Friday, June 29, 2018

State and local planning - or, not

Perhaps someone can unravel this knotty puzzle:

The prevailing ideological drift in Florida for the past 20-odd years has been to dismantle top-down planning regulations that were put in place in the 1980s. The folks who created those rules foresaw that without them, Florida would sprawl into one big Broward County.

LT Ranch
As former Commissioner Jon Thaxton made clear in a presentation to CONA recently, the reduction of the role of state and regional planners essentially left planning to local government. This is in line with standard Conservative thinking that locals know best what is good for them -- they'll foresee and provide the best solutions to avoid overpopulation, sprawling development, overburdened roads, failed services, stranded assets like parks no one uses, or worse -- a completely incoherent maze of random development, with no public sense of place.

So is local Sarasota government doing this? East County is about to become a series of rather large gated housing tracts. The appetite to privately develop land is at its peak -- just four housing projects (many more are coming) will produce more than 27,600 homes stretching from University Parkway down to 681 near Venice. This would seem a moment for local government to step up, study the big picture, and make due provisions. Have they done so? 


The other part of the puzzle is this: despite the State's dismantling of any oversight of large-scale development, it seems comfortable making decisions that will affect millions of residents -- without consulting local authorities. For example: FDOT was in town last week to offer a public presentation of its plan for an $86 million Diverging Diamond at Fruitville Road. This diamond is just part of FDOT's vision of a series of Diverging Diamonds extending from Tampa down an expanded 12-lane I-75 all the way to Naples. 

At the agency's presentation the other day, several local heads of HOA's as well as representatives of the locally planned Fruitville Initiative said this ambitious project is unnecessary; that in fact it will destroy the primary basis of the Initiative -- a grid of walkable streets that connect people to businesses, residences, and recreational spaces. While media were there, if Sarasota officials or their representatives came to this meeting at Selby Library, we failed to notice them. FDOT said it had no knowledge of the Fruitville Initiative - although its former district head certainly did, four years ago.

In sum: Vast housing tracts and FDOT gigantism could change the face of Sarasota County. One is driven by the developers' economic cycle racing in high gear before it hits another downturn. The other is a massive deployment of state power. It's unclear whether FDOT sees any responsibility to work with the best laid plans of local communities. 

So here's the puzzle: If the State has demolished state control to have regulation to occur at the local level, how does that jive with the grandiose plans of FDOT? And in Sarasota, bereft of regional or state oversight, where are the representatives of our local communities when we need them?  

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Candidates for county commission invited to CONA forums

All candidates who qualified to run for county commission have been invited by CONA to participate in a candidate forum scheduled for their race. The forums are free and open to the public.
  • The forum for district two candidates for county commission will be held by CONA on July 9, 2018
  • The forum for district four candidates for county commission will be held by CONA on August 13, 2018.

The location for both forums is the Sarasota Garden Club at 1131 Boulevard of the Arts in Sarasota, which is at the intersection of Tamiami Trail, south of the Municipal Auditorium. Parking and the entrance are reached from Van Wezel Way. A social at 6:30 p.m. precedes the forum that begins at 7:00 p.m. 

Our forums are open to the public and free. Details and more information are posted to the web site, and will be distributed in regularly scheduled meeting announcements. 

Qualified candidates for any scheduled local race and those proposing ballot initiatives are welcome to attend the social before each of the forums in order to make contact with voters and to distribute literature and yard signs -- even if not scheduled as a member of the panel for that forum. 

Kafi Benz, president

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Big "Diamond" will diverge from small town plan

A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) plan to create a large Diverging Diamond interchange at Fruitville Road could render impossible a design for an innovative, walkable small town that's been gathering momentum for nearly 10 years.

From WWSB's Taylor Torregano:
More than 10 years ago, [a group of] property owners began working on the development with Sarasota County Commissioners and one common goal. 
"[It was] designed around pedestrians walk-ability, mixed use and dispersing traffic through a whole street grid," said Steve Suau, the engineer working on the Fruitville Initiative. 
The Fruitville Initiative would resemble a new downtown that was all set to break ground by the end of this year. 
That is, until Thursday (6.21.18) when the Florida Department of Transportation unveiled its plan to put a diverging diamond here at a public hearing. 

