moment.

During public comment on impact fees, the board had to break for a time-certain item: the matter of whether or not to purchase 33 acres of woodlands from politically-connected developer Pat Neal for the exorbitant price of $3 million—nearly twice what he paid for it in December of 2016. A scheme to set up a Municipal Service Taxing Unit and force surrounding neighbors to pay back that $3 million over 30 years went askew when roughly half of them threw a fit, some of whom even filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent it.

Not to worry, Neal was getting his money one way or another. Commissioner Betsy Benac quickly suggested the county just buy the property and figure out some way to pay for it from somewhere else over the summer budget process. Suddenly, the board’s most pro-development commissioner, who had also had her seat sponsored by Mr. Beruff, just couldn’t live with the idea of missing out on the chance to preserve 33 acres of green space, no matter how much we had to pay Mr. Neal. 

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, who developers like so much they made sure he stuck around (at significant taxpayer expense) even after he completed the state’s five-year Deferred Retirement Option Program, indicated that this was a feasible plan, despite his long-time penchant for telling commissioners that the funding for so many more important things like ambulances or competitive EMS and law enforcement pay just can’t be found during these economic times

That led to a mild uproar from Commissioner Charles Smith who demanded to know why the Palmetto community has been told for 50 years that putting a county-operated public swimming pool north of the river was just too cost prohibitive if a couple of million bucks were so easy to find. Surely the merit of teaching underprivileged black children how to swim in a state where the skill comes in more handy than most had to rank up there with sparing a mere 33 acres (much of which would have remained woods had it been developed), especially in a county that's usually so eager to clear land for new construction. Smith said that "anyone who knows anything about building pools has told me you can’t build one like that for $3 million" and was worried that if costs grew, the people in his district would be given yet another excuse as to why there was still no pool. 

Unable to come to a conclusion by lunch, the commissioners recessed with neither item having been voted on. When they came back, the mood was much more congenial. Support for the east county preserve purchase had suddenly materialized. Smith, having been assured by Hunzeker that the pool was a done deal, already budgeted for, and would be built as scheduled, grew more comfortable and joined Benac, Commissioner Baugh (another developer-supported commissioner whose district includes the site in question) and Commissioner Priscilla Trace, to flip the vote to 4-2. 

So, in the end, the 33 acres will be spared, and we’ll all pay Neal his $3 million. You can read about that in more depth here

That led us to the impact fee vote. Once again, those in attendance had to go through the excruciating dog and pony show of developers pleading with the board to relinquish them from this unfair burden and save the mythical middle-class homeowners who would be forced from this community in droves if the oppressive fees were allowed to increase.

Then we sat and listened as advocates like Bower, planning commissioner Al Horrigan, impact fee activist Ed Goff, and Federation of Manatee County Community Associations President Sandy Marshall shoot their arguments full of enough holes to bury nearly every single one of the $4.5 million that were stuffed into the pockets of local developers in FY 2016-17 alone by way of not paying the fees. Fees that were prescribed, by the way, in an expensive taxpayer-funded study the county commissioned from reputable consulting firm Tischler Bise.

Prices are market driven. Houses sell for what the market will bear. They don’t reduce a $350,000 house to $349,000 if you eliminate the fee. Your expressed fear of a lawsuit from developers is unfounded, as Tischler Bise has never ever had their prescribed impact fees successfully challenged in court. If everyone is so concerned about the middle class, why are new home sale prices growing faster in Manatee County than almost anywhere in the country?

Then we had to listen to the commissioners explain that these people don’t really understand impact fees, what they can be used for, how if they are sued it could ultimately cost more than the extra 10 percent to defend, how they are for jobs and middle-class home buyers. If you have an old house and didn’t pay impact fees,how can you say that someone building a new one should? Blotty blue, blotty blah. 

