Rattle: Politics Behind the Lines
When Sarasota City Commissioner Fredd Atkins drove by Moore’s Grocery last fall, he was stunned to see a new product being advertised in the window. Cocaine, a controversial energy drink, was in Newtown. Tragically, it wasn’t the first substance with that name sold on Washington Boulevard, and Atkins was displeased. “Here we are in the middle of eradicating this substance from our community,” Atkins says, “and then this.” Since Las Vegas-based Redux Beverages started selling the product two years ago, Cocaine has been met with shock. Although the energy drink contains no illegal ingredients, its name inspired the Food and Drug Administration and state officials in Connecticut, Illinois and Texas to try and regulate its sale. Redux even has a legal defense fund to fight government actions. But the controversy only courts sales. Moore’s owner Bashar Traish said the product moved better than any energy drink other than Red Bull. Still, he never expected the community backlash. Police Capt. Bill Spitler, at Atkins’ request, spoke with Traish about the signs and the store owner took the product off his shelves. Atkins says the problem wasn’t so much the drink itself—it was the sale of the product in an area marred by cocaine addiction, a place where police have worked even to get pipes out of stores.
After a change in the bylaws for the Sarasota Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations led to the rejection of membership applications for the Five Points Neighborhood Association and Burn’s Square Residents Alliance out of CCNA, there is talk of a downtown-oriented group forming in the wake. It was something Five Points Neighborhood Association founder Roxanne Joffe suggested within weeks of the rejection. For its part, CCNA officials say go ahead. “That may be what is best,” says CCNA president Kate Lowman, who acknowledged anxiety over each condo building becoming a neighborhood and led to new bylaw language. But Denise Kowal, president of the Burn’s Square group, says she isn’t interested. “I’m not forming a group just because someone says we should,” she says. “It’s all a little too political. I just think they should change their name to Coalition of Certain Neighborhoods.”
As Jennifer Ahearn-Koch tried to imagine what a proposed Githler Development project would mean to her Indian Beach neighborhood, it proved difficult to visualize. So the Sarasota resident made her own tools. She dove into her son, Oliver’s, bucket of Lego bricks and made her own scale model of the planned Whitaker Yacht Club. “You can only go so far to imagine what an 81,000-square-foot building would look like,” she says. While Githler officials had a model to show off the state-of-the-art designs for a yacht house, a 5,500-square-foot restaurant and 132-room hotel, that didn’t show what Ahearn-Koch was most concerned with: The scale of buildings compared to the 1,300- to 1,800-square-foot homes nearby. She used one of her son’s bricks to represent a 1,300-square-foot rectangular structure and built every home on each side of the Whitaker Bayou. She began to construct the buildings Githler wanted on site. Her model was enough to galvanize opposition and ended up as a chief exhibit when neighbors fought the project at City Hall. Aheart-Koch’s handiwork earned praise, but didn’t win over Commissioners, who voted 3-2 to approve the project. The model became part of the public record, in City ownership through any legal appeals of the Commission vote. Ahearn-Koch and neighbors have taken the approval to circuit court, so it will be some time before Oliver gets his blocks back.
—By Jacob Ogles, Photos by Gene Pollux
Read Next Acquire Feature
To access all SRQ articles, become a magazine subscriber today!