Comments from community leaders and developers of the Fruitville Initiative:
Channeling more traffic through the proposed Lakewood Ranch / Fruitville Road intersection could "implode" the walkable street grid that is essential to the plan, said Steve Suau, a stormwater expert who was part of the original community effort.  
"That just defeats the whole purpose of dispersing traffic and walkability," he added.  
 "I think it would destroy it entirely," said Keith Gelder, vp of Stock Development, which recently purchased land to develop within the Initiative. He added:
"There was a very significant effort, a planning effort for the Fruitville Initiative, conducted over the last eight or nine years, with a tremendous amount of community input to try to create a nice new urbanism concept of a walkable community. What FDOT is proposing simply destroys that."

A public meeting at Selby Library on Thursday, June 21, apparently didn't answer anyone's questions. FDOT representatives said they were hearing these concerns for the first time, despite a paper trail going back years. It includes a 2014 letter from the former head of FDOT, Billy Hattaway, which states:

Our goal is to design an interchange . . . that is not only safe and operationally efficient but contextual to the planned Fruitville multi-way boulevard and surrounding compact, walkable, mixed-use development. We welcome the opportunity to continue working with the County and stakeholders in achieving that objective. (Italics added)

 FDOT's site on the project can be found here.

FDOT plans Diverging Diamonds at Fruitville, Bee Ridge, and Clark Roads

Right now, the Fruitville Road project is in the design phase. It's not funded for construction but FDOT officials will meet in the summer to discuss development for the year 2024 or sooner if Sarasota County makes the project a priority. Once approved, construction is expected to cost $86,000,000.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Differences of a day

Yesterday, June 21, very few of the Charter Review Board races were contested - it was looking like the Board was simply going to repeat its exact composition - which would ensure that it would meet three times a year, 22 minutes per meeting, and accomplish Nothing.

But as of Noon today, four of the five seats on the ballot are contested. Bravo to all who stepped up: Krista Lohr, Mindy Lou Simmons, Melissa Magac, Kevin T. Connelly, and Deborah Lynne LaPinska:

Screenshot 2018-06-22 at 12.25.58 PM - Edited.png

Candidates for CRB will receive an invite to share their views on the Citizens Blog. Same offer extends to all running for County Commission.

Also, this update: 

Remember how County Commissioners quite recently were saying the county "had to sell public lands" because we were facing a "major budget shortfall?" (link) 
It turns out those projections were off by a mere 1,200%, according to the Sarasota News Leader

"In late March, Sarasota County administrative staff showed the County Commission budget projections that included an estimated shortfall of $8,970,406 in the General Fund for the 2020 fiscal year, if two state ballot measures pass on Nov. 6. 
"However, because county expenses have proven lower than expected and the preliminary property value for this year is higher than anticipated, that gap has dropped to $742,512 in FY20, the board members learned this week."

Never underestimate the vagaries of economic projection!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Candidate statement: Lourdes Ramirez

Lourdes Ramirez
My name is Lourdes Ramirez and I'm running for Sarasota County Commission because I believe Sarasota can grow responsibly.

There are three costs of growth: financial, human and brand costs. The financial cost is the cost of government services and infrastructure growth requires. As a candidate for County Commissioner, I believe new development should pay its own way and not burden the existing Sarasota taxpayers.

The human cost is the quality of life we enjoy. I believe we should focus on addressing traffic issues and ensuring we don't cut government services for our current citizens. Until those concerns are addressed, proposals for increased density of new developments shouldn’t be approved.

Growth has an impact on Sarasota’s brand. Our community had a reputation for a high quality of life, but now we face constant traffic congestion, incompatible developments, and reduced green space. As a County Commissioner, I will protect neighborhoods, parks and green space. In contrast, my opponent voted to support the developer that proposed an industrial recycling dump next to the Celery Fields which would have destroyed our important tourist destination, hurt wildlife and damaged our brand. As a county commissioner, I will vote against any proposed industrial dump next to the Celery Fields.

