SRQ Daily Sep 27, 2014
Saturday Perspectives Edition
"Focusing on infill and redevelopment west of Interstate-75, within our Urban Service Boundary, would benefit so many in Sarasota it ought to be a no-brainer and at the top of the County's list. "
For 23 years, Sarasota County has an annual citizen satisfaction/citizen opinion survey. Surveys, long used as a tool to gauge everything from consumer sentiment to the likely outcome of elections, have become a valuable resource for governments to collect input on a broad array of issues from a broader base of residents.
With all due respect to the group that conducted the survey, while acknowledging it’s high level of reliability, one should do the same thing with the data presented as they should with any other data – question it. Data points from the survey should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it.
What is it really telling us?
From this year’s edition, the data point that garnished the most attention was 21. That was the percentage of Sarasota residents that cited “population growth/new development” as the most important issue facing the County. It was, the top issue with no other receiving more than 16 percent of the responses. Almost immediately, “biggest concern” became a phrase synonymous with “important issue” and “concern” inherently comes with a negative context. One thing leads to another and what people read and hear makes it easy to infer Sarasota citizens are increasingly fearful of growth and new development.
It’s important to note the question asked was: “in your opinion, what is the most important issue facing Sarasota County?” It wasn’t about what worried residents, what concerned residents, or what they think is handled poorly. It was simply about the most important issue, positive, negative or perhaps with no context whatsoever.
When considering verbatim responses, one can see the diverse thought patterns that exist amongst respondents. One specifically stated “population and the amount charged for developers” while another stated “lack of development.” A third respondent simply stated the issue was “keeping northerners out.” Survey respondents can give the same answer for very different reasons. It would be irresponsible to speculate what portion of the 21 percent felt population growth and new development was a top issue because of too much growth versus what portion felt the same way because lack of growth, type of growth or even location of growth. However, it’s important to acknowledge that this and other contrasts exist.
How else can we look at it?
For each top issue cited, there are a number of issues not selected by that same respondent. In relation to the example above, one could just as easily note 79 percent of the citizenry doesn’t think population growth and new development is the top issue. In fact, 16 percent of respondents felt there were no serious problems facing the County at all.
While far fewer respondents cited homelessness (6 percent), crime (5 percent), or drugs/substance abuse (2 percent) as the top issue, again the verbatim responses give insight into how to digest the survey. Respondents who chose population growth/new development cited areas like “growth management” and “the amount charged for developers.” Those choosing homelessness, crime or drugs/substance abuse cited areas like “establish better shelters,” “drunk driving” or “drugs and gunshots.” How does a community triage these various areas in terms of relative importance?
How do we use it?
In concert with helping the community understand issues citizens feel are most important, the survey also provides geographic and demographic characteristics of citizens more likely to feel one way or another. The task of government isn’t to serve only one element of the electorate. Instead, surveys like this help us understand the concerns of various subsets of our community.
For example, “higher-than-average proportions of those with a young child living at home (17 percent) are the most likely to see public schools as the county’s top issue.” Additionally, “renters (6 percent) and those involuntarily out of work (5 percent) cite affordable housing as the most important issue at higher rates than others.”
In contrast to the examples above, those who cite population growth/new development as the most important issue are more likely to have no children living at home (25 percent), own their home (25 percent), live in South County (28 percent), and be between the age of 65 and 74 (28 percent).
If all respondents were uniform in their geographic/demographic makeup (i.e., if all Sarasota County citizens were the same), perhaps the survey may serve as more of a mandate. However, we are blessed in Sarasota with a population that is geographically and demographically diverse.
It’s equally important our elected officials understand how they can best serve our new parents as it is they understand how to best serve our South County senior citizens – not just one or the other.
There is no question 21 percent of survey respondents identified population growth/new development as the most important issue facing Sarasota County. Instead, that’s where the questions should begin.
SRQ Daily Columnist Kevin Cooper is the vice president for Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce
As a military wife, I coordinated many moves for my family. I would travel to our new assignment ahead of time, looking for a home that would meet our desired criteria. Great schools were at the top of the list. We also wanted trees in our neighborhood, sidewalks, the ability to walk to the grocery store, a restaurant, a park. A short commute and the opportunity to taking the bus, ride a bike or walk to work was also high on the list. We preferred neighborhoods where the houses didn’t all look the same. Today urban planners call this “walkability.” At the time, I was simply choosing neighborhoods that could provide a high quality of life, and perhaps eliminate the need for a second car. We paid more for housing to live in those neighborhoods, but we knew we were saving money elsewhere (like commuting costs) and eliminating stress and windshield time.
