Monday, April 12, 2021

What are the duties of county commissioners anyway . . .

 From: Herald Tribune, LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, April 10, 2021


Board of Sarasota County Commissioners


Pondering duties, obligations of government

I am fairly new to the area, and very confused about the role of government in Florida.

Here in Sarasota County, commissioners had no problem approving the monstrous mall development at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Question: Do the county commissioners approve every development, no matter how much a proposal is opposed by residents?

A few days ago, as I approached that intersection, traffic was backed up at least a mile in every direction. Once the massive hotel and retail outlets are squeezed into the Siesta Promenade, I would hate to have to evacuate the key in an emergency.

What are the duties of county commissioners anyway, and whom do they serve?

A Florida Senate committee in January found time to pass a resolution denouncing democratic socialism, although the members failed to define what it is – Social Security, Medicare or something more dangerous?

But over the past decades Florida lawmakers have not found time to prevent the clearly predictable ecological disaster at Piney Point. What is a greater threat – some nonexistent legislation the senators might call socialism, or the millions and millions of gallons of wastewater being dumped into Tampa Bay?

Just curious.

James Medlin, Sarasota


Friday, April 9, 2021

Help keep Cathy and The Detail working for us on WSLR

Cathy Antunes is an advocate of longstanding dedication in Sarasota. She's done incredible research into the money and powerful interests that have been shaping the County.  Cathy is also one of the founders of Citizens for Sarasota County, and a founding administrator of the Facebook page for the group.

This is the first time she has asked our support.



From: Cathy Antunes 
Subject: Please support The Detail - donate to WSLR!!


Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I hope this email finds you well!  It's been nearly 5 years since I began broadcasting my radio show, The Detail. It's been my mission to highlight the importance of local government on the show.  Instead of just 3 minutes of public input at a commission meeting, I wanted to give public advocates a whole hour to explain an issue to the community.

Giving voice to citizens has highlighted important issues!  The Celery Fields.  Lido Pavilion. Single Member Districts. The Detail provides a platform that gives candidates an opportunity to share their ideas in complete sentences, not soundbytes. Exposing dark money in local elections has been a focus of mine, and The Detail provides a means to communicate how special interest money is at work through PACs on City and County races.  We're seeing more candidates who are not backed by dark money running for office.

We need your help to continue. 

Please donate what you can to support the show, and please share this message with others.  You can click this link right now and make a one-time donation, or become a member by donating monthly:  https://wslr.org/membership/

Your donations make a difference!  They keep the lights on at a radio station which serves Sarasota and Bradenton every day.  Your generous donation matters. 

Thank you!

Cathy Antunes
Host, The Detail

 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Board to Citizens: You Don't Matter (Update)

The County Commission sits in session on April 6. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis (foreground, left) and County Attorney Rick Elbrecht face the board members. News Leader image.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, April 7, the County Commission took less than 3 minutes to unanimously delete the citizens' right to initiate Comp Plan amendments. It did this in a "public hearing" that neither laid out the purpose of expunging citizen input, nor any reason for it. 
There was no discussion other than to render the suppression retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021, at the suggestion of Commissioner Moran, which effectively eliminated citizen Comp Plan Amendments in the past as well as any that might have come in the future. Partial video below: 

See also this story from the 4.6.21 Herald Tribune

Sarasota County Commission agrees to do away with citizen-initiated land use reviews. 


=======

On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the Board of County Commissioners will pretend to deliberate on an ordinance that will, if approved, exclude citizens from initiating Comprehensive Plan Amendments (CPAs).

Here's the language of the Ordinance, and the proposed deletion of our citizens' right to influence thinking about future land use:

Deletion of citizen right to initiate a Comp Plan Amendment

The Board asked Michele Norton of Planning and Development why the provision was ever added to Sarasota's Code. She said she didn't know. And with that, the discussion concluded. The County Administrator has done his homework and finds that the deletion of citizens' rights will have no impact no one. At least, no one who matters.