The citizens should trust the elected County Commission to look out for them. That is why I'm running for Sarasota County Commission. I will be the voice of the citizens of Sarasota County. 

Let's get the message out to voters. If you can volunteer your time or donate to my campaign, I would greatly appreciate it. Contact me at:

or mail your check to
Lourdes Ramirez Campaign
PO Box 35231
Sarasota, FL 34242

Note: Citizens for Sarasota County offers all candidates for County Commission space for a statement. Provision of editorial space is not an endorsement of candidate or party.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Uncontested public representation is not Democracy

There are public offices up for election that have no opposition

For example, the Charter Review Board: Three of the five district races are single candidates. Without opposing candidates, they'll walk into office. 

A similar imbalance holds true for the Hospital Board:

On the Charter Review, one uncontested candidate seeking reelection to the Board is James Gabbert (of the Celery fields 16-acre open-air demolition waste processing fame). 

Candidates are needed to challenge them. 

-  It costs nothing to file for Charter Review Board: No qualifying fee or petition needed since it is an unpaid position
-  they meet only three times a year
-  make sure this board represents citizens, not special interests.

Become an elected official who represents the citizens:  Sign up by Friday at noon at one of offices for the Sarasota County supervisor of elections -- see the locations near you below. 

In 2016, the Charter Review Board did have opposing candidates. They were concerned about the Board's blocking citizen initiatives such as single district voting. The same issues are in play today.

Filing & Qualifying for Office

If you are interested in becoming a candidate for office in Sarasota County or have questions about the information listed below, please contact the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections office at (941) 861-8606. 

Offices up for Election

Click here for a list of offices and when they are up for election. 

Qualifying Office Contacts

Federal, State, Multi-County Candidates: Florida Division of Elections 
County Candidates: Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections (941) 861-8606. 
Municipal Candidates: Municipal Clerk 

2018 Qualifying Dates

Governor and Cabinet, State Senator, State Representative, County Office and 
Special Districts: Noon, June 18 - Noon, June 22, 2018

County & Special Districts Qualifying Office Locations

Supervisor of Elections Offices
Terrace Building, 7th Floor
101 S. Washington Blvd.
Sarasota, FL 34236 

Robert L. Anderson Administration Building
4000 Tamiami Trail S., Rm 114
Venice, FL 34293 

Biscayne Plaza
13640 Tamiami Trail
North Port, FL 34287

Photo of the Current Supervisor of Elections 
Logo for Supervisor of Elections

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections

Ron  Turner, Supervisor
101 S. Washington Blvd.
Sarasota, FL 34236

P O Box 4194
Sarasota, FL 34230 -4194 

Phone: 941-861-8600
Fax: 941-861-8609
Web Address:

Friday, June 15, 2018

County decision to give "prime real estate" to Sheriff questioned

UPDATE June 15: A Petition has been created to STOP the proposed Sheriff's truck garage on prime visible property in Nokomis.

UPDATE: See this recent letter of June 4, 2018, from John Ask to Commissioner Al Maio. It refers to the matter detailed in letters to Sheriff Tom Knight below, and begins:

Dear Commissioner Maio:

I hope you and your family are well, and doing well!
This personal communication is a long time in coming, and is written in the spirit of great disappointment, both in you and local government leaders; it’s written with stunning disbelief that individuals that I’ve known well, trusted, and believed in, can be so willing to put themselves ahead of others, and more importantly, ahead of what is in the best interest of the community and Sarasota County at large. Continue...
Earlier Correspondence:
Letter from John Ask, former chair of the Sarasota County Planning Commission and longtime member of the Nokomis Area Civic Association, to Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight, dated May 9, 2018. 
The Letter concerns a county commission decision to give to Sheriff Tom Knight a prime parcel of public land for $zero compensation for a truck garage. The land is at Honore near Laurel Rd. in Nokomis. The Planning Commission hearing which supported this decision is here, beginning at the 2 hr 54 minute mark. 

