At-large candidate Patrick Gannon shares his thoughts on the key issues ahead of the March 14 election.
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Name: Patrick Gannon
Profession/experience: Currently president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association residential neighborhood with 6,000-plus residents, and vice chair of the city’s planning board. Previously president of the international nonprofit Smart Grid Interoperability Panel; president of Warning Systems Inc. and president and CEO of OASIS open internet standards consortium. Began career as NASA rocket engineer.
In a crowded field, what makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I am the only candidate who is an elected neighborhood leader, Planning Board member and has executive business experience managing multi-million dollar corporations. I am the only candidate who is a U.S. veteran, and the only candidate who lives in downtown Sarasota, where I daily encounter the impact of traffic, development and homeless issues.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities during your term on the commission?
- Smart growth: I support a balanced growth agenda. As stewards of our local government and its future, it is imperative that we manage growth and development so residents, visitors and businesses are assured that the city’s special character will be sustained, that the natural beauty, neighborhood quality, historic charms and urban vibrancy which makes Sarasota’s high quality of life will be preserved throughout its future.
- Traffic & transportation: I support implementing a mobility plan that emphasizes safety for pedestrians and bicycles while managing our roadways to help accommodate a smooth flow of traffic. In a growing city, there is a need to improve the efficiency and availability of all forms of transportation used by its residents. I have actively supported the new downtown circulator to reduce traffic congestion. We can encourage more pedestrian traffic with beautiful, safe, shaded, wide sidewalks.
- Environmental protection: We must preserve our neighborhoods while protecting our natural environment. I have a proven track record of working toward a more sustainable Sarasota with these accomplishments:
- I led a citizen team planning for pocket parks in Rosemary District. I will create more pocket parks and green space in the City.
- I authored a city Zoning Text Amendment to strengthen the tree mitigation policy.
- I authored changes to the city’s environmental protection plan.
How would you serve as a good financial steward of the city's budget?
With my extensive business management career, I have prepared and managed large budgets. I have served as treasurer for nonprofit corporations. I will make sure that the financial impacts of commission decisions are balanced against the city goals. I will insist that the city’s financial plans assess future development impacts to our transportation network and our water/sewer infrastructure. As we prioritize budget expenditures, we must also deliver on the promises made to our employees – past and present.
How do you believe the commission should strike a balance between maintaining an economically vibrant city and addressing concerns related to growth?
The city of Sarasota needs a balanced, stable economic base. The city needs to be sure we have in place a balanced set of policies and zoning codes that enable economic stability in order to produce sensible growth. A growing, vibrant downtown is a litmus test to attract talent and is imperative to a growing regional workforce. Attracting young, innovative workers and retaining our local college graduates provides diversity in the economy, which makes us less susceptible to economic downturns. For companies to expand or relocate to Sarasota, they need access to office space and access to trained, educated workers. The workers need access to reasonable workforce housing, walkable/bikeable streets and access to amenities (parks, restaurants, clubs, music). The City Commission must keep this vision in mind when considering land use decisions. I have extensive experience creating and implementing economic development plans that protect the needs of the community while building a stable economy.
How will you evaluate the forthcoming form-based zoning code?
We already have several years experience with a form-based code, as this was implemented for the downtown zones several years ago. I will look at the new form-based code proposals to be sure they meet the city’s Comprehensive Plan goals and action strategies so as to protect the character of our neighborhoods, while balancing the long-term economic stability of our city.
What role should the city play in the development of the 42 acres of city-owned bayfront land surrounding the Van Wezel?
The city manager and City Commission have already supported the community-led effort to help plan for development of the city-owned bayfront cultural district. The city is actively supporting this public-private partnership that ensures community involvement. The City Commission reviewed and approved the six implementation guiding principles, which is the benchmark that the planning process will continue to measure any development proposals against. The city’s role is to stay involved and review and approve any recommendations that come from the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization. The city will also need to allocate some of the funds that will be needed for infrastructure improvements to the property, while working with the community as they raise funds for all of the final approved development projects. This will be a long-term project, and the investor and philanthropic community need to see a strong continuing commitment from the City Commission to support this project.
What steps should the city take to address homelessness and associated issues?
The city has done a lot over the past two years, but there is still much more to be done. This is a humanitarian crisis with many factors that create the situation of people without homes. The city, working with local community groups, has brought about greater awareness of the complexity and multi-faceted components of chronic homelessness. As president of the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association (DSCA), I have supported our active homeless committee, which has held public forums on the topic and continue to keep our residents informed of latest developments. The DSCA is also working with the Downtown Merchants Association to identify and jointly promote programs to bring greater public awareness to what actions are effective in reducing homelessness.
