Sunday, November 29, 2020

The best response to the Bert Harris scare tactic

“They said they couldn’t build this without using taxpayer dollars and getting greater density,” she says. “So, if you admit that what is on the books, you’re not able to do, then what kind of ownership can you claim?”

Becky Ayech, quoted in Becky Ayech Fights for Old Miakka’s Rural Way of Life, by Elizabeth Djinis, Sarasota Magazine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Rights of Nature Webinar

This webinar, presented in November 2020, is one of several on this movement to protect the rights of rivers and of citizens - the right, for example, to not be polluted. 

Corporations have rights - but why do they have the right to pollute, while citizens and Nature have no right to clean water?

Orange County is the largest US municipality to give legal rights to rivers via a Charter Amendment.

Chuck O'Neal of Orange County and Joe Bonasia speak with Thomas Linzey about the Rights of Nature movement in Florida. Direct link to the video.

The Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights has more videos about Rights of Nature in other parts of the globe.

Zoom Workshop on Siesta Key Hotel set for Dec. 2

Graphics supplied by Lourdes Ramirez

Update on this story from the Sarasota News Leader - the plan calls for a text amendment that would apply more generally to properties fitting certain criteria:
Kompothecras and his project team are seeking an amendment to county Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1. It would allow “lands located south of Stickney Point Road which are zoned CG [Commercial General] and CI [Commercial Intensive] (the ‘South Bridge Area’ under the Siesta Key Community Plan) … [to] be redeveloped to contain transient accommodations which exceed the density restrictions of the zoning regulations existing as of that date without violating this policy.”

“Potential erosion of our Iconic Siesta Key lifestyle continues” - Siesta Key Condominium Council. 

Regarding the hotel proposed for Siesta Key at Stickney Point Road, the newly formed Siesta Key Coalition is circulating its concerns. A Public Workshop will be held on December 2 - see info below:

1. The Siesta Key Hotel proposes to QUADRUPLE transient hotel unit density, 8 times single family zoning density, on 1.17 acres.

2. This Hotel and Parking Garage would be built off Stickney Point Road, the major Hurricane Evacuation Route for SK. An increase in traffic and density could endanger resident and visitor egress during a crisis.

3. The developer proposal states, “There are no grand trees, wetlands or other environmental features on the Hotel Parcel.” In fact, on both Old Stickney Point and Peacock Roads, the proposed hotel borders one end of Sabal Lake, which is brackish, tidal, and connected to the intracoastal, as confirmed by county engineers. Sabal Lake borders numerous properties on Peacock Road and Sabal Drive. Although originally part of the area’s stormwater management, it is a naturalized lake, full of mangroves, which by ordinance should have County protection, and numerous birds, fish and wildlife. One end of the lake is a bird rookery for various heron.

Sura Kochman, who led the fight against Benderson's oversized Siesta Promenade, wrote below.

From: Sura Kochman

Subject: New hotel, just over the south bridge

Dear All,

Since traffic and congestion was such a concern of ours regarding Siesta Promenade, I am sharing with you the following information regarding the new hotel proposed by 1-800- ask Gary (Gary Kompothecras). It is provided by a newly formed group, SK Coalition which intends to address major concerns regarding several new proposed high rise developments for Siesta Key.  


All - for those interested, Genesis Planning, the consultant for Dr. Gary K's proposed 120-room, 7-story hotel near Stickney Point/Old Stickney Point has been scheduled via a Zoom presentation on December 2nd.  See info below.  

SK Coalition will be joining and monitoring this presentation as well.  Those of you near the subject property, were you properly notified by mail?  In addition to publishing in a local paper in advance, the developer is required to notice by mail all neighboring property owners within a 750 ft radius ten days in advance of Dec 2nd.

