Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Refreshingly Simple" Growth in Sarasota and Manatee Counties

Lakewood Ranch is big developer territory, and SRQ Magazine was on the spot when Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis came to update business folk there the other day.

And if SRQ Magazine is to be believed, growth here is all -- or mostly -- wonderful. SRQ's Olivia Liang put it this way:
This sold-out event demonstrated the unified efforts of the SRQ region and revolved around a refreshingly simple concept: growth.  
The Nine Muses: Mantegna
Doubtless inspired by the Muses of Insatiable Development, SRQ's Ms. Liang then launched into an operatic Paeon to growth:
Tourism continues to grow, with Nathan Benderson Park bringing in a net $47 million for sports tourism in the past year. And between the rebranding of the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in downtown Bradenton to the institution of roundabouts to regulate the flow of school traffic on Honore, the expansion of the Legacy Trail for resident-use and the construction of the new Atlanta Braves Spring Training Stadium that was widely funded by the private sector and will be owned by Sarasota County, the region shows no signs of slowing. 
However, Liang did need to report a little water issue, seeing as Administrator Lewis inconveniently brought it up:
But one looming presence seemed to unite the two counties more than any other: water quality. With red tide and blue and green algae blooms affecting the “economic lifeblood of the state,” according to Lewis, both counties agree that the improvement of water quality “needs to happen on a statewide basis.” But at the same time, “we can’t wait on everybody else,” added Lewis, referencing the June Sarasota County Water Quality Summit with 700 attendees, demonstrating the active and current conversation surrounding a proposed $150 million wastewater treatment plan that would improve drinking, fishing and swimming water, in combination with a $5 million septic-to-sewer program.
Fish killed by disastrous Red Tide in 2018

Apart from that one teenie-weenie problem, God's in his heaven and all's good in Sarasota and Manatee, according to SRQ:
In its most recent Citizen Survey, Sarasota County reported that 97% of the surveyed described their overall quality of life as excellent (45%) or good (52%), which is up from previous years. 
But how sure are we that our quality-of-life satisfaction will continue? Not very, it seems.

Some area developers

That "Citizen Opinion Survey," presented to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners some months ago, happened to make it clear that the public is openly dissatisfied with the nature, direction and management of the local economy, in two ways:

First, we 're worried about the utter lack of economic diversity -- our workers do construction -- there's little in the way of manufacturing, or hi-tech businesses. (The Board's notion of a clean upscale business to promote is James Gabbert's Waste Transfer Facility (WTF), now rising to glare at the Celery Fields and the highway).

Absence of diverse economic drivers is a key flaw of Sarasota Manatee area

Second: Over the past 5 years, the single greatest concern expressed by the people contacted by this survey is GROWTH - the very theme that SRQ celebrates as the glory of Sarasota/Manatee:

Growth - major issue for residents of Sarasota County
GROWTH is by far the single greatest threat to our quality of life, according to this survey - at 24% in 2018, it dwarfs CRIME -- the runner up at 10%, TRAFFIC (5%), and JOBS (4%).

Indeed, add together the concern ratios for CRIME, TRAFFIC and JOBS (you get 19%) and it's still less than the portion of residents who've cited GROWTH as the primary issue for the past five years.

So there you have it: The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, along with the Builders and Contractors, the Realtors, the Argus Foundation, SRQ Magazine and our elected officials -- one happy choir singing the praises of Growth -- the area's biggest problem, according to taxpayers, who are perhaps more mindful of trending issues:
From 2010 to 2018, the Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) of the University of Florida says Sarasota County’s population climbed 10%, putting the county in the highest growth category in the state.The  
As of April 1, 2018, BEBR estimated Sarasota County’s population at 417,442. By 2040, BEBR’s projections show, the county could have as many as 600,800 residents. The Sarasota News Leader
Michael A. Moran, Commissioner District 1
Christian Ziegler, Commissioner District 2
Nancy C. Detert, Commsioner District 3
Alan Maio, Commissioner District 4
Charles D. Hines, Commissioner District 5

During the past five years while growth has been the biggest worry on residents' minds, our elected officials have:

1. Ignored county data that documented a long-term, significant rise of nitrogen in our bays and waterways:

2. Neglected Sarasota's aging, leaking, spilling wastewater plant and pipes;

3. Fallen far behind funding roadwork to keep pace with new development*;

4. Gone to unprecedented lengths to weaken Comprehensive Plan and other important constraints on developers, and

5. Approved several large-scale developments in east Sarasota County, with more in the planning pipeline.

The Tischler Report, commissioned by Sarasota County in 1999, was supposed to prove that growth paid for itself. Its findings proved the opposite -- we pay for growth. Local leaders quickly buried the report.

Tischler's analysis showed we pay for growth

So this might invite the question: what will Sarasota and Manatee look like two or three decades?

It's refreshingly simple:

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