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SRQ DAILY Jun 15, 2019

Saturday Perspectives Edition

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Saturday Perspectives Edition

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[City]  Reviving Passenger Rail in Sarasota
Tom Barwin, Thomas.Barwin@sarasotagov.com

My wife Mar and I recently took an Amtrak train, from Penn Station in New York City to Union Station in Tampa.   It was a 26-hour trip.   As relaxing and interesting as it was in our sleeper car, it was nothing like the smooth, fast, 275 MPH train I rode in China a few years ago, or the modern high-speed rail systems found throughout Europe.   As a country we are far behind much of the world when it comes to transportation choice.

With a sense of optimism our transportation planning initiative called Sarasota in Motion, kicked off last week with 2 public visioning sessions.   The early talk focused on pedestrian and bicycling safety.   Although wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes are vital, they will not reduce traffic much as Florida continues to grow.

So, a big important question remains, how to move people between cities?   Short of everyone flying around in flying cars (which firms are working on) a growing number of America’s cities are taking a page from the past and reintroducing various forms of modern rail into our transportation systems.  It's not just Disney doing it anymore.

In fact, a new train service called Brightline/Virgin Trains, recently went into service connecting, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with connections to Orlando now under construction.   Even Detroit has returned to rails with streetcars that run along historic Woodward Avenue. 

Although we have been without rail service in Sarasota for 48 years, since 1971, attitudes may be changing.   Just seven years ago Sarasota County halted rapid transit planning, and few were concerned.   But lately, residents are asking me why we aren't planning for dramatically improved transit.  That may be because now, nearly every new development in the region is being criticized, mostly due to traffic.    Since property right laws do not allow local governments to arbitrarily stop new development, and demographic trends will continue to result in population growth in Florida, it may be time to put as much energy into being for something as being against something. 

As we continue to work on a better transportation system for the future through our Sarasota in Motion initiative, Mayor Liz Alpert and I will be reaching out to leaders in our region to explore a future which includes better transit for Sarasota and Manatee counties.   Connecting our employment centers, our colleges, airports, hospitals and tourist destinations through transit, would seem to make good sense.    

Where there is no vision it will take a long time to get anywhere!   

Please feel free to email me at Thomas.barwin@sarasotafl.gov 

[Argus]  Administrative Review Vital to Ensure Certainty
Christine Robinson, Christine@argusfoundation.org

On Monday, the City Commission will be considering a staff proposal for altering, or, eliminating administrative review for projects. 

Administrative review was an important part of The Downtown Master Plan 2020, which received input from hundreds and hundreds of people.  It was adopted in January 2001.The concepts of administrative review were contained in this plan. 

The Plan stated, “Future development is accurately envisioned by the Master Plan that, when coded, creates a predictable environment. Within it, developers who follow the rules can be guaranteed time-certain approvals, while residents can live in a city where surprises are minimized. A public discussion and assessment by elected officials need only occur in the event a variance is required.”

After the adoption of the Downtown Master Plan, the city attempted to ignore the community agreed upon premises within the plan and decided to not implement administrative review. 

A coalition of property owners and groups administratively challenged the city’s comprehensive plan. A settlement was reached to implement the administrative review process that came about from the agreed upon Downtown Master Plan.

Today, we have a revitalized downtown that was not present when the Downtown Master Plan was passed. Gone are the vacant storefronts.  Investment in downtown has created wonderful restaurants and retail and a population of residents who can walk to them and sustain them.

The Downtown Master Plan led to the revitalization of the core of Sarasota and gave us the vibrant downtown we have many other cities yearn. We went from a downtown that rolled its streets up at 5:00 to one with vitality day and night.

Now, some of those who have moved into downtown as a result of the plan, want to do away with certainty and create a subjective process that increases the risk in investing in downtown. In essence, they want to STOP! certainty, STOP! downtown investment, and STOP! economic development.

Make no mistake about it, this is an important economic development moment for the city. 