Public Land at Honore near I-75 Laurel Rd. exit
Given to Sheriff for Truck Garage by Board

Dear Sheriff Knight:

This communication is intended to provide a partial solution to your several capital requests including the most recent helicopter request. As you well know, your Vehicle Maintenance Facility planned for the I-75 interstate exchange at Laurel Road and Honore Ave is on prime real estate that could be sold for high dollars and become an ongoing income generating source for Sarasota County tax rolls. As you well know, this Laurel Road interchange is where Sarasota Memorial Hospital is constructing a hospital. This county property which lies across the street has the potential to become commercial uses to complement the hospital and a true asset to Sarasota County residents, both in services and ongoing tax revenue generation.

Please recall, your meeting on the topic of the vehicle maintenance facility with Nokomis community leaders Bruce Dillon (also, an elected official on the Sarasota County Charter Review Board, and NACA Board Member), Bill Cantrell (Nokomis Area Civic Association President – NACA), and myself, at the time a Sarasota County Planning Commissioner, and former 13 year NACA President. 

An aerial map shows the proximity of
Rustic Road to Interstate 75. 
During that meeting we discussed that the alternative site for the maintenance facility was on the corner of Knight’s Trail and Rustic Road a couple of miles away, and is already zoned for Government Use (GU). This site is owned by Sarasota County and sits adjacent to your many other facilities. In fact, we shared with you documents showing that this was the site of choice of a previous study for locating Sheriff and Fire facilities, at study where I was in fact one of the participants and am a primary source. You stated to the three of us that you don’t care which site is selected, that either can work, and your absolute priority is getting the facility built as your need is imminent.

Sheriff Knight, in the way of review, if Sarasota County sells the Laurel Road/Honore Ave parcel it can generate sufficient money to buy your helicopter and more. 

Also, the commercial uses constructed on the site will provide an ongoing income stream to Sarasota County for other needs, including your office.  For example, the Sarasota County Tax Collector has told Bill Cantrell that a hotel on that site would generate roughly $250,000 in property tax revenue, with additional revenue to come from jobs, room taxes, and visitor spending.  Best of all, the hotel would only require roughly 4 acres of the site leaving much more opportunity for other development and income generation for Sarasota County. A hotel located by an interstate exchange and a new Sarasota Memorial Hospital represents a very realistic example and opportunity.

Finally, developing this interstate exchange commercially is not only best use of public assets, but it meets with the wishes of the community. The local community seeks commercial uses that meet resident needs vs. a vehicle maintenance facility; uses that create a positive first impression of Nokomis and North Venice as this is our Eastern Gateway Entrance. NACA has a long history of seeking to revitalize, redevelop, and develop Nokomis into something that the community and all of Sarasota County can be proud of.

Your vehicle maintenance facility does not come close to meeting that positive development goal, nor is it the best use of a valuable public asset that this land represents. A win/win for your office, Nokomis residents, and Sarasota County taxpayers is to construct your vehicle maintenance facility on the Knight’s Trail location on land that is of little value for other uses.

Thank you in advance for considering this very common sense solution that is seeking the best outcome for all in Sarasota County. Please reconsider the location of your vehicle maintenance facility allowing both the local community and all Sarasota County taxpayers become winners, and subsequently, a reason to be pleased and proud of our elected leaders in their use of public money.


John Ask
Nokomis, Florida 34275

P.S. More information on this project, history, and the community perspectives can be viewed on the Nokomis Area Civic Association – NACA website main page at

NACA and the community are committed to working tirelessly for the benefit of the Nokomis area, and Sarasota County. It continues to be the hope that our local government leaders will choose to work cooperative with our community for the benefit of all Sarasota County residents!

Cc: County Commission Chair, N. Detert; District 4 Commissioner A. Maio, NACA President Bill Cantrell


(Ed's note: More correspondence on this matter can be found here. Images courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader; bolding and hyperlinks added to Ask letter.)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thaxton on balanced growth

Note: The Tischler Report that's the subject of these essays can be found here.