Real estate studies show walkable communities are in demand. A 1999 study by the Urban Land Institute of four new pedestrian-friendly communities determined that homebuyers were willing to pay a $20,000 premium for homes in them compared to similar houses in surrounding areas. A 2012 Milken Institute study shows strong correlation between walkable urbanism, educated residents and local GDP. According to their findings “The six highest-ranked walkable urban metropolitan areas have an average GDP per capita of $60,400." GPD per capita in walkable urban metros is 38 percent higher than the average GDP per capita ($43,900) in the 10 low-ranked walkable urban metros. Incorporating this information into our local planning policy is critical to our economic vitality.
While the County has concentrated on changing the 2050 plan to facilitate development outside our Urban Service Boundary, the County has not implemented policies focused on enhancing walkability and development inside the Urban Service Boundary. This area—west of I75—is home to most of Sarasota’s existing neighborhoods.
One 2050 policy calls for the creation of a County/Municipal Coordinated Planning Program. The program is intended to strengthen existing communities, provide for a variety of land uses and lifestyles, and balance jobs with housing. What a shame the County has never made good on its policy to create this program, one with with accountability for ensuring the value and economic well-being of existing neighborhoods.
Likewise, the County 2050 plan requires the County to expedite infill development and redevelopment. Redevelopment and infill brings new commercial and residential projects to existing neighborhoods, enhancing value and economic opportunity for residents. County 2050 policy required establishing streamlined processes shortly after the 2050 plan was adopted, yet they ignored their own deadline. Take a drive up and down US 41—witness the empty lots and blighted commercial areas. The missed opportunities are everywhere.
Focusing on infill and redevelopment west of Interstate-75, within our Urban Service Boundary, would benefit so many in Sarasota it ought to be a no-brainer and at the top of the County’s list. Instead the County has focused on facilitating growth beyond the USB. Why? The relentless lobbying and campaign financing of a few rural developer/landowners east of I75 has our County Commission designing policy to support their increasingly outdated business model: greenfield subdivision development. Rather than challenge Mr. Neal, Jensen and Turner to deliver a product in step smart community planning, the Commission is weakening standards to permit the same-old, same-old product. The public will be stuck with the long term costs of surplus infrastructure, the attendant traffic, and worse: the missed opportunity for high quality growth.
SRQ Daily columnist Cathy Antunes serves on the boards of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations and Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government. She blogs on local politics at www.thedetail.net
Born in Jacksonville in 1958, I became familiar at an early age with the strong east coast ocean waves, the vast size and diversity of the big city, and the Southern sensibilities of that enormous old community. It wasn’t until many years later vacationing in Sarasota in the early 1970s that I discovered the quieter, idyllic, peaceful ambiance and culture of the community that became my home after graduating college in 1980.
The issue that has emerged front and center this election cycle has clearly been growth planning and the process of amending the 2050 Plan—the optional planning document that allows developers to build denser villages and hamlets in the eastern farmland beyond Interstate-75 and the Urban Services Boundary.
Early in my campaign, I pushed for compromise between the development industry and advocates for the environment and existing neighborhoods over the 2050 Plan amendments. I thought there was room for rational negotiation—a reasonable, centrist approach that would slow the rush to rapidly eliminate timing protections and sensible design standards at the heart of the 2050 Plan. Unfortunately, I underestimated the power and influence of those pushing for these changes. I have now concluded our eastern farmlands could be dramatically altered and eventually plowed over and lost in short order unless we are able to place at least one person on the current board who will represent the voices of environmentalists, neighborhood advocacy organizations and those insisting on smart, sensible growth.
Some have been fooled into believing 2050 Plan rules and regulations were the cause of the virtual lack of development in the eastern region. In fact, the Great Recession and its lingering aftermath, which had no connection to 2050, were clearly responsible for the residential building slowdown. While there are certainly proven difficulties and complexities inherent in the 2050 Plan process, it would not require the massive overhaul now in process to correct these stumbling blocks.