According to this County paperwork, removing  the citizens' right 
to address future land use makes no difference

Much of the discussion to date has revolved around one perspective: The idea that a person who does not own land can propose consideration of how certain land can be used. *

Developers and their minions do this all the time. Bo Medred got a text amendment passed that changed the law on lands he certainly didn't own. He got the Board to approve a change in how distant from a home a dump can be. Not just James Gabbert's dump, but any dump lying within certain areas of Sarasota County can now be much closer to a home, thanks to the Medred-Gabbert amendment. 

Mr. Medred had no interest in any areas other than where Mr. Gabbert desired to build a demolition plant - right next to the Celery Fields. But he framed it so as to seem as if it were a disinterested modification of the county's land use law. And it passed both the Planning Commission and the Board, paving the way for cosier dumps.

Yet when Ms. Ayech, to protect a way of life of her Miakka Community that is far older than the County itself, sought to propose a change via a Comp Plan Amendment, here's the result -- taking away our right, and pretending it makes no difference.

After Tuesday, there will be even less public input, less public power to influence or speak to future land development in Sarasota County, than there has been heretofore.

In short, there is no public conversation about the future of Sarasota County. It's decided by a private chat among a few developers and the people sitting in the seats that Pat Neal, Gary Kompthecras, Randy Benderson, Rex Jensen, Carlos Beruff and a bunch of dark money bought for them. 

According to the County Administrator's memo, banishing citizens from land use amendments will move us toward the goal of making this "a great place to live."


Campaign Contributions 2020


*There are certainly many other perspectives that an open and public-minded Board might consider. A citizen might propose a CPA in order to correct certain errors in county methods or procedures. See, for example,

Residents throughout Sarasota petition to update flawed planning maps.


See the Sarasota News Leader story of April 8, 2021 about the Board action, with more background on citizen Comp Plan Amendments - a state mandated guarantee to residents of Florida instituted in 1977.

Citizen comments on this issue here and here

Monday, April 5, 2021

Email regarding a proposed Ordinance to end Citizen Comp Plan Amendments

Email to the Board regarding the County's proposed Ordinance to eliminate citizen-initiated Comp Plan Amendments (CPAs). The author formerly served as a county attorney in Sarasota. For more on this topic, see here and here.

To Board of County Commissioners:

I am saddened by the proposed elimination of a very simple process that allows resident registered voters to join together and propose a comprehensive plan amendment on issues of concern to the public. The existing process in the UDC provides for staff analysis of the proposal so that the issues are reviewed and evaluated to allow for appropriate evaluation by the BCC. It provides a formal way for citizens to approach the BCC with significant public issues and concerns within the Comprehensive Plan. I am surprised that I did not hear any discussion of options to maintain this entry point for the public (for example by requiring a deposit and additional signatures - 100, 200, etc.) instead of eliminating it entirely. This provision was added by a previous BCC because they believed that the public has the right to suggest changes to the Comp Plan that the BCC then determines if they are in the public interest. This seems appropriate since the foundation of all planning is to further the pubic health, safety and welfare and to reflect the community vision desired by residents. The citizen initiated amendment process does not "rezone" someone else's property or trample on anyone's real property rights (instead of imagined ones). Yes, the process does contemplate Comp Plan changes that would affect lands not necessarily owned by the citizens submitting the proposal. That is why the proposal would have to become a publicly initiated proposal of the BCC before approval or adoption. In fact, there have been some "privately" initiated Comp Plan amendments in the past that were not limited to lands owned by the applicant(s). Those are the amendments that I would expect to cause outrage and concern. Not a group of concerned citizens who are motivated by concern for the broader community and maintaining quality of life. I hope that you will consider increasing the requirements for a citizen initiated Comp Plan amendment rather than deleting the option entirely. Thank you for your attention. Sincerely, Susan Schoettle -- Susan Schoettle-Gumm PLLC Sarasota, FL 34240

Land is not a commodity: it is the basis of a commonwealth

Email sent 4.5.21 regarding an April 6, 2021 Board agenda item (#26) that would delete citizens' right to participate in land use planning processes.