Land-use profit/loss study is valuable planning tool

By JON THAXTON Posted Mar 14, 2000 at 12:01 AM Updated May 8, 2006 at 7:42 AM

On Feb. 28, the Sarasota County Economic Development Board received a completely different kind of consultant’s report. Unlike the typical report that estimates the cost to build a library or repair a road, this report attempts to quantify the bottom-line profit or loss for the daily services government provides to our homes, our children and our businesses.

The concept is simple business mathematics: First you determine the price of production, subtract gross receipts, and the result equals your net profit or loss. Only in this case we are not talking about hypothetical widgets or doorstops, we’re talking about homes, businesses and schools and libraries.

The county contracted the economic consulting firm, Tischler and Associates, to estimate the fiscal and economic impacts of selected prototypical land uses in Sarasota County. In other words, compare how much it costs the county to produce the infrastructure (roads, schools, water, sewer, etc.), against how much money the county receives in taxes (real estate, gas, tourist, etc.) and fees (storm-water, recycling, utility, etc.).

The results are not what you might expect.

Most residential housing developments turned out to be a financial burden on the county. According to the Tischler report, a typical Sarasota subdivision, where lot sizes average 75 by 125 feet, and prices range from $150,000 to $230,000, costs the county $1.53 for every $1 of revenue it generates. OUCH! No higher math skills needed here. Surprisingly, even apartment complexes with 5.5 units per acre cost the county $2.65 for every dollar of revenue they generated.

The only residential land uses that cost the county less money for services than the revenue they generated were more expensive 5-acre ranchettes (57 cents spent for every dollar generated) and mobile home parks (75 cents spent for every dollar generated). Agriculture, commercial buildings and industrial sites also fared well in the fiscal and economic impact study, all costing significantly less money to service than the revenue they generate.

So how can these findings help us plan for a better community? First, the age-old assumption that agricultural and park lands take property off the tax rolls and would be more productive as subdivisions, is, at least in my opinion, officially hogwash. Using data from specific land uses in Sarasota, the Tischler report confirms that simply because a property produces more taxes, it does not assure that it will not be a liability to taxpayers. This may in part explain the multi-hundred-million-dollar revenue shortages needed for roads, schools and water.

A second point to consider when using this report for community planning is that it is only one of many planning tools required to make a community a quality place to live, work and play. We don’t want housing options to be limited to mobile home parks and expensive ranchettes out in the boondocks.

A significant force that affected the calculations found in this report is schools. Unlike typical residential suburban developments, commercial buildings, agriculture, industrial parks, rural residential and mobile home parks do not produce large numbers of school-age children. So, do we begin to award special benefits to those land uses that produce a positive revenue flow and penalize the less “profitable” ones? I personally do not want to live in a community that targets childless development. Education, just like ignorance, is a community expense -- only education is cheaper. We all share in the costs and benefits. Likewise, it is disturbing to imagine a community where affordable housing options are discouraged and forced into neighboring counties.

While the Tischler report raised as many questions as it answered, it was money well spent by the commissioners. The report has given us invaluable information to consider in our community planning process. However, it is somewhat unsettling now to realize how many decisions were made in the past without the benefit of this knowledge.

Thaxton update 2006

Tax base needs to be built upon a balance of various land uses

I believe that the Tischler report has influenced both nongovernmental initiatives and numerous, though not all, County Commission development decisions.

In 1999 the County Commission and the Economic Development Board hired Tischler & Associates to conduct an economic and fiscal impact analysis for 19 prototypical Sarasota County land uses. The economic analysis measured broad impacts to the general economy, and the fiscal impact analysis determined the cost and revenues from new development on the county budget.

The report concluded that most forms of residential development are likely to generate budget deficits. The findings suggested that developing residential homes from vacant land produced a net tax loss, despite an increase in gross tax revenues. Ultimately, the cost of infrastructure and services required by the new residential development exceeds the increased tax revenues generated. The report also concluded that many forms of commercial development, high-end residential development and agriculture produced a net tax benefit to the county budget.

