In Sarasota’s future, Andres Duany envisions a master plan that clearly delineates the code for developers, addressing the specific needs of urban, suburban and rural areas, while lessening regulations.
Duany, the new urbanist who helped create the blueprint of what became the Downtown Master Plan in 2000, thinks there’s a natural group to take the lead on this issue: environmentalists, who he said are the only stakeholders in the process with moral standing.
“They didn’t get their power because they were richer —they got their power because they were on the right side of things,“ Duany said after the joint County Commission meeting with the City Commission, Wednesday, June 19.
That isn’t to say he sympathizes with the primary concern of many environmentalists in the area. Duany characterized the environmental concerns of residents as “obsessed with hydrology.”
“It’s not the wrong science,” Duany said of the focus on water. “It’s just not the most critical science.”
Duany suggested a shift to carbon-focused environmentalism, which could begin by easing hydrological regulations on new developments downtown, lessening the city’s dependency on cars to outweigh adverse ecological effects. A walkable downtown has been a priority of Duany’s vision for Sarasota since he first came here.
Principled compromise in the name of easing the development process was a recurring theme. When recommending institution of a clear-cut city code, so developers would be more acutely aware of what they could build, he anticipated potential blowback from individual neighborhoods. His response was that such close oversight would stymie new projects.
“Dozens of neighborhoods don’t want a master plan at all; they want to have the decision making continually embedded within a small group of people in the neighborhood,” Duany said. “You’re welcome to do that, but it ends bad.”
Duany reiterated the need for separate codes for urban and suburban areas to create an incentive to build on what are otherwise smaller, more limiting plots in the city.
Though Duany said he’s improved the amount of time it takes to install the sort of plan he’s envisioning, there would still be a wait for its effects to be noticeable.
“Even when you put a code in place, you have to wait a generation before you see anything,” Duany said.
During his tour June 18 and a dinner event that evening, Duany shared his praise and critique of the city.
On obtainable housing downtown: The planner said parking requirements downtown make it difficult to build smaller, more affordable units because so much space has to be dedicated to a parking garage. “Parking needs to be closely analyzed as an impediment,” Duany said.
On Mediterranean Revival architecture downtown: “It’s not that all Mediterranean architecture is bad. It’s just that downtown Sarasota doesn’t deserve this bad Mediterranean architecture.”
On Sarasota’s progress: “You think you’re running a dysfunctional operation here. You are running a continuous fluke, and things are moving forward.”
On the Palm Avenue Parking Garage: Duany said the public parking garage that opened in 2010, is a great asset the city has gained. Some of the spaces can be used to relieve the parking requirements in nearby developments. “It’s about as good as it gets,” he said about the design of the garage.
— Roger Drouin