Commissioner Benac gave perhaps the most artistic performance. She reminded those in attendance that the county only collected about two thirds of the maximum millage on property taxes and suggested that maybe if we wanted the developers to pay 100 percent, so should we. Benac admitted that sure, we could probably find things to do with the money from the fees, but government can always find a way to tax someone and spend the money. Perhaps Benac missed Mr. Goff’s informative treatise on the difference between a "tax" and a "fee" during public comments.

Benac then posited that the reason there seemed to be a perception that the public was overwhelmingly in favor of collecting full impact fees was owed to the fact that they're only a burden on people who've not yet arrived. Who will be the voice of those taxpayers who've yet to make the decision to come to Manatee County in the first place, the commissioner wanted to know. It seemed she was intent to be the champion of all (future) Manatee County residents. The commissioner, whose voice often drips with condescension when forced to answer those who would question the board publicly, then gave yet another soliloquy on the public's failure to grasp the nuts and bolts of the process and how frustrating it can be to hear their misinformed complaints and how they contradict what impact fees can be used for.

Priscilla Trace
District 1

Charles B. Smith
District 2

Stephen R. Jonsson
District 3

Robin DiSabatino
District 4

Vanessa Baugh
District 5

Carol Whitmore
At Large

Betsy Benac
At Large

It's true that many citizens are unaware of every spending limitation attached to the funds. However, that doesn't mean that the ones who understand them more fully don't have very valid arguments. To wit, some additional irony came by way of an earlier proclamation that National Library Week would be scheduled from April 8-14. The board took great effort to fawn over their support of libraries in general and our county’s hard working and talented library staff in particular. Yet, when was the last time we used the impact fees we apparently don’t need to build a library that we demonstrably do? Despite massive population growth in Lakewood Ranch and eastward, there is still not a library east of I-75 and south of the river. For LWR residents, the only option is the small Braden River branch, quite a ways down the traffic-riddled SR70 corridor, which is closed two days a week and only stays open until 8 p.m. on two others. 

During the recession, the county cut library staff and operation hours, and despite increased usage and budgetary growth have not found the money to put them back, let alone build new facilities to keep up with population growth. Impact fees can only be used for capital expenses, not operational costs such as staff, as commissioners are quick to point out, but I’ve never heard anyone say, hey let’s restore all of the libraries to their regular hours and put adequate programming staff in place and then find the money during the summer budget process. My guess is that unless Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff get into the business of building libraries, we won’t.

When it came time to vote, everyone knew that three votes were in the bag. Commissioners Benac, Baugh and Whitmore would vote for capping the fees at the reduced rate. Commissioner Robin DiSabatino held firm once again, as did Commissioner Trace, which put the decision on whether we collect the fees at 100 percent or give up around $10 million over the next three years on Commissioner Smith. 

Smith, who is up for reelection in November, had showed signs of wavering during the public hearing, arguing that all the fees in Lakewood Ranch and Ellenton couldn’t pay for projects in his district anyway. Without much explanation, Smith once again grew more comfortable, pitching in the fourth vote to give developers another win. His mood would improve further after the next item when it was decided to move the Washington Park environmental preserve in his district to a list of projects funded by the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2016.

DiSabatino was livid. "It was the people of this county who lost today,” she told me afterward. "It’s disgusting. You have a developer (Neal) gouging the county on the price for land, pitting neighbor against neighbor over who’s gotta pay for it. That must be the new business model. Why build the development when you can just get the county to pay you twice what it cost for the land? And the commissioners just stand there and vote for it. It makes me sick. Then they vote for capping the fees, when everyone knows the reasons are all phony. It’s a rigged game. You try and do what’s right and represent what’s best for the people of the county, but you just can’t win. This is a dark day in Manatee County."

It is indeed, and DiSabatino’s had her fill. She’s already announced that she won’t be seeking another term. You can’t blame her for having grown tired of fighting the good fight, maybe getting another commissioner or two to join her on a good cause once in a while, but never seeming to be able to flip the board in favor of the people when it counts. She knows that until more people also run for the right reasons and survive the developer-sponsored attacks to actually get into office, nothing will change, and she’ll be left to continue to bang her head against the wall. 