When the report was issued in February 2000, many in the residential development industry feared the Tischler report would be misinterpreted and misused by government officials and anti-growth advocates as a means to stop growth. In response to these fears, I wrote a guest column, published in the Herald-Tribune, that suggested the report’s conclusions should not be used as a single factor to determine whether development should be approved or what kind of development should be approved. Instead, I argued, the information should be used as a tool, along with many other tools available to the community, to support an appropriate rate, form and amount of new development.

Last week two groups with completely different positions asked me: What has been done with the Tischler report? Has the county used the report’s findings to influence development decisions? Or has the report found a comfortable place on that notorious government shelf where it will forever remain dormant and unused?

I believe that the Tischler report has influenced both nongovernmental initiatives and numerous, though not all, County Commission development decisions.

While the Tischler report and many other studies have demonstrated a potential net negative fiscal impact for many forms of residential development, a decision to approve only “profitable” forms of development isn’t that simple. Unlike a for-profit corporation, government’s role often is to provide services that are not profit centers, such as indigent health care and education.

One of the main reasons that many forms of residential development don’t “pay their own way” is schools. Residential development that doesn’t generate school-age children was found to produce a net tax benefit. Conversely, most homes priced in the affordable and work-force ranges produce net tax revenue losses. Then are we to approve only childless and million-dollar homes? That is not the kind of community that I want to live in, and it certainly isn’t the standard that has made Sarasota the community that it is today.

Managing a viable community involves a great deal more than one economic measurement of profit and loss. A tax base built upon a balance of various land uses is essential to a stable economy and a livable community. This often requires using revenue from one land use to support another.

That is not to say the Tischler report has been ignored -- it has not. The report provided additional evidence that the county needs to diversify its ad valorem tax base, to reduce dependence on residential properties. The county also refocused its economic development strategies based upon this finding. Nonpolluting “export” industries with high-paying jobs have become the target for economic development policies, replacing a priority on tourism and housing development.

Additionally most elected officials now realize that growth, simply for the sake of adding properties to the tax rolls is not a sound reason to approve development. It may have been valid at one time, or under different funding scenarios, but not anymore. Today’s development should be scrutinized at a higher level that includes a comprehensive balance of benefits and responsibilities.

Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton (District 5) served on the state’s Impact Fee Task Force.

Robinson vs. Robinson

In a recent opinion piece in the Herald-Tribune, Christine Robinson, former County Commissioner and executive director of the Argus Foundation, argued that the future of properties zoned for ILW -- Industrial, Light Manufacturing, Warehouse -- is threatened by residential and recreational development.

Citing the Legacy Trail and the community's efforts to protect the Celery Fields as examples of land use initiatives that "hamper" ILW-zoned properties, Robinson wrote:

"Every year, we lose industrial light warehouse properties, both currently designated and those planned to be designated. Residential dwellings are being approved on or next to industrial lands. This is hampering owners’ ability to use those industrial properties for what they have been intended." May 14, 2018 HT guest column.

Robinson correctly notes that the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners has voted to approve locating residential near industrial, and that it has also approved converting existing ILW properties to residential. She strongly contends that existing ILW uses need to be "protected" from the "mission creep" of housing, parks and open space amenities.

What's striking about Robinson's championing of ILW properties is that as a Sarasota County Commissioner, she was at the forefront of the movement to convert ILW to residential use. In some cases, the conversion was approved over the objections of the neighbors.

In short, Argus director Robinson's concerns about issues of land use infringement did not prevent County Commissioner Robinson from voting for the precise rezoning changes she says have damaged the public trust.

The public record shows that Commissioner Robinson voted to approve converting commercial, office, and industrial uses to residential. In warning of the dangers to industry and to public trust, Robinson is taking issue with her own voting record. Here are three public hearings at which Commissioner Robinson voted to rezone ILW to residential:

25 May 2016: Adopted Rezone No. 15-23
On May 25, 2016, Robinson voted to adopt Rezone No. 15-23 "to redesignate approximately 21 acres of the Palmer Ranch Increment IV Development of Regional Impact (DRI), Parcels A8 and A9, from commercial/office and industrial uses to residential uses for the development of 140 multi-family dwelling units."
Commissioner Robinson voted to convert 21 acres of ILW to residential.

