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Highlights of September 5, 2023 Sarasota City Commission Meeting

Highlights of September 5, 2023 Sarasota City Commission Meeting


  • Eschewing resident input and structural compatibility with the overall plan for a walkable inviting city, Mayor Battie, Vice Mayor Alpert, and Commissioner Arroyo over-ruled the planning board’s recommendation, and voted to move forward with downtown density increases with no resident input. City planning staff and development interests have repeatedly stated they expect little, if any, attainable housing will be created downtown (Commissioner Trice lamented again that the bonus would only mandate < 12% attainable units for 4x density). So this change will increase traffic, congestion, and strain on resources, as well as change the character of the streets and the city, while excluding both the people and their elected leaders from having a say in how the city grows AND do so while promoting more overdevelopment of high end condos.

  • The Mayor dismissed the residents who speak before the commission, as well as written input of a neighborhood leader who was not present, while the Vice Mayor minimized the need for communication with the residents, and seemed unaware of the fact that compatibility (e.g. fit of a building not just with the technical aspects of a building code but the overall city context) is part of the zoning code, or that the language of the zoning code itself is subject to different interpretations by different people over time.

  • The City Manager proposed that the commission consider bringing back an ordinance with the initiative the Council of City Neighborhood Associations has been advancing that would incorporate community workshops into the downtown development process (as they are in most zones outside of the city). After an eloquent defense of the value of public input and neighborly interaction by Commissioner Ahearn-Koch, Vice Mayor Alpert joined Commissioners Ahearn-Koch and Trice in endorsing bringing back, in the near future, the CCNA-sponsored meaningful neighborhood input ordinance to build information-sharing community workshops into the downtown development cycle.


  • The Realtors lobby has been pressing commissioners to continue to ignore the flouting – largely by outside corporate owners – of the city ordinance limiting vacation rentals to a minimum of 7 days (note: this does not apply to owner-occupied rentals like AirBnB). This limit applies throughout the city, but on the barrier islands, the city maintains a registry of vacation rentals, which are subject to safety inspections. There are over 700 vacation rentals on the mainland – many taking up stock that used to be affordable rental apartments. There have also been multiple instances of public safety problems stemming from these party houses, including the shooting on Lido last month. After debate, the commission agreed to raise the fees for registration and require that unsupervised rentals provide at least two contacts. Commissioner Ahearn-Koch suggested the city explore automating the enforcement by using the system that tracks short term rentals to trigger automated letters to listings that violate the ordinance. The issue of rolling the registry and enforcement of the 7-day minimum out Citywide will come back to the city commission in October.


  • Is “downtown for everyone” EXCEPT the people who live there? The holiday weekend brought another pool party to the rooftop of the Art Ovation Hotel - large crowds, mixed with alcohol, amplified music, swimsuit competition, and beach balls flying over the glass railing into the street. The city is barreling ahead with bar and nightclub zoning text amendments (being heard by the Planning Board at a special meeting September 21), while requests for proper permitting, and for enforcement of the city’s noise pollution ordinance at locations City-wide go unresolved, and we still await revisions to improve the City’s Sound Ordinance.


  • Commissioner Alpert pressed ahead with pushing through the Parklet ordinance - against the express wishes of the downtown building and business owners. No residents spoke in favor of parklets, and Commissioner Trice made it clear she saw no public benefit in privatizing parking downtown at the expense of neighboring businesses and neighbors, and that many cities that had allowed dining in the street during COVID had ended, or were seeking to end those programs. Commissioner Ahearn-Koch joined Commissioner Trice in voting against the ordinance, which passed 3-2.


  • Sarasota is “nothing but a cube of air rights” said the attorney for the developer in the One Park trial this week. Meanwhile, a mystery project by a mystery developer code-named “Project Orange Crush” at the intersection of the “belt buckle of the city” (where Orange, Ringling, and Pineapple join at Burns Court) is proposing to vacate a public road (Cross Street). Although the public was assured at the community workshop that air rights and additional density would NOT be included in the vacation, there was no proffer about those public open space and access rights in the package going to the Development Review Committee this week. Do developer promises provide ANY certainty to the city's residents?


  • The commission voted to donate 10 city-owned lots in Newtown to Habitat to Humanity to build new permanent affordable housing for 10 families. The Mayor, echoed by Commissioner Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Trice, underscored the efforts the city was making to help protect Newtown from becoming the next Overtown, and urged residents not to sell their generational equity.

FY 2023-24 BUDGET

  • In a special hearing at 5:30, the city commission voted 5-0 to pass the budget as submitted, which keeps the tax rate unchanged (3.1580 mills) and exceeds last year’s total by $34 million. While commending the staff on a thorough and thoughtful budget, both the public and commission asked that additional opportunities to give and get feedback on the budget be included in next year's budget cycle.


  • September 11 5:30-7:00 p.m. - Public workshop at the Payne Park Auditorium on adaptive reuse as The Stage for The Players and other community performing arts groups.

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