Planner <planner@scgov.net>
cc:Alan Maio <amaio@scgov.net>,
Michael Moran <mmoran@scgov.net>,
"Nancy C. Detert" <ncdetert@scgov.net>,
christian ziegler <cziegler@scgov.net>,
commissioners@scgov.net,
Andrew.Stultz@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Colin.Pember@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Joseph.Neunder@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Kevin.Cooper@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Laura.Benson@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Teresa.Mast@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Neil.Rainford@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Drew.Peters@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Justin.Taylor@sarasotaadvisory.net,
Frank.Strelec@sarasotaadvisory.net,
rcutsinger@scgov.net,
Jonathan Lewis <countyadministrator@scgov.net>
bcc:

To the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners and members of the Planning Commission:

The County's discussions of the 94-85(a) provision that allows citizens to procedurally address future land use conversations have, both at the Planning Commission and in the Board's earlier conversations, exhibited the full range of a nanometer. 

So captured by the business and development community's thinking are you, our elected officials, that you have failed to frame the subject so that it could honestly and openly be debated in depth in an open forum -- prior to simply deleting citizens from the Code with a stroke of your pen.

Please consider: We live here. We pay taxes. We care about what becomes of Sarasota County. The shaping of this land and its uses affects us all, despite the talk of "private property" that in truth is not relevant to the discussion.

Think how many times you have approved text amendments that affect lands never owned by those who proposed them. Perhaps you recall Mr. Bo Medred's text amendment that allowed demolition facilities to be more cosily located near private homes. You had no problem with the fact that Mr. Medred did not own any of the lands whose rules he asked you to alter. Mr. Medred later admitted in open session before the Planning Commission that his sole purpose was to "legalize" Quad Parcel #2, which Mr. Gabbert sought to use for a 16-acre open air debris demolition plant. Those of you who were present in 2016 found no fault with Ord. 2016-082 - it unanimously passed both your boards.

Kindly don't think this elision of our rights will slip by a dormant, covid-obsessed public. The deletion of citizens' powers by their own elected officials is usually not a crowd-pleaser.

Land use, planning and development evoke many rich perspectives that you have not brought to the table, so it seems "democratic" to allow others to do that. In the past, you have at times shown you are able to listen to good sense. Now would be a time to do so once again.

Do not delete this right of our citizens. If you wish to discuss it, hold a public forum and invite the folks who for so long have helped make Sarasota something very special. Take your time. Our community's future is worth that, don't you think?

Cordially,

Tom Matrullo

Sarasota 34241

===

For more on this topic, see here and here.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A citizen asks about site selection for the new county administration center

1301 Cattlemen Road, the red dot, is one site now being considered
for the new County Administration Center

1301 Cattlemen Road seems to be the frontrunning site for a new County Administration center. The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners had a lengthy discussion last week about this location, introduced by Commissioner Mike Moran.

A resident of the area is conducting some early inquiries and raising questions about traffic based on her years of experience of the area's roads. Cattlemen Rd. at Bee Ridge is a notoriously poorly designed intersection, and 1301 Cattlemen is north of that, and just south of Bahia Vista and Cattlemen.

The emails below need to be read from the bottom up.

------ Forwarded Message --------

From: Glenna Blomquist <glennablom@hotmail.com>

Date: 4/2/2021 1:45:38 PM

Subject: RE: New Administration Center consideration

To: bgaubatz@scgov.net ]

Dear Mr. Gaubatz,

I understand you have been assigned to work on the new administration center.

My concern is that the board is jumping on the 1301 Cattlemen location because the county owns the property.  This location is a poor choice because of transportation limitations.  Arteries of travel, both roads and transit, are insufficient for the numbers of employees and visitors that would attend this center.

Before any planning moves forward, consideration of road use needs to be brought into the picture.  Surely, it is obvious that this location is a bad choice.

I live in this neighborhood and I'm attuned with existing traffic problems, recent traffic studies, and also the limits of augmentation of travel avenues. 