Obviously, we all have concerns about this hotel's special exception request for 83 feet height above the base flood elevation (instead of the 35 ft current restriction) and requested text amendments to quadruple the density per acre of transient accommodations from what is in the current barrier island codes and policies.  Equally important, we wish to convey to Sarasota Planning staff and elected Commissioners that they first "step back" from considering these coming hotel applications on a one-off basis:

Our 1999 Siesta Key Community Plan, which was a foundational document, leading to the protections of the Siesta Key Overlay District, is more relevant and applicable today than it was then. The need to protect our barrier island from adverse consequences of "intensity and density" was thoughtfully considered and input from our community was respected. Please honor its vision and its inherent will of those that call SK their home.  If not willing to consider the wishes of the residents of SK, at least consider the implications to Sarasota County's valuable economic asset, this barrier island.  

  • Why no comprehensive study of the impact on traffic congestion and safety, both pedestrian and vehicular, on these large-scale, high-rise hotels (inclusive of the hotel in final consideration in the Promenade already across one of our two major island access points)? 
  • What precedents are being set by one-off granting of major exceptions for high-rise and intense hotels to go on the other 44 acres of commercial property on SK?  
  • What is the impact to our public and private beaches of bringing all these transient guests? How will will they access the beaches safely?  
  • We already have an unresolved, growing conflict between privately beach owners (90% of our SK beaches) at the public access points...what happens when hundreds of transient hotel guests exacerbate this dilemma and the private condo association owners all step in to restrict beachgoers from putting up their umbrellas and chairs?  
  • Will mainland County taxpayers find their access to crowded public beach become  further limited? This was the largest concern cited by residents of Sarasota County in the recently publicized quality of life survey reference in last week's Sarasota News Leader:...Access Points to Barrier Islands.

We are not anti-development.  We are pro-economic growth for SK and Sarasota County.  But not when it comes with more adverse consequences and dangerous precedents that will open the floodgates of taller and more intense development... death by a thousand cuts.  Our leadership needs to step back and see the big picture.

Here's the Zoom information for the Neighborhood Workshop:

Neighborhood Workshop Siesta Key Hotel and Parking Garage

Date:12/02/2020 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM  

Zoom link

Phone in 312-626-6799 Use meeting ID 879 7887 1482  Password 951062

Contact: Robert Medred, Genesis Planning, 941-255-2313

Siesta Key Hotel and Parking Garage_12.2.2020

Please spread this info, so people can attend via Zoom or phone. Mailing notices have not yet been received. The link at the very bottom is to plans filed with Sarasota County, including changes to the UDC and SKOD that would be precedent-setting and affect everyone throughout the County. Note Wednesday Dec. 2 date, scheduled with little notice, during a busy holiday season and rising pandemic.

Siesta Key Association site

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

An international Right has come to Florida

In 2008, Ecuador provided constitutional protection to its mountains, waters and land - it was the first country to do that.

That got tested in 2010: "The Vilcabamba river was being filled in by a road building project and the court ruled on behalf of the river’s right to flow freely."

The provincial government building the road had to change the route of the road.

The Rights of Nature: Patricia Siemen TedX Talk at Jacksonville

In 2010, Bolivia hosted the world’s people conference on the Rights of Mother Earth and climate change 2010 -- leading to a Universal Declaration on the rights of Mother Earth

The Declaration came to the UN and some of its language is beginning to show up in UN documents and resolutions.

New Zealand became the second country to provide legal rights to Nature -- the same rights of Legal Personhood now enjoyed only by corporations in the US.

Ichetucknee Springs

In Florida, Siemen told her Jacksonville audience, start with the St. Johns, the Ichetucknee and the Suwannee. Let’s give the Rights of Nature to our springs

"We can work to bring a Bill of Rights for water to the State of Florida," she added.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Orange County Florida became the first jurisdiction in the state to adopt a Bill of Rights for two rivers.

To learn more, connect with the Rights of Nature efforts in Florida:

Florida Rights of Nature Network

Below: Live Webinar on the Rights of Nature held Thursday, Nov. 19


Saturday, November 7, 2020

Development: Con and Pro after the Election

"In this election, knowingly or not, Manatee County voted for Build until it Hurts, Quality of Life be Damned. And it will likely take a long time and a lot of hard work if they are ever to undo the harm that will surely be done as a result." Dennis Maley - Bradenton Times.

