September 23, 2006
Time for a change
by Ed Martin
It is time for a change in Venice City Council in at least two dimensions.
First, council needs new blood, a council member independent of the “dumb growth” political machine based on the contributions of the Citizens for Quality Government. Second, council needs
to use the moratorium it pledged to the county commissioners to demonstrate that it has a moderate growth philosophy — not “no growth,” but growth without excessive heights and density — growth
consistent with a Venice based on John Nolen’s vision.
Council members should sense the way the wind is blowing. The county’s voters just elected Joe Barbetta, an advocate for moderate growth and environmental concerns, to the county commission.
As the Gondolier Sun reported and editorialized, a pro-development political action committee used lastminute dirty tactics to distort Barbetta’s views. The effort, happily, failed.
In a recent survey 60 percent of the voters polled said they would support a county charter amendment. Unless Venice plans cooperatively with the county for moderate growth, there will be a
referendum in six months, which I have no doubt will pass, allowing changes in annexation densities only when the county commissioners and city council agree.
Venice has the opportunity to add a moderate-growth advocate to our council. Ernie Zavodnyik (Za-vod-nick), a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, is daring to run for office without
accepting funds from the CQG, against John Simmonds, who has had its backing in the past, and in fact, is a founding member.
Zavodnyik is performing a public service just by running, offering voters an opportunity to hear issues discussed and a chance to make a choice about the direction of the city’s growth.
In an interview, Zavodnyik agreed that growth must occur but said he wants to follow a moderate course, maintaining the small-town feel of Venice, protecting the quality of life and the
environment and recognizing the strains that large growth will bring to our roads, beaches and natural resources. He expressed interest in transportation for seniors and recreational
opportunities for young people.
Zavodnyik served the American Bar Association for 23 years as the staff director for judicial administration. He also had experience as assistant corporate counsel for the city of Chicago
and in private practice. His interests include Epiphany Cathedral, the Venice Area Audubon Society and the Notre Dame Club of greater Sarasota.
I believe that background will be very useful on council. John Moore, the only other attorney on the council, has been very helpful in improving the city’s business practices, including with
leases that, in the past, saw council approving leases with blank places in them where critical financial information was not filled in. The analytic and judicious processing of information
coming before council is a critical skill.
John Simmonds, a likeable man, has demonstrated a pro-growth bias including, as I wrote in earlier articles, feeling as though he must be a cheerleader for certain projects, which may only
coincidentally have been submitted by CQG stalwarts.
Simmonds does not demonstrate sharp analytic skills, appearing ambivalent on a number of issues — warning about excessive heights, but voting for the proposals that might allow it. When he
was faced with the arguments by Moore and others that the mixed-use project zoning submitted by Mike Miller and his attorney, Jeff Boone, was vague and needed refinement, he suggested voting to
approve it now because it could always be changed later and the ultimate buildings could be approved piece by piece by the council — an idea that must have horrified the developer as much as
other council members.
In the final analysis, Simmonds seems to me to be an “old pol” — a go-along to getalong kind of man who brings no new vision to the city or council. He has had a good turn in the public
arena, but his time appears to have passed.
Can they play well with others?
City council has a number, perhaps a majority, of members who seem to have the ability to make reasoned judgments and to negotiate in good faith with others. Negotiations between the city
and the county are not going to be a one-way street.
While the county is right that Venice has in almost every case increased the density of annexed properties beyond the county’s plans, the county has also approved growth near Venice without
consultation, which affects the city and its residents.
It will be interesting to see what progress may occur during the moratorium.
As one who has attended a good number of council and planning commission meetings, I have heard Mayor Fred Hammett and City Manager Marty Black, among others, express hostility toward the
county and its representatives — not necessarily without some provocation. It seems likely that council members Bill Willson, Vicki Taylor, John Moore and perhaps Rick Tacy will have to set the
tone for negotiations on Venice’s part about its annexation and long-term planning goals.
There are, for example, a number of projects that have been granted or are asking for planning and zoning designations that will allow 75-85 foot heights in the North Venice area. Will
council have the wisdom, vision and will to turn down those requests in the “conditional approval” process?
Will the citizens of the future see attractive residential and commercial buildings of three to four stories, compatible with today’s Venice, or will they see a hodge-podge of towers with no
connection to Nolen’s vision of Venice?
A wise, longtime leader of this community, one who would not, I expect, mind being identified as “conservative,” commented to me last week on the plans as they are developing, “That is not
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