27 Oct 2015: Adopted Rezone No. 14-36.

Robinson voted on October 27, 2015 to adopt Rezone No. 14-36 "to redesignate an approximate 20 acre portion of Parcel A7 within the Palmer Park of Commerce, from commercial/office and industrial uses to residential uses for the development of 260 multi-family dwelling units." see page 1 of staff report.
  • see page 13 for the definitive redesignation statement. 
Commissioner Robinson voted to convert 20 acres of ILW to residential over the neighbors' objections. See 27 August 2015 hearing for additional information.

9 July 2014: Adopted Rezone Petition 13-27
On July 9, 2014, Robinson voted to adopt Rezone Petition 13-27 "to redesignate approximately 68 acres, known as Parcels A2 and A6 within the Palmer Park of Commerce, from commercial/office and industrial uses to residential uses for the development of 180 single-family residential dwelling units." 
Commissioner Robinson voted to convert 68 acres of ILW to residential over the neighbors' objections.

Summing up: In three votes, Commissioner Robinson voted to remove over 100 acres from lands set aside for light industrial, office, and warehouse use and let developers build houses and apartments there instead. Robinson's record on the Commission is at odds with her posture as director of the county's influential Argus lobby.

The public conversation about planning and land use is important and complex, and it needs the perspective of business leaders as well as voices from the whole spectrum of the community. But to truly benefit our community, every perspective deserves to be presented with informed transparency.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Organic rising: A planner's take on land use & planning

Work with Legacy Trail and Celery Fields, not against them

Herald Tribune, 6.7.18
By Daniel Herriges, Guest Columnist

In a May 14 guest column, Argus Foundation Executive Director (and former Sarasota County commissioner) Christine Robinson wrote that industrial businesses near the planned extension of the Legacy Trail could see their future jeopardized by the trail’s completion. Robinson urges that the county act pre-emptively to protect these properties from “mission creep.”

Robinson’s warning is misguided. The question she fails to answer is: What mission?

The mission of the Legacy Trail is, presumably, to create a major new amenity for Sarasota County residents — one which will simultaneously become one of the region’s largest parks and a vital corridor for non-motorized transportation.

The potential benefits are tremendous, as similar endeavors around the country illustrate.

Why not embrace the happy accident that this rail corridor — whose builders certainly never envisioned the Legacy Trail — represents? Once-industrial and derelict waterfronts in Portland, Baltimore, Chicago and more are now parks and tourist attractions.. . . 

Another local happy accident is the Celery Fields. Robinson spent much of her column discussing last summer’s contentious decision not to allow a recycling facility on surplus, county-owned land adjacent to the beloved birding destination. But she draws precisely the wrong lessons from it.

Robinson’s premise that an injustice was done in the Celery Fields case rests on decades-old planning documents which describe the area as future industrial and a “major employment center.”

But to insist that the ideal fate, the highest and best use, for public land abutting the Celery Fields in 2017 was to fulfill its destiny as “industrial” evinces a remarkable lack of imagination. Or perhaps just mistaking land-use planning, which is the means to a variety of ends, for an end in itself.

This is a common malady: an overly prescriptive, “SimCity” approach to planning. In 1938, the American Institute of Planners stated as the purpose of the discipline “determination of the comprehensive arrangement of land uses and land occupancy and the regulation thereof.” In other words, “We’re gonna tell you what goes where.”

Most modern-day planners don’t view that as an ideal. Instead, we recognize the value of happy accidents. Nearly all great places arise organically, because someone did something on their land that made others want to be near. That has happened with the Celery Fields. And it is happening in the Packinghouse District, a cluster of very successful, distinctive local businesses just across I-75 from the Celery Fields.

Robinson is correct that industry, a source of living-wage jobs not tied to tourism, is important to our economic health. The County Commission could direct staff to study barriers to industrial development: Are we losing these jobs for lack of suitable land? If so, we should tackle this problem head-on. Modern manufacturing is often quiet and non-polluting, and potentially compatible in many locations from which it is currently excluded.

