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Alex Mahadevan will write a weekly editorial called, "Municipal Focus," espousing a Sarasota young professional's view of politics
Sarasota Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 4 years ago

MUNICIPAL FOCUS - A Weekly Commentary: Elected leaders brace for homeless-shelter fight

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

Not in my backyard …

That’s a common phrase in Sarasota. We hear it and see it all the time here — involving debates over lift stations, dog parks, re-development initiatives and now, a strategy to reduce homelessness.

Indeed, Sarasota elected officials are known to ignore expert advice if neighborhood opposition reaches certain decibel levels.

Call it “tyranny of the minority.” How small groups have killed or seriously disrupted innovative plans in Sarasota.

Consider, for instance, Dr. Steve Bedi’s project that would have reduced the blight of a portion of the North Trail. A minority of neighbors protested, and city commissioners rejected it. 

So, it’s no surprise that two Sarasota city commissioners have already raised concerns about the potential site for a homeless facility, which would serve as the cornerstone to addressing homelessness here.

After agreeing to pay homeless expert Dr. Robert Marbut $40,000 and earmarking $500,000 for homeless management, Sarasota city commissioners have begun debating a potential site for a one-stop holistic homeless shelter. Commissioner Willie Shaw said he opposes a site in North Sarasota and Commissioner Susan Chapman opposes a site near the downtown core.

Classic NIMBYism.

“I don’t worry about politics,” Marbut said in an Oct. 7 phone interview with the Observer. “I just pick the right place.” But, the location of such a facility is "critical" to its success.

Marbut has reviewed more than 40 sites and considers three to be viable locations, with owners willing to negotiate for a sale. Marbut said he could have a report completed this month if municipalities instructed him to do so, but he would like to do another round of site assessments. And Marbut hasn’t been told whether he will present to each municipality separately or during a joint meeting.

“The goal should be how to reduce homelessness,” Marbut said.

The need for solutions is clear; it’s an economic, as well as a social issue. Would you want to move your business onto a Main Street littered with vagrants, some of whom have violent rap sheets?

Said Marbut: “The cities that get stuck in NIMBYism don’t move forward — it’s that simple.”

+ In other municipal news:

• The debate about how much restaurant space to allow in the State Street garage has ballooned into a wider discussion about a possible cap on restaurant space in downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle.

It’s doubtful either the Downtown Improvement District or the St Armands Business Improvement District has the authority to do so, but such a mandate would be akin to protectionism and a government-sanctioned cartel for the existing restaurants.

• Sarasota County commissioners have the chance to appoint a new member to the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area Extension Study Committee after the departure of former Chairman David Merrill.

Merrill took criticism for advocating CRAs elsewhere in the county.

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