Please let me know if you have been brought in the site selection conversation with our commissioners, particularly Commissioner Mike Moran for District 1.

Sincerely,

Glenna Blomquist

=======

From: Glenna Blomquist <glennablom@hotmail.com>

Sent: Friday, March 26, 2021 1:16 PM

To: Paula Wiggins <pwiggins@scgov.net>; Kwamena Sankah <Ksankah@scgov.net>

Cc: Jane Grogg <jgrogg@scgov.net>; Michele Norton <mnorton@scgov.net>; Michael Moran <mmoran@scgov.net>

Subject: New Administration Center considerationCaution: This email originated from an external source. Be Suspicious of Attachments, Links and Requests for Login Information

Dear Paula and Kwamena,

As I read today in the Englewood Sun Newspaper, one site under consideration for the new Administration Center is 1301 Cattlemen Road. Did the consultant(s) do a traffic study for Fruitville Road and Palmer Boulevard relative to the discussion of possible Administrative Center sites, including 1301 Cattlemen Road proposed site? Are there impact studies for the area?  Have you been asked for input? Will traffic studies be required?  If traffic studies have been done, would you please forward them to me?

Assuming that many employees, and visitors, will arrive to this destination daily, how are they going to travel from the east?  What impacts will this have on Fruitville Road, Lorraine (formerly Iona) Road, Packinghouse Road, Porter Road, Cattlemen Road, Palmer Boulevard, Debrecen Road, East Road, and Apex/Coburn Road, and Bee Ridge Road?  

Please note that although there is a SCAT transit station at 5951 Porter Way, bus routes are not established for east county, and any bus traffic would also add to the burden on local roads.  Certainly, an administration center should be readily accessible by public transit.

As I listen to the budget meeting discussion, what occurs to me is that land planning might be important prior to and outside of a budget meeting.  Perhaps this would start with long range planning staff creating relevant requirements within the consultant's request for professional services, considering all necessary components.  Budget costs are paramount, however transportation impacts are equally important and should not be late in the review.

Thank you,

Glenna Blomquist

========

Considerations of the ways and means of siting and building and paying for a new Adminstration Center are still in the formative stage. A discussion of some length about all this was held at the Board's latest budget meeting on March 24, 2021 accessible at this link. Begin around 1 hr and 42 minutes.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Benderson and Kimley-Horn want to revise the Fruitville Initiative

At a public workshop on March 30, 2021, the Kimley-Horn urban planning firm presented a series of proposed changes to the Fruitville Initiative. The key change would open the door to larger retail spaces within the Initiative, an experimental mixed use development at Fruitville Rd. and I-75.

Proposed changes would allow more large
retail on all sectors of the Fruitville Initiative


The changes appear to come from the Benderson Development Inc., which acquired a 40-acre parcel within the Initiative from the County at the bargain price (approx. $3 million) several years ago, then proposed a truck depot. Now Benderson is proposing another idea that would change the constraints that seek a walkable place for people to live, work, and play.

The key documents are below.

Planning documents:

Pre App DRC Comment Fruitville Initiative

Correspondence from Kimley-Horn Planner Philip DeMaria Jr. 

Public Input at the online workshop:

Questions from a private planner regarding the Benderson plan

Recorded comments at the 3.30.21 workshop - partial audiofile


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Hi Hat hearing to be postponed after procedural errors were identified by a citizen

A Public Hearing for a giant development in North Sarasota that had been scheduled for March 23, 2021, will be postponed after several rather glaring errors in the procedures used to publish the hearing and to allow for public participation were spotted by a former county attorney.

East Sarasota attorney Susan Schoettle-Gumm wrote to Jim Turner, the land use lawyer and family member of the owners of Hi Hat Ranch, citing certain violations of required procedures. Turner soon replied that he would request that the hearing be postponed in order to address the issues. 