Guest column and LTE in the Herald Tribune

In Florida and Sarasota County, the bulldozers keep on gaining ground

Roger Morton Guest columnist

Roger Morton

In response to an Oct. 14 letter to the editor defending developers ("Unfair to demonize developers"), consider this:

Once there was a lovely spot about  a mile north of Laurel Road on the Legacy Trail. There was a shelter and benches and a sign noting that behind the fence was a butterfly garden. The poster showed dozens of kinds of butterflies that might be found in that meadow.

Then one day the bulldozers came and the butterfly habitat was gone. The bulldozers worked for weeks, until most of the trees were piled high and burned. The bulldozers kept working for months, until the area was built up far above its previous level, roads and utilities were installed and a full-blown subdivision oozed across the land. An occasional gable roof instead of a hip roof, faux shutters and other trinkets, intended no doubt to soften the sad sameness of the houses, fail miserably.

The houses are placed cheek-by-jowl, with tiny yards. They could only be described as cookie-cutter, with roofs in a few shades of reddish mud and houses in equally bland shades, none too far from sick-baby poop.

The letter-writer touts ponds and bike paths. The ponds, of course, are actually retention ponds to keep the subdivisioners from waking up with knee-deep runoff and to give the developers the "water view" label for their sales propaganda. There is hardly any need to comment on how charming a bike path past all the architectural blandness must be.

The writer also touts the fact that one-third of the county is off-limits to development. The unanswered question is, what percentage is headed for development?

Which brings up the claim that "traffic nightmares" are "no more than any growing city." Anyone who has lived in a growing city knows this is nonsense. Most growing cities have better planning and do not give developers carte blanche to build before there is road infrastructure to support it. A related defense that developers pay their own way is equally nonsensical. A perfect case in point is the cluster-crunch at I-75 and University Parkway. Developers of the mall there, and of Lakewood Ranch, make multimillions off their projects, and complain when they are forced to kick in for some mitigation, and the taxpayers are left with the bill for seemingly endless freeway "improvements" and equally endless traffic jams.

The writer also lauds "new consumption" and the value of "developed land" over "pastureland." Obviously, the writer has not heard of global warming.

A final fallacy is that the area is blessed with "enlightened leadership."

The sad fact is that local leaders virtually never seem to find a development they can't buy into, and developers play them like a fiddle. Developers come in with over-large developments. Professional planners and neighbors object. Developers moan, trim their plans to what they likely expected from the start and the bulldozers roll. Having lived in 10 states and one territory, I can attest that there is far more enlightened leadership in many of them. They value the environment and quality of life far more than our leaders, who see only dollar signs.

Which brings me back to the bulldozers. Since the day a few years ago when the butterfly garden was crushed under the treads, the machines continue to clatter along both sides of the Legacy Trail. Roads go in and both cookie-cutter houses and McMansions crawl across the land. Most of the trees are gone, the natural wetlands are gone, the bobcats and otters no longer cross the trail.

And this is just a microcosm of what is going on all over Sarasota and Manatee counties, and Florida for that matter.

The situation is certainly comparable to global warming. Many scientists believe we are nearing a tipping point to save the planet. If the bulldozers continue to pillage at their present pace, we may well be nearing the tipping point of a livable, green region or one big subdivision.

As if to cement the argument against rampant growth is this more recent news: A massive new garbage dump is being planned here and more high rises are being proposed for Siesta Key. It can already take more than two hours to get off the key in a normal season. More high rises? 

Sarasota resident Roger Morton was a senior editor at five daily newspapers and held various editing positions at newspapers including The Tennessean in Nashville, Seattle Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Eugene Register-Guard, and the Missoulian.

© 2020 All rights reserved.


