Has the city of Sarasota re-opened for business, as it appeared after the spring election? Hopefully, but …
With the election of city Commissioners Shannon Snyder and Paul Caragiulo, joining with Commissioner Terry Turner, there seemed to be a large swing toward an attitude of making the city inviting for new enterprises, businesses and jobs — a spur to the local economy — along with bringing stronger fiscal restraint to city decisions.
The overall body of votes is in the right direction for being job-friendly. But a 3-2 vote last week has cast a cloud.
During the summer, the City Commission agreed unanimously to move forward with a zoning-code change on the rules of construction to tilt decision-making toward job-creating enterprises. The current code requires the city to adopt “the more restrictive provision” when there is a conflict between two portions of the code, which is a thick and complicated document.
The one-line amendment, proposed by Caragiulo, would have changed the code so the city could apply the provision that is most favorable to the property owner or applicant when there is a conflict. It basically shifted the bias from the neighbors of the property owner to the property owner — a reasonable shift even if it is not common.
But when it came to a vote, it went down with only Caragiulo and Mayor Suzanne Atwell voting in favor.
Snyder said his decision to vote against the amendment was a fear of litigation and the fact that proponents of the change had not given any examples of a major development that was held up or blocked because of a conflict in the code. Snyder’s young track record on trying to rein in city costs and in working for a better business environment has been strong. But we disagree on this vote.
Specific areas of litigation were not provided by those who had suggested that could be a problem. It was more of a generic concern. As Mayor Atwell pointed out, if the commission were not to act for fear of a general threat of litigation, the city would do almost nothing.
Perhaps the change was not needed, but the risk was low and a great message to the job-creating community was missed.
On the other side of the ledger, the city is moving forward on possibly eliminating park impact fees. If that comes about — and it remains to be seen if that will actually happen — the commission should look at all impact fees in the city.
Impact fees are supposed to make growth pay its way — a problematic assumption in the first place in that growth tends to make up for the deficiencies of existing residents’ taxes. But in theory, the impact fees are to make sure that new residents pay their share of the “impact” they have on roads, libraries, parks, schools and so on by taxing new construction.
But Sarasota’s population grew by fewer than 1,000 people in the past 20 years, and lost population in the past 10 years. So there is really no justification for any impact fees of any sort in the city of Sarasota. They are just a tax on construction that drives up the prices of houses, stores and offices, making everything more expensive for all residents, just as every tax does.