By Dan Lobeck
President, Control Growth Now
“If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail.”
-- Benjamin Franklin
The Sarasota County Commission is gutting Sarasota 2050, the compromise plan – carefully prepared and defended at a cost of 2 million taxpayer dollars – that opened up the rural lands to urban development in exchange for various public interest trade-offs.
The result -- if approved -- will be traffic gridlock, unpaid costs of growth, environmental destruction, harm to city vitality and a devastation of property values as the market is glutted with overdevelopment.
Already, requirements for mixed use, village centers, walkability, road setbacks, buffers, open space, greenways and greenbelts have been so weakened as to make them almost meaningless, allowing little more than standard subdivisions and shopping centers in a spread of massive urban sprawl far east of I-75, and elsewhere.
Now, the very important requirements for fiscal neutrality and timing are on the chopping block, with others, in the final phase of the amendments to the Sarasota 2050 Plan.
Everyone possible should show up and protest, by your presence and if possible by your voice, at the final public hearing set on these final crucial amendments. The public hearing will be Wednesday October 22 at 1:30 pm at the County Commission chambers in downtown Sarasota, 1660 Ringling Boulevard.
Please review this analysis of the final amendments, in order to be able to speak in an informed manner at the hearings.
Destroying Fiscal Neutrality
The amendment would completely eliminate the follow-up reports on fiscal neutrality that are now required before approval of each phase of a Sarasota 2050 development (or annually for a one-phase development).
The follow-up reports are a “back audit” to reveal flaws in the initial fiscal neutrality report. “Truth testing” would be another way to put it.
This is so very important because the fiscal neutrality reports the County Commission has approved to date (even though in two cases the Planning Commission rejected them) have been deliberately inaccurate, to support a conclusion the developer does not have to pay for its impacts.
For example, an initial report has been approved saying that the developer does not have to pay for mass transit because at present no buses run to the vacant land. Several reports assume full impact fees will be paid. If the current follow-up reports are required, those assumptions will be proven false and the developers will be required to pay more, because mass transit is now planned for that development and impact fees have been “indefinitely” cut in half by the County Commission.
No truth-testing reports mean the developers get off the hook and taxpayers are left holding the bag.
Indeed, County Commissioner Nora Patterson voted for Village of Lakewood Ranch South despite agreeing with the Planning Commission that its fiscal neutrality report was false, because she said the follow-up reports would correct the errors. Not any more if they are eliminated.
Until the very most recent draft, the amendment would at least have at least required a follow-up report if there was any change in the “actual development results” -- that is, as County staff explained, a change in what is actually developed. However, now the amendment would not even require that!
Because the Sarasota 2050 Plan has already been loosened up to allow a developer to change its mix of development, administratively to some point and with County Commission approval after that, a developer may reduce the amount of commercial or multifamily development, which is generally revenue positive, and thereby invalidate its fiscal neutrality study, without any requirement to update the study and any fiscal neutrality payments by the developer!
Also, the amendment would delete a requirement for a detailed traffic study to show the need for road improvements for which the developer would have to pay in order to be fiscally neutral.
The amendment would also give the developer an undefined “credit” in its fiscal neutrality for affordable housing the developer is already required to build by the Plan. That alone guarantees that the Sarasota 2050 developments will not be fiscally neutral.
Taken together, these changes let the developer off the hook for fiscal neutrality and either leave us with inadequate infrastructure or place the cost of growth on the backs of the taxpaying public.
This change would open up the eastern County to massive urban sprawl all at one time, rather than timed over decades as at present.
This would be done by repealing the current provision that a Sarasota 2050 Village cannot be approved if it provides housing that exceeds the projected demand for housing in the unincorporated County over the following 20 years by more than 150%.
That means that under present numbers, because the North Village (Village of Lakewood Ranch South) has been approved and is so very large, the huge Central and South Village areas have to wait. If the limit is repealed, they can all be built at the same time, overwhelming the County with growth.
Also to be repealed -- adding to the potential explosion of new development --are provisions that:
- Additional development in the Central Village must wait 15 years after the first Village development there is approved.
- There shall be only one Village development in the North Village area (allowing a second one north of Fruitville Road).
- If the County’s growth rate increases by more than 20% over the past ten years’ average, the County Commission “may take actions to deal with the annual growth rate, including, but not limited to, deferring the approval of new development.”
All of this development would be allowed at one time without adequate plans to build and plan the roads and other infrastructure to serve it, and at a volume that would harm existing property values by creating an oversupply bubble in the housing stock. It would be massive urban sprawl out of control.
Other bad changes to gut Sarasota 2050 include the following:
- Greenways will be destroyed by giving developers density for affordable housing rather than requiring them to transfer their density off of Greenways.
- “Hamlets” – less dense urban development allowed by Sarasota 2050 in large areas east of the Interstate – will become vast, sprawling urban subdivisions rather than pockets of a limited number of homes surrounded by green space. This will be done by reducing the greenbelts between Hamlets from 500 feet to 50 feet.
- There will be an exception from the requirement for Conservation Subdivisions in eastern rezoning outside Villages and Hamlets for any parcel 20 acres or less in size, in certain areas. A developer could get this exception merely by dividing its property into parcels each less than 20 acres. There is no good purpose for this exception, as Conservation Subdivisions are much better for the environment.
- A Village will be allowed without a Village Center if there is already another Village in the same Village Area. This idea of a Village without a Village Center goes completely against the concept of walkable, mixed use Villages .
- A developer would be able to avoid the current requirement to build certain percentages of affordable housing by “any other methodology” approved by the County Commission, thereby creating a huge loophole in the affordable housing requirement.
All of the proposed changes in this amendment would seriously undermine the central principles of Sarasota 2050.They would allow massive urban sprawl all at one time, without the growth paying its own way, causing traffic gridlock, crowded schools and other facilities, harming existing property values with the oversupply and harming our valuable quality of life.