Unfair to demonize developers

In a guest editorial Oct. 2, Kindra Muntz wrote, “Maybe developers in 1920 were a force for good in Sarasota County, but developers in 2020 are bulldozing the rest of it, creating cookie-cutter housing developments and traffic nightmares, and sticking us with the bill.” 

This is wrong on so many fronts, starting with “maybe.” Of course, developers have been a force for good.

Second, developers are not “bulldozing” the county. A third of the land is totally off-limits.

Third, cookie-cutter? Nope. Landscaping, ponds, parks, bike paths, in all price ranges.

Fourth, traffic nightmares? No more than any growing city.

Fifth, developers pay their way, with roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, electric and even donated land for new schools. At no cost to the taxpayers.

Thousands of families move here, pay taxes and stimulate the local economy with new consumption and job creation. The taxable value of developed land is hugely higher than pastureland, spreading the tax base for everyone.

Demonization of developers is specious. Good leaders balance property rights and a thriving economy with environmental protection. Fortunately, Sarasota has been blessed with just such enlightened leadership.

Chris Albright, Sarasota

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Election Day is here, and Mike Moran refuses to speak to voters

Mike Faisano is a former member of the state House and Florida Senate, a lifelong Republican. He's currently the Pasco County Tax Collector. And he finds plenty wrong with a program that preys on the poor while guaranteeing that the rich get their money with interest

Faisano spoke last week on Cathy Antunes' The Detail on WSLR about PACE, which stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy Program, and what he had to say was chilling. 

Commissioner Mike Moran
And Sarasota Commissioner Mike Moran (left) has yet to explain his connection to the PACE program.

PACE is a public/private agency that purports to help vulnerable homeowners in economically depressed areas. The problem is these people can be sold loans by contractors without proper monitoring.

These loans can be dangerous because PACE extends loans via sales pitches that claim that virtually anyone can be "Pre-Qualified in Minutes" -- claims that carry the credibility of government authorization, with no one monitoring those pitches or asking for income qualification information. 

The loans get placed on homeowners' tax bills. If the interest rate spikes, or they lose work due to circumstances like the CoronaVirus -- facing tax bills they cannot pay -- they can lose their homes.

The money being loaned belongs to wealthy investors. These lenders are guaranteed to be repaid by the state and local governments through the tax liens, said Faisano.

"I don't know of a time when tax collectors have been used as debt collectors," said Antunes.

"Never," said Faisano. 

PACE puts vulnerable property owners at risk, while giving 6 percent or higher return to wealthy people, guaranteed by the government. Faisano explains how the wealthy lenders are in it for the interest rates -- and if the homeowner is unable to come up with the tax money, someone else can pay the price of the tax certificate as the homeowner sees their home auctioned off.

The prediatory program has been in the news recently in part because, as reported by the Herald Tribune, Sarasota Commissioner Mike Moran has been serving as the executive director of a PACE funding agency operating in Flagler County and in the City of Kissimmee. 

Among the noteworthy questions raised:

  • According to his contract with PACE, the Sarasota public official has been paid $150,000 a year -- more than he earns as a Commissioner.
  • However, Moran did not disclose that he has this second job.
  • Further, Commissioner Moran has report his income from PACE.

Moran has essentially run a "dark" campaign, agreeing to only one forum with his opponent, Mark Pienkos. He has not faced questioning about this, and his mailers and advertisements tend to speak not of his record on the Board of Commissioners, but of his support for Trump and the NRA. 

Nonetheless, developers and PACs have poured tens of thousands of dollars into his reelection campaign.

You can hear Cathy Antunes' entire interview with Mike Faisano here.

Read more about the perils of PACE here.

Mr. Moran has sought to have a criminal investigation of three Democratic candidates in this election - yet refuses to address questions about his own questionable issues.

And have a good hard look at how things seem to work in Sarasota County: Mr. Moran, who voted for Jim Gabbert's debris demolition plant at the Celery Fields, along with the Siesta Promenade, and developments by Carlos Beruff, Pat Neal, and Randy Benderson, has hidden his income and the very fact of his work at PACE from voters, refused to take part in public debates or forums, yet is getting borne on a tidal wave of developer dollars to a second term on the Board.