One concern was the amount of time allowed for public awareness. Hi Hat Ranch is a complex project involving 12,000 acres and perhaps 30 years of developmental actions. Citizens were surprised when they saw they had been given just four days - from Friday afternoon, March 19, to noon on Monday, March 22, to receive, read and digest, and formally comment and testify. Elsewhere counties typically provide necessary documents two or more weeks in advance of public hearings.  

The errors included four violations of county requirements:

1. Noticing the proposed amendment as both a privately initiated amendment and a public initiated amendment in both the legal notice and the postcard. 

2. The Hearing has to be within 60 days of the Planning Commission's decision (the PC is Sarasota's Land Planning Agency) and today, March 23, is the 61st day.

3. The staff report and supporting documents had to be made available to the public two Fridays before the hearing. on the proposed development  The County only made them available on Friday, March 19 -- 5 days before the scheduled hearing.

4. The hearing Agenda listed two items, but only allowed one opportunity for Public input.

The exchange between Schoettle-Gumm and Turner was cordial. After receiving her email, Turner replied: 

While I believe most of the procedural issues you have raised are not fatal to the process , I have made the decision to postpone the Board hearing scheduled for tomorrow to ensure these issues are addressed. We will appear before the Board at the scheduled time, explain the situation and then reschedule.

A full copy of Schoettle's letter is here, and an image of the key points is below.

March 22 letter from Schoettle-Gumm to Jim Turner

Citizens who have followed or participated in many public hearings have suggested that the "public" component of Public Hearings has diminished. Citizens often prepare detailed analyses and are allowed 5 minutes - sometimes just 3 minutes - to present their findings. 

Bending requirements such as merging two distinct matters into a single opportunity for public comment could ignore significant issues and relevant data."Another example of how this County cares nothing about following the rules—breaking several, not just one," was one longtime activist's comment.

More on the Hi Hat Proposed Development here and here.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Flying Blind: Citizen Comment for Hi Hat Public Hearing

Anyone wishing to testify regarding the Hi Hat public hearing can do so until Noon Monday, March 22 at this link. Comments are limited to 1,500 characters (not words).

Below is a complete comment submitted to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners regarding the March 23rd hearing on Hi Hat, a 12,000-acre proposed development. Submitted on Sunday, March 21, 2021 by Tom Matrullo, co-founder of Citizens for Sarasota County. An excerpt of this comment was submitted to meet the 1,500-character limit.

To the members of the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners:

As you address the giant Turner family Hi Hat Ranch project on March 23, 2021, it’s important that you consider the concerns raised by the Miakka Community Club. These include thoughtful, informed observations about water, the ecosystem, the environment, roads and traffic, all warranting close attention. Surely you have read Ms. Ayech's letter; for ease of reference it is linked here.

 

It’s necessary to consider the larger context here as well. It’s virtually impossible to do this, however, as the data necessary to fully grasp this context is not compiled in a manner that allows you -- or the public you serve -- to accurately see the future your actions are bringing about.


 

Hi Hat Map

Have you driven through the Hi Hat lands recently? It’s not simply a rural area of great natural beauty; it's also a vast segment of the county that lies between major roads -- Fruitville to the North, Clark to the South, and Bee Ridge (when extended eastward). There is also a major FPL Power line extending northward through the property from Clark to Fruitville.

When a project of the scale and complexity of Hi Hat Ranch comes to you, the impacts are manifold; they are likely to permanently alter the character of East Sarasota County.

 

Here’s my major concern: If you wish to hold a formal hearing that includes the participation of an informed public, it is incumbent upon you and essential to the process that the public of Sarasota County be in possession of crystal clear information, in plain English, of the context -- the proportions of the bigger picture.