The role of land-use planning is to promote the public interest, not to insulate incumbent land owners and businesses from change. 
Daniel Herriges is an urban planner and a regular contributor to Strong Towns, a nonprofit organization which supports a model of development that allows cities to become financially strong and resilient. He lives in Sarasota.

-- Further Reading -- 

Robinson: Industrial and commercial properties need protection from Legacy Trail mission creep

Jono Miller: Miller: Argus concerns over Legacy Trail not based on facts

Bob Clark: Irony in Argus executive warning of ‘mission creep’ 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

FDOT Diamond could "destroy" Fruitville Initiative

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has released a Notice to the public of a Public Hearing on June 21:
The Florida Department of Transportation District One will hold a public hearing for the l-75 / Fruitville Road Interchange project. The meeting will be held on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at the Selby Public Library located at 1331 1st Street, Sarasota, Florida from 5 p.m. in the Jack J. Geldbardt Auditorium.
FDOT's project calls for a Diverging Diamond at I-75 and Fruitville Road (see detailed excerpt below). 

The plan as currently configured would destroy the basic premise of the Fruitville Initiative, say  those close to that project. The Fruitville Initiative came about in 2010 as an innovative compromise between landowners, the community, and planners. It was adopted by the County in 2014 to create a walkable, mixed-use area on a tradition grid of streets.

One planner/engineer familiar with the Fruitville Initiative sees major negative impact from the FDOT proposal:
this is probably the one single action that will can destroy the Fruitville Initiative in that it undermines the Interconnectivity Plan intent to disperse traffic and promote walkability.  It will force/funnel almost all traffic onto Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and through its single mega signalized intersection at Fruitville Road. 

FDOT image of scope of Diverging Diamond at Fruitville Rd and I-75

Excerpt from FDOT Notice:
. . . this project will now propose to reconstruct the existing interchange with a Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI). This project proposes to widen about 2 miles of I-75, from Palmer Boulevard to north of Fruitville Road, to an eight-lane highway with four through lanes per direction and proposes to replace the existing bridges over Fruitville Road and proposes to widen 1.6 miles of Fruitville Road from Honore Avenue to east of Coburn Road to provide for a six-lane to eight-lane highway with three to four through lanes per direction as well as bike lanes. Minor right-of-way acquisition is required at the southwest corner of Fruitville Road at Cattlemen Road. The existing median opening at the eastern entrance to the Southgate Shopping Plaza proposes to be closed, as well as the existing median opening at Old Coburn Road.
Along with the Notice, FDOT released a tentative project schedule that calls for planning and acquisition in 2019-2020. Construction is as of yet unfunded and not scheduled.

The June 21 hearing at Selby Library will feature a presentation followed by public comments, which can be spoken or submitted in writing:
The hearing begins with an open house at 5 pm and follows with a formal presentation and public comment period at 6 pm. People attending the hearing can review project displays and speak one-on-one with project team members. Written statements or exhibits submitted at the hearing, emailed, or mailed and postmarked by Tuesday, July 3, 2018, will become part of the official hearing transcript. 
Additional information may be obtained by contacting the FDOT Project Manager, Ryan Weeks at 863-519-2837, by e-mail to

Naples-based Stock Development, which recently purchased a tract of the Fruitville Initiative, is said to be opposed to the FDOT plan.

Rendering of one segment of the Fruitville Initiative
 showing mixed uses on a walkable street grid

A 2014 letter from the district secretary of FDOT explicitly states that the Dept. of Transportation is committed to working with the Fruitville Initiative's plan:
FDOT, in partnership with FHWA, is currently developing design plans for the ultimate l-75 interchange configuration at Fruitville Road. Our goal is to design an interchange within the existing LA line that is not only safe and operationally efficient but contextual to the planned Fruitville multi-way boulevard and surrounding compact, walkable, mixed-use development. We welcome the opportunity to continue working with the County and stakeholders in achieving that objective.