Pin Down County Commission Candidates on Committment to Open Space and Preserving the Environment
The changing composition of the Sarasota County Commission threatens to increase the pro-development direction the Council majority has been heading toward in recent times. Sarasota County may be heading toward where Venice was in 2007.
In 2000 Venice land-use attorney, E.G.Boone wrote the Supervisor of Elections announcing the organization of a Political Action Committee (PAC) called the "Citizens for Quality Government" (CQG). On the letterhead of the Boone Law Firm stationary at that time, Charles Hines was listed as a named partner. Today, Hines is with another Venice law firm. He and his wife have been regular contributors to the CQG supporting its pro-development agenda.
Starting in 2000, until 2007, every elected member of the Venice City Council had the CQG backing. Not surprisingly it was a period of approval of taller buildings. Developer Michael Miller received approval for three condos on the Intracoastal Waterway, changing the northern entrance to Venice on US 41 from its small-town quaintness to a landscape dominated by 100 foot buildings. Originally the land had been zoned for 35 feet, but with various rezonings and "exceptions" the condos were approved. Land along East Laurel Road, east of I-75 extending to the Myakka River, was annexed into the City, including a faulty planning decision to annex an industrial area with a concrete plant and an asphalt plant immediately adjacent to a planned residential development, (Venetian Golf and River Club.) By annexing into the City the developers avoided restrictions the County zoning would have called for.
In 2007 the stranglehold on Council Seats was temporarily derailed as three candidates, accepting no money from any party having material financial interest in decisions before Council, were elected on a "smart growth" platform. They inherited a Comprehensive growth plan calling for six to eight story buildings and more density which was already under State review.
The new council members spent three years developing a new Comprehensive Plan. While the plan was attacked by the development community as "no growth," it in fact provided for more than 20,000 new housing units over the next 20 years, potentially doubling the size of the City. It also added more land for commercial and industrial purposes, the most economically favorable growth for Venice.
On the other hand, it passed height restrictions, 35-45 feet in most areas, eliminating the plans for 6-8 story buildings in the areas surrounding the historic downtown which was part of the nationally revered plan for Venice designed in the 20's by John Nolen. The Nolen plan and philosophy guided the Comprehensive Plan which strengthened open space, open beaches and parklands and followed "smart growth" policies.
County Leads in Environmental Land Use Planning
During most of the 1990s and 2000s Sarasota County became a national leader in preserving open spaces by following growth policies encouraging more dense development west of I-75 and limiting dense development east of 75. The County also limited development along the Myakka River, forming a protected "wild and scenic" river. A key leader in the Commission philosophy was four generation County resident Jon Thaxton, a realtor himself, but with a deep commitment to avoiding Sarasota becoming another urban sprawl, sub-urban sprawl.
County Republican leader Bob Waechter is recruiting support for Hines citing him as a "strong supporter of property rights and business." and saying " this is an opportunity for a seminal shift on the ...Commission." That seminal shift means moving away from environmental concerns.
Pro-development forces including major developers in the County have announced their support for Charles Hines who faces several Republican opponents although party leaders and three commissioners are backing Hines. Major housing developers Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff are highly visible in the listing of supporters.
Developers have been seeking incentives for residential development and have already had the impact fees cut that are used to pay for new services the development will demand. A number of studies have found that new residential development never pays its way without placing additional tax burdens on current residents. Commercial, industrial and some multi-family development is more economically favorable. Sarasota taxes have risen with increased population.
With primaries and the general election upcoming, it is important to put candidates on the record with regard to whether they will protect Sarasota's environmental leadership and quality of life. If what you hear is the need to stimulate the economy through incentives to developers prepare to pay more taxes and see Sarasota deteriorate.
Posted By Ed Martin at 12:03 AM in Category:Inside Venice
6 Jul 2012
As always Ed...............thanks for your interest and attention to so many of the issues and personnel who can impact the quality of life and the protection of our environment here in Venice. I don't consider you a "watchdog", rather a dedicated human being who wants to preserve the legacy of Mr. Nolan's design.
6 Jul 2012
This all coming along with the news that you will be less active on this site. Feels like a double whammy for sure.
I can appreciate and understand your desire to have more personal time and take some respite from carrying the burden of essentially being our town crier on all things local in Venice.
Once again, I say "thank you" for all that you have done and continue to do.
I hope a few will consider taking up the mantle here and that more will decide to comment on the issues.
It is concerning that Hines seems to have been hand picked by a certain segment as the newest CC. Where and who is the viable candidate who might oppose him and represent those more concerned with preserving the intangibles that make the quality of life in Sarasota what it is?