Is Sarasota going to become a city that changes procedures to make building a subjective political process? Or, are we going to change the code to make sure there is clarity?

The current proposal has every single building over five stories going through a subjective public hearing process. That pretty much means every single new building in the downtown core becomes a design nightmare money pit subject to opinion, bureaucracy, and endless redesigns no matter if it meets the rules.

The City Commissioners need to decide if we are going to throw up the gates to block new residents, and businesses, or create a thriving urban environment with defined predictability for everyone. This decision is not about administrative review, it is about the future of investment in downtown and its vibrancy.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation 

[The Detail]  Grand Oak Graveyard
Cathy Antunes, cathycantunes@gmail.com

We Sarasotans love our trees and green space. Citizens often find it necessary to remind much beloved organizations of these community values. Hordes of people came out to a recent City Commission meeting to protect Payne Park from ceding any parkland for the cherished Sarasota Orchestra and their proposed concert hall.

Likewise, City residents find themselves contending with a Selby Gardens proposal that threatens trees. Selby Gardens proposes to erect a 75-foot garage topped with a 10,000-square-foot restaurant event venue at the corner of U.S. 41(Mound St) and Orange Avenue.  The Selby proposal requires the City to approve a significant zoning change. Prepare for the hordes again!

One hundred and eleven mature trees could be on the chopping block if the proposed Selby garage/event venue is approved. Yes, you read that right. Our local botanical garden would be able to kill 111 mature tress—five of them are grand oaks—if the City Commission approves their requested zoning change. “Wait!” you say, “I thought grand oaks are protected!”  How can it be that Selby Gardens can kill so many trees, and five grand oaks?

Now when confronted with these estimates, Selby officials said that not their plan. They said approximately 40 percent of the total 315 existing trees and palms within Phase One of the Master Plan (all located on the east side of Palm Avenue) were observed to be in fair or poor health as determined by an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist.  Selby leaders say their first responsibility is to protect public safety, so trees found with structural defects are proposed to be removed.

Furthermore, there are 21 Live Oaks within the area of Phase One with an estimated diameter at breast height of 24 inches or greater, meaning city codes defines that as ‘Grand Trees’. Of these 21, seven trees will be impacted by the project, Selby officials said. Five trees will be removed, including three that are in poor health, and two will be relocated.

But you’d think a botanical garden would be invested in protecting these trees. You’d think a botanical garden would be looking to expand their gardens around these mighty oaks. Nope. Not yet, anyway.

Selby Garden’s license to kill five grand oaks and over 100 other trees lies In the fine print of the City of Sarasota’s Tree Ordinance, Section VII-318, “Exempt Trees.” Line (4) of this section states “Trees grown in institutional botanical gardens” are exempt from the protection of the City’s Tree Ordinance. This tree ordinance was written in 2002, before many of our current staff were at the City. Presumably, it was assumed Selby Gardens would go beyond what is required by law to preserve trees, that the organization could be trusted with that responsibility, that Selby’s trees didn’t require City oversight.

Well, it’s 2019 now, and if the Selby proposal is approved, we’ll be saying “Buh-bye grand oaks!”  Buh-bye birds, and shade, and the carbon sequestration provided by these mighty oaks. 

How about a reassessment of this plan?

Instead of putting trees in the wood chip pile, how about creating a plan which expands the Selby’s gardens to the full footprint of the site? Instead of those oaks currently shade cars, how about creating more ponds and footpaths and flower beds? Keep parking spots onsite for the disabled, and create a drop off point for others? Partner with local business to create an offsite parking garage a short walk away. Has the potential revenue stream from a garage and rooftop event venue distracted Selby trustees from Marie Selby’s expressed goal—to create a public garden? Because what’s been proposed looks more like a event venue for Sarasota’s elite, not to mention a grand oak graveyard.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail on WSLR.

