"A positive plan for Sarasota County"

Normille and Zimmerman for Sarasota City Commission

In the Sarasota City Commission election March 10, 2015, and in a May 12 runoff if that occurs, Control Growth Now endorses incumbents Eileen Normille in District 2 and Stan Zimmerman in District 3. Both are experienced, intelligent public servants with superior principles to serve the interests of taxpayers, mobility, neighborhoods and the environment. CGN also congratulates District 1 City Commissioner Willie Shaw, who also has those attributes, on his reelection without opposition.

Integrity 2016

Control Growth Now is pleased to be part of a vibrant grassroots coalition of concerned citizens who demand integrity in Sarasota County government, for a change. Our efforts begin with a protest of Christine Robinson's conflict of interest by accepting a job as executive director of the developer lobbyist group the Argus Foundation while continuing to serve as County Commissioner. Citizens will gather to speak out about this problem on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 1:30 pm at the County Commission meeting at 1660 Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.

Pine Flatwood Protections Repealed

The Sarasota County Commission is allowing developers to pave over important pine flatwood natural habitat rather than preserve it as part of required open space. To read about this, Click Here.

County Moving To Gut Public Protections
Bad news for the public interest from the public hearings of the Sarasota County Commission Wednesday, January 26, 2011.

Impact Fees

The County Commission voted 4 to 1, with Jon Thaxton dissenting, to approve a 50% cut in the County’s road impact fees and a permanent repeal of a 38% increase which was scheduled to begin March 1. This leaves road impact fees at only 34% of what the County’s expert consultant said they should be for development to pay its own way for the new and wider roads needed to serve development. The result will be a shifting of the cost of roads to serve development onto the backs of the taxpaying public or cuts in the road program or both. From the discussion at the Commission meeting it appears that it will be both.

The Commissioners voted to make up the loss in impact fees for one project, the four-laning of Bee Ridge Road east of I-75, from sales, gas and property taxes, as well as per-haps impact fees, now going to other road projects. That will force the taxpayers to make up for the break being given to devel-opers. Bee Ridge was spared a cut largely because an organized group of eastern Bee Ridge area residents protested a proposal to defer the road widening due to...

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Control Growth, Control Taxes
Development interests in the City of Venice recently cited a study in urging that the City Council drop the reins on growth in order to lower its taxes.

An economist for a homebuilders association is cited as support for that conclusion: no doubt a neutral and impartial source. In any event, the economist’s conclusions are impossible to evaluate by the news article which cites them, as there is too little of the data and assumptions on which they are reached.

As they say, figures don’t lie but …

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Charter Review Board Stays Elected

Unlike other communities, Sarasota County has an independent, elected Charter Review Board with the power to put Charter amendments directly on the ballot for a public vote. That avoids the need to get over 13,000 signatures or a vote of the County Commission.

Developers and their supporters in the local Establishment are scared by that. They know that given the opportunity the people will vote for measures to rein in their control over local politicians and policies, as they have over the years.

On May 6, 2009, the Establishment lost an effort in the Charter Review Board, by a tie vote, to take away the citizens right to elect the body.

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, the Charter Review Board sponsored good measures, which were approved by the voters, to create $200 campaign contribution limits for local politicians, to require voter approval for the County to raise property taxes or deepen taxpayer debt beyond certain limits, to require full disclosure of property owners seeking rezonings and to require testimony under oath at rezone hearings so that developers tell the truth.

The problem is that it takes a two-thirds vote of the Charter Review Board to put a measure on the ballot and about half its members are anti-reform. They are supporters of development interests, the Chamber of Commerce and other opponents of citizen power.

This got that way when those forces recruited and supported candidates to take over the Charter Review Board in 1994, in reaction to a Charter Review Board proposal to amend the County Charter to provide a right of citizen initiative and referendum over County ordinances.

The current Charter Review Board has done little but attempt to repeal or weaken the reforms added to the Charter by a pro-reform Charter Review Board in the 1980's and early 1990's. They tried to repeal the tax cap but the voters turned them down. They tried to tie the borrowing cap to annual increases in real estate values but the voters turned them down (later approving a much more modest indexing of the limit to the consumer price index). They tried to repeal the campaign contribution limits (because as we know the developers are the ones who like to pour the big bucks into campaigns) but again the voters turned them down.

Ultimately, the anti-reformers want to take away the citizens’ right to elect their Charter Review Board and just make it a committee of the County Commission. They tried in 2006 and they recently tried again. They failed both times but unfortunately they’re getting closer.

On May 6, 2009, the Sarasota County Charter Review Board rejected on a 5 to 5 tie vote a motion to have a CRB committee draft a proposal to take away the citizens’ right to elect the Charter Review Board.

Those CRB members voting for the change and against the public interest: Cathy Layton, Jud Boedecker, Dan McLeroy, Charles Cooper and Frank Moore. Voting against the motion and in the public interest: Stefan Butz, Matthew Fountain, Adam Miller, Debbie Trice and Marie Nisco.

