Back To The Future

Guest Correspondence

Sarasota County is currently updating it’s Comprehensive Plan, a document adopted to provide policy guidance for the development of the community.  This iteration will undoubtedly contain goals and objectives which demonstrate that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Indeed, parts of the County’s first comprehensive plan, titled Apoxsee, contain verbiage that, when viewed freestanding, might just as easily be draft language for the 2016 version of the Plan as it was adopted language in 1980. Consider the following, “(i)n many cases, the cost of land, labor and materials and financing elevate a home’s price above a figure affordable to low- and moderate-income families.  These same costs affect the price of rental housing as well.” Affordable housing remains a problem, but there are a number of challenging conditions that lead to it. Policy will never be able to dictate that Sarasota not be a coastal community, but being a coastal community is oftentimes a sufficient condition for housing affordability issues. Unfortunately, sometimes, conditions which create problems also create benefits. In those cases, communities can find themselves spinning their wheels.

It’s not difficult to find examples like the one above, either. Take, for instance, this excerpt from the transportation chapter of Apoxsee where congestion problems are attributed, alongside population growth, to “seasonal fluctuations in population which have combined to stress the existing system beyond it’s capacity to handle traffic.” It would seem that residents in the 1970s were likewise afflicted by an influx of tourists and part-time residents.  Being a beach community with high-quality ecological, cultural, and other amenities is a sufficient condition for seasonal visitation. Moreover, the economic impact from it is one of the more vital components of the local economy.  

In the introduction to Apoxee, a reader may experience another time warp. Under a section titled “The Growth Issue,” it’s noted that, “(m)any local residents, however, have viewed the rapid development of Sarasota with considerable alarm, and have been concerned that rapid growth, if not properly managed, could result in a decline in the current quality of life.”  Further along, it continues, “(t)hey maintain that if proper planning and implementation does not occur, essential government services would become inadequate and that existing residents would have to pay a disproportionate share of local taxes to support new development.”  Similar concerns were echoed at public workshops during the current update.  Of course, we may take comfort in the fact that, nearly 40 years after they were documented in Apoxsee, new residents still migrate to Sarasota for it’s quality of life and the tax rate is lower than it was 20 years ago.

As the comprehensive plan is updated, it’s important for citizens to note that some of the area’s problems aren’t solely an effect of prior missteps but, rather, they’re sometimes part in parcel to what the community is and oftentimes partially created by elements that also make it great. Granted, that doesn’t absolve the comprehensive plan, and those drafting it, from trying to mitigate those problems. To that point, perhaps the most relevant question for County staff and elected officials to ask is: what will we document today that we never want to write about again?

Kevin Cooper is the vice president for Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

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