Is Laurel Park a victim of STOP!?



There is a Future Land Use Map on the wall behind my desk. Surrounded by light and dark shades of brown representing zones designated “urban,” one section stands out, oddly alone and awkward, the only blue spot on the map. My neighborhood, Laurel Park, covers a small area of around 169 properties with a well-loved pocket park toward its center and includes one of Sarasota’s most highly prized examples (Spanish Oaks, circa 1924) of high density, historic multi-family housing on it’s western edge.

A National Historic District, the majority of the homes on the District list have a front porch and no fence or wall over 4 feet in the front yard. These features, by-products of our intentionally friendly urban nature, were hard fought for and folded into what was then and now our woefully inadequate code, RSM9 (circa 2005), which included the right to build accessory dwellings or “granny flats.” I was a member of that long forgotten LPNA Board, and we did our best to modify a makeshift code we were promised was “temporary, for now.”

Twelve years later, all along Osprey Avenue and throughout my neighborhood a plethora of construction signs embellish scared, empty lots once graced with cherished history. Recently, with one fell swoop and a bulldozer, 14 affordable rental housing units on two historic properties were disappeared soon to be replaced by three, maybe four single-family homes selling for upwards and over $1 million. My neighboring house, a fine example of old Florida “shotgun” vernacular, is most likely next to go beneath the big scoop on wheels.

Laurel Park, as a National Historic District and as home to affordability, a vibrant mix of young and old, the prosperous and the working class, is today not so slowly dying. All as a result of a “temporary code” made permanent under a decade of leadership by former LPNA President and current STOP! Chair Kate Lowman. And sadly, our latest iteration of neighborhood leaders are choosing “for now” to keep the code we have, rather than work with the City’s Urban Design Studio to rewrite our code to better reflect our neighborhood’s historic 1924 footprint. I was told some people, Kate perhaps who likes to go to France, would be out of town this summer.

Vanishing history. Affordability lost. And all because of flawed City Commission policy dominated by the tyranny of the loudest voices. STOP! got its start in Laurel Park and built its power base under the guise of neighborhood activists, and its members now believe with just one more vote on the City Commission they can finally take over our City.

It may be too late to save my neighborhood but there’s still time to save our City. On May 9, vote for diversity, for affordability, for our history and for a vibrant, prosperous future for us all.

Let your voice be heard. On May 9, please keep Sarasota moving forward. Vote for Hagen Brody and Martin Hyde. 

Diana Hamilton, a Laurel Park resident, fought unsuccessfully in 2003 to have Laurel Park included in the Downtown Master Plan.

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