The city has worked with the county to focus housing efforts for families and veterans. The city has created Homeless Outreach Teams (HOT) where a police officer is paired with an experienced case management worker. However, we need more funding to expand this program. The city has worked with the Salvation Army to provide twenty to thirty beds for individuals brought to their facility by the SPD or HOT personnel. Last year the Salvation Army Quality of Life program moved 390 previously homeless persons into housing. The city, along with the county and local charities, has allocated matching funds with the state for initiation of the Comprehensive Treatment Court program spearheaded by Judge Erika Quartermaine. I support the city’s priority of a Housing First program with comprehensive, wraparound services.
As your commissioner, I will work with the County Commissioners and administration to collaborate on effective programs to reduce chronic homelessness. I will work to be sure we have more timely and efficient reporting of progress on addressing chronic homelessness across all of these cooperative efforts so as to keep the residents and business owners aware of what programs are working and to seek their input on where programs can be made more effective.
What steps do you think the city should take to address traffic-related issues?
The City Commission must implement the Multimodal Transportation Mobility Plan! Managing the traffic and transportation issue is a vital concern of our citizens. In 2008, the city of Sarasota identified the need to develop a citywide strategy for enhancing the mobility options of all users. Over the past 8 years, the city has held over 40 public workshops and hearings, working with neighborhood groups to hear their issues and concerns. The city needs to move forward with its mobility plans in order to keep up with the growth in population and the changing demographics of our city. I have supported the implementation of the downtown circulator on-demand shuttle, which the City Commission just approved. We also need to be sure that the traffic study methodologies are updated and correct any deficiencies with the peak season conversion factor used in traffic studies. The transportation impact fees adopted by the city in 2014 were set too low and need to be raised to balance the impact from the growth in our city.
How should the city encourage the creation of alternative housing types, particularly workforce and affordable housing?
The city participates in several federal, state and county programs to help fund affordable housing. The city staff and Planning Board continue to work with developers, such as the Vengroff team, to support his efforts to build workforce housing. This is a vital, needed project, but should still follow appropriate city requirements for tree removal/mitigation and can seek adjustments for a reduced number of parking spaces. As President of DSCA, we wrote a letter supporting the development of the workforce housing on Second Street next to the HuB/BOLD building. In this letter we stated the several benefits of downtown workforce housing:
- Reducing traffic congestion from workers no longer having to drive from their homes in the suburbs to work downtown,
- Encouraging more residents walking which makes the streets safer,
- Providing more year-round residents who will shop and eat at downtown business establishments throughout the year,
- Encouraging the future economic growth that emanates from centralizing creative people,
- Attracting and keeping more young professionals working and living in downtown Sarasota creates a more diverse and vibrant impression of a healthy community,
- Keeping a vibrant and progressive downtown enhances the value of all our residential property, including the downtown condos.
How can the city do a better job of attracting and retaining young talent?
There is much more the city can and should do. A growing, vibrant downtown is a litmus test to attract talent and is imperative to a growing regional workforce. Attracting young, innovative workers and retaining our local college graduates provides diversity in the economy, which makes us less susceptible to economic downturns. For companies to expand or relocate to Sarasota, they need access to office space and access to trained, educated workers. The workers need access to reasonable workforce housing, walkable/bikeable streets and access to amenities (parks, restaurants, clubs, music). The City needs to consider revisions to zoning codes that enable smaller housing units or accessory units to support more attainable workforce housing.
How would you attempt to work with the County Commission on issues of interest to both governments?
The relationship between the City Commission and County Commission appears to be combative, rather than collaborative. I will work with the county commissioners to resolve long-standing issues (empty lot next to SPD building, 30th year payment on Community Redevelopment Agency, etc.), so we can find common ground on the future opportunities. While the city of Sarasota is no longer the largest city in the county, it is still the economic engine and cultural attraction center for the county and region.
Do you believe the city should restrict the use of administrative review for development proposals?
Yes; it is restricted and still allows for public input and public hearings.
Would you consider raising the general fund millage rate from its current level?
No, not today
Do you support the creation of a paid parking system in the city?
Yes, we already have a paid parking system where all city property owners pay for all parking spaces.
Do you support the role of Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 and the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization as the primary planning group for the redevelopment of the bayfront?
Yes, this creates a public-private partnership that ensures community involvement.
Do you support the use of downtown as a venue for large-scale, multi-day events?
Yes, as long as they are well planned and mitigate impacts to local businesses.
Do you support the creation of a parks & recreation taxing district?
Yes, this will keep funds available on an ongoing basis and not subject to cutbacks when other operational priorities arise.
Do you think the city is growing too fast?
Yes, our zoning codes need to be better aligned with our city goals to preserve neighborhood quality