Of course voters have the power to change all that by paying closer attention and then holding public officials accountable for their allegiances. But as many as 130,000 people will vote in a countywide commission race, and you’d be hard pressed to find 10 percent of that number who have any real grasp of issues like this one or even have any idea of the sort of power developers wield in our local government and how it affects them personally. Instead, most just look at whether there’s a D or an R next to the name and vote accordingly. 

Developers know this, of course, which is why they funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into the races to ensure there’s always at least four friendly votes who can send much more dough their way once they’ve gotten a seat at the dais. In 1949, George Orwell wrote in his seminal novel 1984 that all the power was with the proletarians, if they could only ever figure out how to use it. Seven decades later, it’s clear we haven’t.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Unprecedented exception to Urban Service Boundary granted to developer

This article is placed here with permission of the Sarasota News Leader. Two passages have been highlighted by editors of this blog.

Urban Service Area Boundary for Sarasota County to be moved to allow Lee Wetherington Homes to build a corporate headquarters on Fruitville Road

County planning staff and area residents voice support for a Comprehensive Plan change with restrictive criteria

                  A graphic shows the site planned for the new office building. Image courtesy Sarasota County
On the recommendations of staff and their Planning Commission — along with support of people who live adjacent to the site at the heart of the request —  the Sarasota County commissioners have voted unanimously to approve a policy change to allow the construction of an office building outside the Urban Service Area Boundary on Fruitville Road.
The March 14 action necessitated a super-majority vote, as stipulated in the Sarasota County Charter.
The action will enable Lee Wetherington Homes to build a 15,000-square-foot, two-story office building to serve as its new corporate headquarters. The structure will be across from the Sun N Fun RV Resort, which is located at 7125 Fruitville Road.
Officially, with their vote, the commissioners approved a Small Area Comprehensive Plan amendment, which modifies Future Land Use Policy 3.1.2 and the county’s Future Land Use map designation for the 1.88-acre parcel in the southwest quadrant of Fruitville Road and Shannon Road. The new designation is Light Office; the former one was Semi-Rural.
Additionally, in a separate vote, the commissioners agreed unanimously to rezone the Wetherington parcel from Open Use Estate-1 to Office, Professional and Institutional.
“The area within the Urban Service Area Boundary [is] where the County has planned, or is in the process of planning, for the facilities needed to support development including roads, sewage collection and water transmission lines, stormwater management facilities, schools and public libraries,” the Comprehensive Plan says.

A graphic shows developments near the location of the planned Lee Wetherington Homes corporate office (the yellow square outlined in red) on Fruitville Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Representing Lee Wetherington Homes, Shawn Dressler, a planner and landscape architect with consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. of Sarasota, explained that the project team “took a long time developing the criteria” a developer would have to meet to be able to gain approval of any other light office projects outside of the Urban Service Area Boundary.
Those criteria are as follows:
  • The proposed use shall have frontage along a 4-to-6-lane major arterial roadway as classified on the Sarasota 2040 Future Thoroughfare Plan.
  • It shall be located “within a corridor where more than 50% of the existing parcels within 1,000 feet of the subject parcel,” as measured along the 4- to 6-lane major arterial roadway, are
non-residential uses;
  • It shall be located within a corridor where adequate infrastructure is available to serve the subject property.
Fruitville Road is “starting to function as an urban infill corridor,” Dressler pointed out during the public hearing.
Nonetheless, the Wetherington Homes project team wanted to make certain that any development outside the Urban Service Area Boundary would be in keeping with the character of that section of the county, he added.
“I do believe the proposed [Comprehensive Plan] change would be compatible with the existing land use pattern … and future land uses” in that area,” Commissioner Michael Moran said in making the motion for approval of the amendment.
Commissioner Alan Maio seconded the motion, noting that the people who live next to the site for the project “seem to feel comfortable with this. I think that says a lot.”