But we live in the recent aftermath of a difficult and tragic time for our nation, and our local economy. The fear of yet another wave of unemployment and the loss of future economic opportunities has driven this current push toward a new building boom out east. It appears justifiable to many on its face. After all, the first big wave of Sarasota growth was seen in the building boom of the early 1920s. But if we are students of history, we should also understand most if not all unsustainable local economic booms have been followed by costly and damaging busts.
In the 2003-2006 period, we saw housing prices and unsustainable real estate building demand skyrocket only to come crashing down under the national recession. We are only now achieving a sense of normalcy in the market.
The final amendments to the 2050 Plan could ironically create yet another false bubble—this time a rush to develop the eastern farmlands in rapid and dramatic fashion. While my opponent in this race has minimized these amendments, they will clearly create a domino effect, which will be difficult if not impossible to slow down.
Focusing on just one damaging change, dropping the requirement for a 15-year gap between village applications would allow developers to line up at county offices with any number of village proposals. One developer even publicly encouraged Sarasota farmers to sell him all their land so he can build thousands of houses stretching to the DeSoto County line. This scenario is a far cry from the goals and desires of the community that created the 2050 Plan compromise in the first place.
It has been six long years since I dipped my toe into local politics and ran a shoestring campaign in 2008 for a seat on the county’s Charter Review Board. That unsuccessful experience, coupled with six failed attempts to gain appointment to the Sarasota County Planning Commission, sent me into the background of local politics.
I was almost convinced that those in power were right when they said Democrats could not get elected to higher county offices.
Now that I have spent over four months on the campaign trail, talking with hundreds of citizens and dozens of community leaders, I believe those in power are mistaken. Democrats with the courage to stand up to the Republican machine and talk truth to power can and will win. It could be this year, but I’m certain it’s only a matter of time.
Ray Porter is the Democratic candidate for Sarasota County Commission District 4
As the Official Wine Sponsor for the SRQ Bal Masqué event, Bijou Café’s master mixologists will be celebrating with the creation of a special signature cocktail, the “The Bijou Bal Masqué Bellini,” for sale in the Gossip’s Bar on October 4 alongside delicious fare from Bijou’s extensive menu. Bijou’s creation will be a twist on the classic Italian Bellini cocktail – a sparkling concoction of pureed peaches and bubbly created in the 1930’s by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy. This traditional Italian creation is the perfect way to kick off the Venetian infused evening. So on October 4, before Bal Masqué starts at 8pm, head over to The Bijou Café across from the Sarasota Opera House for a festive happy hour starting at 5pm to enjoy a swill of sparkling peachy bubbly and a menu of delights. Bal Masque benefits SRQ Gives Back Partner charities including the Child Protection Center, Circus Arts Conservatory, Suncoast Charities for Children, Suncoast Science Center
To celebrate its 60th anniversary, CS&L CPAs launched a new philanthropic initiative called “CS&L CAREs,” to provide a platform for employees to get more involved in the community. CS&L is committed to making impactful contributions in the surrounding communities through donating volunteer hours, in-kind contributions, sponsorship dollars, fundraising and more. To kick off the initiative, the firm held weekly “Jeans Day” fundraisers during the month of August, in which a different non-profit was the recipient of donations if an employee wore jeans to work on Friday. In total, $1,000 was raised for five local organizations and causes. As part of the CS&L CAREs program, every month CS&L will focus on serving or donating to a local non-profit. The next CS&L CAREs activity is the Manatee Glens “Walk for Life” on September 27.
The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce will recognize the achievement of its members at the 3rd Annual Salute to Business at its 94th Annual Meeting Thursday, October 23. Outstanding top member businesses who have hired our neighbors, invested in the future and reached a milestone anniversary of local service to our area, will be celebrated on stage and honored for their achievement. In addition, the gavel will be passed from Board Chair Lisl Liang, Publisher of SRQ Magazine to the new Chair, Chris Gallagher, Architect, Hoyt Architects. The Chamber will also recognize an outstanding member with the Chair’s Cup Award, sponsored by Kerkering, Barberio & Co. In addition to learning more about your Chamber’s goals and initiatives for 2015, this event is an excellent chance to network with over 500+ attendees.
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