  



[WIB SkillSHARE]  Photos from SkillSHARE Now Available on ClickSRQ

SRQ MEDIA hosted SkillSHARE: Mentoring at the Speed of Life on Thursday June 13, 2019. Powered by the Women in Business InitiativeSkillSHARE leverages the art and science of mentorship to create a meaningful program that engages insightful interactions between local women professionals in challenge areas while also inviting spontaneous connections. SRQ MEDIA would like to thank the mentors and mentees who participated in the program for an evening of connection! 

Photos are available here

[SCOOP]  GSAHEC's Nursing Careers Camp at Blake Medical Center

Last week, Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center (GSAHEC) partnered with Blake Medical Center to welcome ten local high school students interested in becoming nursing professionals. The participants had three jam-packed days of guest speakers, hands-on activities, hospital tours, and discussions about financial aid, college options, and the wide variety of nursing careers. GSAHEC’s Director of Student Programs, Joan Dixon, and summer intern, Kim Nguyen, designed the program to provide local high school students interested in nursing careers a rare and unique opportunity to explore a variety of sub-specialties in partnership with Blake Medical Center’s nursing educators’ Kathryn Gleeson and Ashley Whidden. 

Gulfcoast South AHEC, Inc.

[SCOOP]  Summertime Learning is Fun and Free on June 29 at The Bishop

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature will help highlight local summer learning opportunities during a free Summer Learning Day, from 10am- 5pm on Saturday, June 29. The event, which is one of more than 300 Summer Learning activities serving more than 300,000 youth nationwide, includes free admission for Manatee and Sarasota County students in grades K–8 along with one adult chaperone for each student. Students will also receive a Summer Reading Log to encourage reading and provide even more opportunities for free return trips to The Bishop. 

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature

[]  Volunteers and Donations Needed To "Sack" Summer Hunger

Over the summer, The Food Bank of Manatee, a program of Meals On Wheels PLUS, distributes nutritious weekend food sacks for students through 47 community partner sites throughout Manatee County. In total, The Food Bank of Manatee distributed more than 110,000 meals to more than 18,000 students in 2018. The Food Bank of Manatee is encouraging the community to donate and volunteer. For more information on the Sack Summer Hunger campaign, to register to volunteer to pack and distribute summer hunger bags or to make a donation that will be matched dollar for dollar visit the link below. 

Meals On Wheels PLUS Sack Summer Hunger

[SCOOP]  Military Cut Holds Donation Drive Benefiting Goodwill Manasota

Throughout the month of May, Military Cut Lawn Care Service held a donation drive benefiting Goodwill Manasota. All month, the company picked up gently-used items that its clients in the Sarasota-Manatee area no longer wanted or needed, and transported them to Goodwill, where they are now being sold in retail stores throughout the area. Proceeds are supporting Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through the power of work. Items collected included clothing, shoes, jewelry, functioning computers, household items and decor, kitchenware, books and more. The donations for the month totaled 231 pounds. Military Cut, which serves Sarasota County and Lakewood Ranch, is known for its commitment to employing veterans. The company has partnered previously with Goodwill, assisting with mock interviews for employment readiness classes for veterans, as well as hiring several veterans who have received services through the Veterans Services Program.  

Goodwill Manasota

[SCOOP]  United Way Suncoast Launches Salesforce.org Philanthropy Cloud Volunteering Capability

United Way Suncoast announced that local partners are leveraging Salesforce.org Philanthropy Cloud to provide a seamless and transparent giving and volunteering experience for their employees. Furthering the mission of United Way and Salesforce.org, Philanthropy Cloud connects employees to causes in a simple way, and now features a volunteering capability, offering employees increased flexibility in how they connect with and contribute to the causes they care about.   “The introduction of Philanthropy Cloud has changed the conversations that we have with our corporate partners. We now talk specifically about the impact their employees want to make and what success looks like to them. Through the Philanthropy Cloud tool, we are able to set goals and measure success against them and impact more lives for the better,” said Suzanne McCormick President/CEO United Way Suncoast. 

United Way Suncoast

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine and edited by Senior Editor Phil LedererNote: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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