A graphic shows the site of the proposed office building (in yellow) in the vicinity of other development on Fruitville Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

One of the residents who spoke during the public hearing, Mary Beth Humphreys, told the board members, “The direction of this corridor is headed toward commercial. … The office use does fit …”
Furthermore, Humphreys urged them to follow through with a Planning Commission recommendation. That was for a planning workshop to discuss a corridor plan for Fruitville Road, she noted. However, she cautioned, because of the number of special exceptions already approved for projects in that area, “we may be too late to go back and look at this.” (emphasis added)
Humphreys pointed out that she has been a member of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department staff for more than 29 years. She has been a professional planner in the department since November 2008, according to her LinkedIn account.
Details about the project
The sole goal of the Lee Wetherington Homes’ project, Dressler told the board, is to build a corporate office for the company, which has been renting space in Lakewood Ranch. “They’re ready to move permanently to Sarasota County.”
The facility also will make it possible for employees of the firm to work closer to sites where Wetherington Homes has construction underway, he added, resulting in “less vehicle miles our staff has to put on the road.”
Dressler also noted Lee Wetherington’s charitable works in the community, as evidenced by a Boys & Girls Club that carries Wetherington’s name. In fact, Dressler told the board, Wetherington is far better known “in many circles” as a philanthropist instead of as a homebuilder.
Additionally, Dressler pointed out, the building will encompass a showroom, where potential customers will be invited to look at features Lee Wetherington Homes offers. “[The structure] needs to be high-quality architecture,” he explained, if it is to demonstrate what people can expect of the company’s houses.
In her presentation to the board, county Planner Vivian Roe, provided maps showing the variety of development within the immediate area of the site proposed for the corporate headquarters. Along with Sun N Fun, she said, they include the Southwest Florida Water Management District office, the Kimel Lumber and Hardware Store, Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse and Texaco Station, Fruitville Grove and Critter Ridge Landscape Contractors.
Additionally, during her public remarks, Humphreys noted that the County Commission has approved projects under the aegis of the Sarasota 2050 Plan that will bring about 10,000 new homes to the Fruitville Road corridor.
“The area has transitioned away from the typical semi-rural characteristics, which are large lots and agricultural-type uses,” Roe said.
When Commissioner Charles Hines asked whether the USAB had been moved at any time since the figurative line was included in the County Charter, Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy responded that he remembered a legal challenge in 1996 that resulted in such action, leading to the development of the Fox Creek community. “I don’t know of another one.” (emphasis added)
As for the site plan: Dressler explained that the property “does have a relatively high quality but small functional wetland … that we are preserving,” along with a “high-quality live oak in the middle of the site.” The 60 parking spaces will be located around that tree, he added.
The project was deemed to have a de minimis impact on traffic, he added, so county staff did not require a detailed transportation analysis.
“The biggest piece of infrastructure” in the area is Fruitville Road, he pointed out. Fire Station No. 10 is only 3 miles away, he continued.
The property has an on-site sewage treatment and disposal system, Roe noted. The only access into the property will be from Shannon Road, both Roe and Dressler said, but Dressler added that the company plans significant improvements to the right of way of Shannon Road.
Other public remarks

An engineering drawing shows plans for the site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the public hearing Ray Humphreys followed his wife to the podium, telling the commissioners he has lived on Shannon Road since 1961. “I want the building to go in there,” he said.
One other resident voiced support for the project, while another, Sharon Schlabach, conceded that the area is “going to change.” However, Schlabach, said, “I do object … strongly” to the access into the property being planned from Shannon Road.
“We don’t believe we’d be allowed to access [the property] off of Fruitville Road,” Dressler told the commissioners.
Only Glenna Blomquist spoke in opposition to the Comprehensive Plan amendment.
“The applicant seemed to make this a very benign case,” she said, “but I don’t think it is.”
Instead, Blomquist continued, she fears that the change in the Comprehensive Plan might lead to an expansion of activities in the area that the commissioners have prohibited.
Why should the Urban Service Area Boundary be changed for one individual? she asked.
After Moran made his motion to approve the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, he addressed Lee Wetherington, who was seated in the audience. “I truly appreciate your philanthropy in the community and your investment in our county very much,” Moran said.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Are developers holding back on big plans until growth-friendly candidates get voted in?

