In the 1980s and early 1990s, Linda Holland was a member of a small neighborhood-watch patrol.
Wearing yellow shirts and armed with a spotlight, cell phones and whistles, they were on the lookout for drug dealers and prostitutes in the then-crime plagued neighborhood of Gillespie Park. But, it was her pen and a small pad of paper that she used to really fight her battles. Holland and a handful of residents would jot down information, such as the license plates of people buying drugs.
“They saw us coming with our yellow shirts, and they left,” Holland said. “They thought we were crazy.”
Holland, the founding president of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, also led the effort to get the city to undertake a $250,000 Gillespie Park renovation in 1995, to dredge the pond, add walkways and lighting and to add an upgraded playground to the park.
At the same time, Holland, who now manages a 50 residential rental units in Sarasota, also served as a board member on the business then-named the Downtown Association.
It was this combination of neighborhood and business-community involvement during Holland’s first years in Sarasota that shaped her approach to city issues.
Holland, who is seeking her third bid for the City Commission, says, as a commissioner, she would try to balance a strong defense of neighborhood wants with her support for well-planned development. She wants to bring residents concerned with change together with developers to get a plan approved for issues such as the North Trail Redevelopment.
Holland disagrees with commissioners’ decision last summer to sell 11 acres at Fruitville and Beneva roads to Benderson Development for half the price of a competing bid. She said the process to select the developer was flawed. She believes the city should have kept that land public and made improvements so it provided a neighborhood park in an area lacking in park space.
Holland, who manages a property on the North Trail has closely watched delayed efforts to redevelop the corridor.
Holland supports a proposed dermatology clinic on the North Trail (which some area residents oppose) because she feels it would give a big boost to redevelopment in the area.
According to Holland, an important step for the city is the establishment of a long-planned North Trail Overlay District (NTOD). The district would be aimed at encouraging developers to build new projects.
“I believe I could bring some understanding,” Holland said.
Holland lives in the same 1926 historic Mediterranean revival home in Gillespie Park she moved into in 1980, when she came to Sarasota. Since then, she has attended more City Commission meetings than she can count. She calls some of her neighbors her closest friends.
Holland is encouraged by how far her neighborhood has come during the last 30 years.
“It’s satisfying to know my neighbors can come out on their porch without being fearful,” said Holland.
But, she doesn’t discount the fact that there are new challenges in the city — such as finding long-term solutions to homelessness.
Holland wants to see a facility such as the “one-stop” center in Bradenton that offers counseling services and job training for homeless people in Sarasota. Law enforcement is also an important piece of the puzzle, said Holland, who has been endorsed by the Sarasota police union.
“Some candidates say it is not a police issue,” Holland said. “Some of it is, because there is a criminal element in this broader group.”
Family: Brother, Bill Holland; sisters, Janis Holland and Patricia Shunney
Occupation: Licensed real-estate broker; property manager
Hometown: East Riverdale, Md.
Hobbies: Watching movies and meeting
Education: Some college, Strayer College