Is Sarasota's political machine is so strong the people have yet to understand it?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Toll Roads, water, and the abandonment of planning

 Despite budget crisis, Florida is doubling down on costly and destructive plans

Nicole Johnson: "two initiatives will change Florida forever. One will result in 330 miles of new or expanded tolled roadways opening up large swaths of our rural Florida to sprawling growth.

Nicole Johnson is the Director of Environmental Policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

More on the intentional dismantling of state oversight:

Save Florida’s shreds of growth control

Palm Beach Post:

The state’s most respected smart-growth groups are aiming most of their firepower at the blandly titled HB 7103, “Community Development and Housing.”

There was one safeguard left. Citizens had the right go to court and challenge a bad decision by their local government: a condo tower that exceeds a height limit, an apartment complex in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

But if HB 7103 becomes law, that final right to protest will be crushed. Citizen challenges will face a tilted burden of proof — and the requirement to pay the opposing side’s legal fees if they lose.

More on Galvano's toll roads:

Veto New Toll Roads - Sean Sellers

SB7068 authorizes the construction of three massive toll roads, stretching from Naples to the Florida-Georgia line. However, as nearly 100 business and civic organizations noted this week, the plan is remarkably flawed and must be vetoed.

Fish Farm Deadline for comments extended

The Army Corps of Engineers has extended the deadline for people who wish to comment on the proposed fish farm off of Sarasota's shores. Apparently their email was not working, and comments previously submitted were not received. 

Here is the address to the now working email: 

From the Corps:

The Corps is extending the comment period an additional 15-days to November 19, 2020 to ensure we receive all comments regarding this proposed project. If you previously sent comments to the email address, please resend those comments as soon as possible. You will receive an email response confirming receipt of your comments. We apologize for this inconvenience.

Deadline Extension for comments:

Project Name: 15-Day Public Notice Comment Period Extension for Ocean Era, LLC Velella Epsilon Aquaculture Pilot Project

County: Sarasota County

Comment Due Date: November 19, 2020

File Name: SAJ-2017-03488 (SP-KRD)

Due to a technical issue, the Corps became aware that the comment email mailbox, , was not receiving external emails. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Calling all fish harvesters, restaurants, tourism/entertainment industries, retailers and more!

If you are a business owner/operator in the Gulf of Mexico, we hope you will consider signing onto this letter from coastal businesses to public officials demanding that they prioritize Gulf businesses, support your recovery from coronavirus devastation, and call on the government to halt the development of new industrial aquaculture facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. You can sign on and read the full letter here. Deadline is Thursday, November 2. 

The looming threat of industrial ocean fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico is growing. EPA just issued the first permit needed to construct Velella Epsilon, a finfish aquaculture facility just 45 miles off the coast of Sarasota, FL. The US Army Corps of Engineers is about to close a commenting period on the second and final permit necessary to build the first of what will likely be many of these destructive operations throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Industrial aquaculture facilities push external costs of operation onto the ocean ecosystem and coastal economies, from direct discharge of toxins to privatization of the ocean. 

For the Gulf of Mexico, this means extra nutrients to feed the red tide and increased competition for limited marine space (and much more). The industry has its sights set on the Gulf of Mexico as the first place it wants to operate in the U.S. – starting with the Velella Epsilon project off the coast of Sarasota, to be followed by a larger “Aquaculture Opportunity Area” to host up to 5 facilities in the region. This could devastate Gulf businesses that have already been struggling to recover from recent natural disasters and devastation from the impacts of COVID-19.

Join us in telling public officials to support local and coastal businesses in the Gulf, and stop pushing a harmful new industry in the region! Sign on and read the full letter here. Deadline is Monday, November 2.

Please feel free to spread the word and contact with any questions.


Hallie Templeton

Senior Oceans Campaigner


Friends of the Earth