Dan Lobeck of Control Growth Now at Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) in Sarasota on March 12, 2018, speaking about Smart Growth, the upcoming elections, and Single District Voting.


 Part 2 with Q & A:


Sunday, March 11, 2018

An Open Letter: Why Fresh Start

When Sarasota County last year bent over backwards to allow a plan for a 16-acre, open-air demolition waste processing plant to be considered for public lands near its famed Celery Fields preserve and recreation area, the community saw something. It saw blindness. Indifference. Refusal to actually plan, or care. 

Why, with the new feature of a lovely natural preserve, new residential development, and other stranded amenities like Ackerman Park, did the County not seize the opportunity for a different kind of impact? Why didn't it direct planning staff to look at a new master plan for the entire Celery Fields Area? One compatible with the larger market forces making East Sarasota County the new hotspot for development, including the Fruitville Initiative?

A lot of people stood up in strong opposition to the Waste Plant. Ultimately last Aug. 23, the Board of County Commissioners voted down the proposed waste idea: 3-2. The close vote and evident absence of intent to optimize these public assets left some of us alarmed. There was no guarantee some other heavy industrial proposal wouldn't win Board approval, as no direction to staff accompanied the vote. 

A group of residents and HOA leaders then formed the Fresh Start Initiative with the plan of providing community input for uses that would respect the environment and enhance the area. As the name implies, Fresh Start begins anew. We are gathering proposals, gaining community input, then holding a public workshop to gauge preferences. All of this is conceived as part of a larger conversation, an opportunity for community and County to openly explore Sarasota County's values and vision for the future. We chose to focus discussion around specific land uses proposed for these parcels. That way, questions of planning, policy, and vision would be grounded in an actual case study.

If this experiment interests you, there's plenty of material to look at on the Fresh Start blog and the Citizens for Sarasota blog. For a quick overview, start here (last paragraph links to info about proposals). We have received a rich variety of ideas and proposals from the community, which an Advisory Board will be reviewing shortly. Then on April 10, the community will participate in a roundtable workshop to vote for those deemed compatible, viable, and meaningful. 

Of course we hope this experiment will issue in great ideas that enhance the Celery Fields area. But even more: We hope a good-faith dialog with the County will have lasting beneficial effects with respect to land use methods and decisions that will be critically significant for our future.

Thanks for your time.

Tom Matrullo
On behalf of Fresh Start, a coalition of 50+ HOA's, non-profits, and businesses.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Single District Voting Petition hopes to qualify for 2018 Sarasota elections

From Kindra Muntz of SAFE - The Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections 

Please read Kindra's message, download, sign and mail the petition today to the address shown. This is the most effective way we can achieve local campaign finance reform now!
Please send this to your email list to encourage people to help with our Countywide petition drive for Single Member Districts? DEADLINE MARCH 16 to submit enough validated petitions to put this on the ballot this spring in time to help County Commission candidates in 2018.
Please call if any questions.
Kindra 941-266-8278
This is a heads-up!
--for all who care about campaign finance reform and a way we can make a difference right here in Sarasota County by changing the way we elect County Commissioners to Single Member Districts.
We have submitted 11,749 petitions to the Supervisor of Elections, but we need to deliver another 5,500 by March 16 to make sure we have the last 4,174 validated petitions needed to put this referendum on the ballotJune 12 in order to benefit candidates in 2018. (See ) If we pass this at any later time this year, it will not benefit candidates until 2020!
Even with some paid petition-gatherers working night and day, we need everyone’s help to meet our AMBITIOUS GOAL of 5,500 more petitions in 10 DAYS!!
Will you join our HI FIVE campaign to push us over the top??
  1. Download and print the petition here
  2. Make 5 copies and have friends and acquaintances who vote in Sarasota County –and who haven’t already signed the petition--fill them in while you are there
  3. Mail them to the address on the petition.
Remember, Single Member Districts will
  • Make our elected officials more accountable to YOU, the voter, rather than to big moneyed interests and their PACs
  • Cut the cost of campaigns by 80%
  • Make races more competitive, and allow more good candidates to run
  • Benefit people of ALL political parties, and help restore democracy in this county for years to come
Kindra, for the SAFE board
Kindra Muntz
Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections

