In Plain Sight
They say hindsight is 20/20, but when it comes to 2050, hindsight may be even more illuminating. Changes to the 2050 plan, which governs growth outside the Urban Service Boundary (east of Interstate-75), will impact our wallets, home values and traffic. Last fall, design standards, open space and fiscal neutrality were being debated. But the Sarasota 2050 plan was egregiously violated months before when the County Commission approved over 9,344 new homes east of I75 without required Transfer of Development Rights.
TDRs are a linchpin of Sarasota’s 2050 plan. In order to build outside the Urban Service Boundary at higher densities, rural landowners must purchase development rights (either from the County or another rural landowner) and then transfer those development rights to the rural parcel they want to develop. TDR policy is designed to keep the County’s overall density stable. Development density is to be clustered on a particular parcel through TDRs preserving the environment and open space. The increased density in a focused area provides the ability to build walkable communities—communities which would have a local market, dentist, restaurant, boutiques and the like—and enough of a residential population to provide a customer base. Walkable communities reduce commute times and traffic jams, generate enough tax revenue to pay for their infrastructure. The TDR requirements of 2050 are so central to the plan that during the summer Planning Commission meeting on 2050 changes, Planning Commissioners argued 2050 changes were acceptable because they weren’t increasing overall density.
But, in fact, the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners had increased overall density months before, by failing to enforce TDR policy. In early 2014, both Commissions approved new land-use changes outside the USB along Clark Rd. Developers were given permission to create 9,344 homes on their land, roughly 5,500 to 6,300 more than the guidelines permit. The Clark Road property owners were permitted to bypass TDR requirements. They contended their land makes it difficult to build densely (that is, walkable communities) and they would have to obtain an unreasonably expensive number of development rights. The development they got approved is the kind of non-walkable, subdivision housing which has been shown to take 42 years to pay off its infrastructure costs (longer than the life of the infrastructure, so existing taxpayers will foot the bill). It’s also noteworthy that developers get to define what is “unreasonable expense” for themselves. Their claims are not subject to scrutiny. What about “unreasonable expense” for taxpayers?
In a free market, sometimes a project is not economically viable. The flawed assumption operating here is developers must always be permitted to build. The route to economic viability provided these developers by local government includes bypassing TDR expenses, walkable design standards and shifting infrastructure costs to Sarasota taxpayers.
What about traffic? One local resident commented on social media, “Without this project even starting, accessing Clark Road east of I-75 for those of us who live near Twin Lakes Park is already a nightmare.” Looks like we’re teeing up another University and I-75 debacle.
In an e-mail to a constituent, former Commissioner Nora Patterson wrote “I honestly believe the one change that knocked the pins out of the  plan was the approval of 9,000 plus units on the north part of the Clark Road property with no exchange of development rights.” She reiterated this point at January’s CONA meeting, saying that it sets a bad precedent. Since the County Commission violated TDR policy in approving the massive Clark Rd density increase, what basis do they have for turning down anyone else?
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