It ultimately would have required a two-thirds vote, that is at least 7 to 3, for the CRB to put the measure on the ballot.

This same proposal was made by CRB member and developer Cathy Layton in 2006 and was defeated on a 6 to 3 vote (including opposition by Frank Moore, who this time voted for it).

The CRB was right in preserving the citizens’ right to elect an independent, elected Charter Review Board as a source to put measures on the ballot to protect and enhance citizen rights and interests.

Now we need to work in future elections to restore a two-thirds majority of members of the Charter Review Board who are willing to restore the CRB to its former activist, reform-oriented status, to look out for the interests of the public rather than just the interests of a favored few.

Five of the ten Charter Review Board members are up for election every two years, to a four-year term.

In 2010, reformers Stephan Butz, Adam Miller and Debbie Trice are up for election, as well as anti-reformers Dan McLeroy and Charles Cooper.

Candidates run from five districts (the same as the County Commission districts) but all votes are county-wide. It is a partisan election, so there is a primary as well as the November general election. At present, all CRB members are Republicans except for Democrat Debbie Trice.

Three factors favor running for Charter Review Board rather than other political offices: 1) There is no filing fee.
2) The position is a fairly minimal commitment, as the Charter Review Board meets infrequently, in evening meetings.
3) The financial disclosure requirement is minimal, requiring the listing only of significant property, debts, business interests and sources of income, with no amounts.

Citizens interested in exploring the possibility of running for Charter Review Board in 2010, particularly for the seats now held by Dan McLeroy and Charles Cooper, may Contact Control Growth Now for further information.

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Overdevelopment Kills the Economy
It is generally accepted that the economic downturn began with the crash of the real estate market, which was caused largely by an oversupply of housing and other development brought on by speculation and unsustainable prices.

When supply exceeded actual demand (after removing speculation from the process), prices fell. It’s as simple as that.

It’s been like a Ponzi scheme, with promises of profits that were simply unsustainable.

It is widely understood that the economy will improve when, following the present wave of foreclosures, the existing oversupply is absorbed and real estate values again begin to rise.

Given that reality, it makes no sense at all to gut growth management controls with the goal of adding even further to the existing oversupply of housing and other development.

Yet that is exactly what State Senator Mike Bennett and others, including some local officials, seek to do. They want to use the economic downturn as an excuse to eliminate concurrency controls on the amount of traffic a developer can add to overcrowded roads, to shift the costs of growth onto the backs of the taxpaying public by freezing and cutting the impact fees that than help make growth pay its own way, to reduce protections of the environment and neighborhoods and to reduce reviews and public input into development proposals.

Do anyone really think housing prices will rise when there are more new houses and condos competing for buyers? Or that empty offices and retail space will be filled when even more is built to compete for tenants and purchasers?

That’s like saying the cure to obesity is to gain more weight.

And in addition to increasing the oversupply of development, consider also the other adverse consequences of weakening controls on growth, now or later when developers take advantage of it: gridlocked roads, higher taxes, threatened neighborhoods and a damaged environment.

Our politicians need to get the message: control development and help the economy as well as our quality of life.

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The Fruitville Initiative
How about a $350,000 taxpayer subsidy of developers, with much more to come?

How about funding that at a time when the County is cutting back library hours, law enforcement, parks and other public needs?

How about putting it all together in a series of secret meetings between property owners and public officials in violation of the Sunshine Law?

Well, all of that was approved by a vote of the County Commission, without a public hearing, on February 10, 2010.

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The Broken Promise of Sarasota 2050
A Betrayal of the Public Trust

UPDATE: After this article was written, the Florida Department of Community Affairs strongly objected to the amendment to strip environmental standards out of the first Sarasota 2050 Village development. In response, County staff has proposed to try to satisfy the state by restoring the Greenway “thumb” for now and allowing the developer to seek its removal at a later stage of development which will not be subject to state review. The proposals to remove the Greenbelt buffers essentially remain although they too may be weakened, as well as the proposal for a four land road through the development. The final adoption hearing on the amendment is scheduled before the County Commission on Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 9 am at the north County Administrative Building. Additionally, since this article was written, developer consultant Hank Fishkind and other pro-development advocates have begun to label Sarasota 2050 a “failure” unless the public interest protections in the plan are scrapped

The Sarasota County Commission’s controversial Sarasota 2050 Plan was supposed to be a balance. The County abandoned the I-75 barrier to eastern urban sprawl which had held for decades, opening the rural lands to intense urban development.

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On August 20, the Sarasota County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and vote on two Comprehensive Plan amendments that would let developers overcrowd our roads. The hearing will be at 6:30 pm at the South County Commission Chamber at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice. The amendments, with others that pose no problems, may then go to the County Commission for consideration.

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