Friday, March 9, 2018

Audubon President speaks of Everglades, Celery Fields, and the "big tent" of Audubon

WUSF has a fine interview with National Audubon Society President David Yarnold - he talks about Everglades Restoration, and about Sarasota's efforts to protect the Celery Fields, in which Sarasota Audubon played a significant part. The Interview is here. He'll be speaking Monday evening in Sarasota -- details below:

David Yarnold, CEO of National Audubon, will be speaking on sea level rise at the monthly meeting of the Sarasota Audubon Society
 Monday, March 12 at 7:00pm

Space will be limited, so get there early.

National Audubon consists of close to 500 chapters throughout the US. The National office deals with nationwide conservation issues through legislation at the state and federal levels.

 First Congregational Church Fellowship Hall, 1031 S. Euclid, Sarasota

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It takes mixed uses to make a Village

Update: Unprecedented risk: Urban Service Area could effectively be at an end

Update: The hearing has been postponed.  The petitioner has requested an indefinite continuance.

Urban Service Boundary at Risk

On March 14, the Sarasota County Commission will consider a really bad proposed amendment to the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan amendment.

It would allow pockets of urban development beyond the Urban Service Boundary (USB). 

On February 1, the Planning Commission, which is packed with development interests, recommended approval of the amendment by a vote of 8 to 0, with one recusal.

The amendment would set a precedent to allow individual urban developments outside the Urban Service Boundary (and outside of the Sarasota 2050 areas and Overlay Districts), by approving them in individual Comp Plan amendments, making exceptions to the USB. It has never been done before but if it happens now than developers will be clamoring for the same treatment in the rural lands.

This would get around the requirement of the Sarasota County Charter for a unanimous County Commission vote to move the Urban Service Boundary or to expand or create an Overlay District as well as the requirement of voter approval to eliminate the Urban Service Boundary.  The staff analysis specifically acknowledges this “objective,” noting that the Charter requirement for a unanimous County Commission vote has prevented any movement of the Urban Service Boundary since the Charter limits were enacted by voter referendum in 2008.

The present proposed Comp Plan amendment would specifically allow a Light Office development across from Sun N Fun on Fruitville Road, about 1.25 miles east of the Urban Service Boundary, for influential builder Lee Wetherington, and elsewhere that certain criteria are met.  The staff analysis states that could include other parcels in that corridor. 

Although the amendment’s criteria include a requirement that “adequate existing public infrastructure is available to serve the subject property” it would allow the subject office development even though there is no public infrastructure available to provide sewage treatment and a septic tank will be used instead. The staff report does express some concern about this, but the obvious violation of the amendment’s own criteria somehow did not prevent the staff from endorsing it.

If this loophole is allowed by the County Commission, the Urban Service Boundary is effectively gone, as it can be breached any time by a site-specific amendment. This threatens all subdivisions beyond the Urban Service Boundary east of I-75 and in south County, as well as all of us impacted by urban sprawl and its increase in traffic, infrastructure expenses, environmental degradation and other public concerns.

The Charter requires at least four of the five County Commissioners to approve any Comp Plan amendment which increases the density of intensity of development. County staff agrees that this applies to the proposed amendment.

This very bad Comprehensive Plan amendment should be defeated by the County Commission.

What good is an Urban Service Boundary if it can so easily be violated and ignored?

This piece by Dan Lobeck first appeared in the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Group newsletter.