I’ve lived in Sarasota for a long time, so I have a deep commitment to the success of this city. A lot of the decisions I have to make as a commissioner revolve around land use and development. These are sometimes the hardest decisions I have to make, but only because they are the most important.
I have a good local knowledge of both people and places. That helps me when it comes time to make those decisions. I am always receptive to hear from people, whether they drop into City Hall to speak with me directly, or if they send me an email or phone call. All input from affected stakeholders is useful and gets incorporated into my ultimate decision.
First of all, I need to be very clear when I say there is no deal with Benderson. The commission has not voted to sell anything. Although a piece of the Beneva/Fruitville land is considered parkland, there are multiple other uses there. In the event of a sale, to anyone, we would have to address those uses and ensure that they are appropriately relocated. For example, the fire department uses a large portion for training purposes. Another portion acts as a helicopter-landing pad. A wide and rather deep drainage ditch that would need to be retained traverses the main park area, which complicates the request for proposal. Perhaps that is why no one at the City suggested putting it out for sale under an RFP for all of these years. Benderson came to us with an offer, and they are using their own money to conduct a feasibility study to determine the type of project that would go there. Given the desire expressed to preserve the parkland and the difficulty factors as I mentioned, the whole deal might be thrown out. We have not come to a conclusion, and this is nowhere near over.
North Trail Overlay
In the last 30 or so years, the North Trail has become the subject and victim of much debate. The North Trail Overlay is a precise and minutely calculated solution to the stand off between commercial land owners, who in order to prosper, require relief from an outdated code. The neighborhoods on either side fear any changes in height, density or uses might endanger their quality of life. The North Trail Overlay encourages a more human scale, pedestrian-oriented urban development pattern along the Trail. Because it is an Overlay, no change in land use is necessary.
I know administrative approval for projects is one of the main sticking points, but with a plan that has been so studiously calibrated to suit all concerned parties, I don’t think it’s necessary for new projects to go through our outdated, cumbersome and more costly DRC process.
The unattractive swatch of roadway itself is a multitude of various uneven lot widths and depths, which has made it difficult to apply any land use strategy that might result in a more consistent form-based code. The Overlay itself would not preclude or hinder any future efforts toward the application of a form-based code.
We can’t allow fear of what might happen hold the North Trail hostage any longer. It’s time to move forward and allow the North Trail to reconnect with the City proper.