 

What would such a picture include? At minimum it would communicate a dynamic image through time of the unfolding development of Sarasota County -- those residential, commercial, and industrial developments that are planned, approved and underway; those that are completed, and those natural  assets which as yet are undisturbed. Proportions expressing, for example:

 

  • The number of dwellings approved for construction in each of the five districts, and in the county as a whole;

  • The acreage of land already committed to future development in proportion to the total developable land mass, and to the total lands reserved for public uses and for conservation; 

  • The miles of future roads, their numbers of lanes, clearly mapped as needed to adequately serve that future population;

  • An accurate, detailed and realistic accounting of all costs of these roads;

  • An accurate, detailed and realistic accounting of all costs for those public services necessitated by private developments -- police, fire, emergency, hospital, schools, evacuation routes, hurricane shelters and all others;

  • An accurate, detailed and realistic assessment of how many dwelling units are destined for the many large scale developments such as Skye Ranch, Wellen Park, Sarasota National, Grand Park, Grand Palm and Pat Neal's many other Grand projects, Palmer Ranch, SIPOC, the Fruitville Initiative, the Villages of Manasota Beach, Waterside at Lakewood Ranch and many more, as listed in the Planning Department document below.

 

 

Without this data-rich picture, we who live here are blind. 

 

Furthermore it has now been demonstrated that key planning maps (RMA1 and RMA 3) have not been updated in decades, despite repeated requests from residents and County promises to make them current.(1) Is this proper custodianship of the public realm?

 

In the absence of a shared public vision, a “public hearing” -- in which the people of Sarasota are purported to participate -- borders on charade. 

 

So here’s my key question: Do you yourselves have access to the aforementioned detailed current and realistic accounting, or not? If you do, then why have you not done your utmost to share it clearly and openly with the people you were elected to represent? If you do not yourselves possess this information, then how can you claim to understand in any clear, rigorous and informed way the many impactful consequences that lie ahead? 

 

Over recent decades, public planning in Florida has jettisoned the essential elements of integral vision, thanks in great measure to the abdication of constructive regional and state attention and review. Random, piecemeal process has taken the place of a comprehensive approach candidly shared with all. Without that picture, the future of Sarasota is unknown. 

 

In this time of crippled comprehensive provision for our future needs and quality of life, each of you has a special responsibility to charge developers with moulding projects that contribute to our quality of life -- not just for their tens of thousands of future customers, but for all who live and work here. Without such a thorough, thought-out vision, we the people are adrift, experiencing the chronic nightmare of Sarasota County’s relentless blind growth.


(1)Herald Tribune, March 21, 2021, Residents call on Sarasota County to update rural planning maps before it’s too late.

 

 (2) See Rhodes, Robert M. (2020) "Florida’s Growth Management Odyssey: Revolution, Evolution, Devolution, Resolution," Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 11, 56-69.


Residents throughout Sarasota petition to update flawed planning maps

When the custodians of public planning are unaware their own maps are out of date, one has to wonder: What else do they not know they do not know?

According to this March 21, 2021 story from the Herald Tribune, the Board of County Commissioners, which is moving to eliminate citizen amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, has failed to update key planning tools. 

According to a citizen petition:

"In total, more than 10,000 acres of Sarasota 2050 RMAs are incorrectly designated on RMA-1 and RMA-3."

Certain maps have not been updated in nearly 30 years, says Ron Collins, one of the citizens petitioning the County to update erroneous maps that mislead homeowners and cost developers and affected citizens time and money to straighten out. according to the HT:

A resident will believe, based on the map, that their property is against an area designated as a greenway.

“You think it could never be developed as a village when in fact that is wrong and at that point, a village can be built in your backyard,” Collins said. 

Below the press release are links to more data, including the actual Petition signed by more than 250 residents of Sarasota County. It was submitted to Planning and Zoning Manager Michele Norton at the county. 

Before the Board makes it more difficult or even impossible for citizens to have a say in our Comprehensive Plan, perhaps a thorough review of the quality and currency of its data is in order.





Excerpt: 
Update-to-date maps help people navigate the planning process more efficiently. They save applicants time and money. They make it easier for the public to understand what can be built in a particular location. And they make rezone and permit approvals more predictable.


Petition Signers by residential District and political affiliation:


BCC DISTRICT

PETITIONERS

1

36

2

39

3

4

4

168

5

8

TOTAL

255

 

 

DEM

81

REP

123

NPA

50

Other

1

TOTAL

255