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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010 7 years ago

Our View


Let’s bring a little rational perspective to the discussion today when the Sarasota County Commission considers the fate of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project.

Most of us have been to Longboat Key. It’s nice there, hardly overcrowded — in spite of the whining about the mini-traffic slowdowns that rarely occur there during the height of the season. Longboaters typically refer to Longboat Key as paradise.

So consider this:

Longboat Key has 8,800 housing units, and those housing units sit on 3,148 acres of land mass.

In comparison, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is proposing 5,194 housing units on 5,500 acres of land mass at its Villages of Lakewood Ranch.

Read that again, and let it sink in.

The Villages of Lakewood Ranch would have fewer housing units on greater acreage — to be precise, 59% of the housing units that Longboat Key has on acreage that is 74% greater than the acreage of Longboat Key.

Not only that, Schroeder-Manatee is proposing that its development would be completed in three phases over 20 to 25 years. That’s just as long as it took for Longboat Key to reach its current state of near buildout. Which is to say, it’s not as if SMR is proposing an over-night rush of construction that would swamp Sarasota County’s infrastructure.

And yet, here’s the amazing thing: As usual, Sarasota County officialdom, including its anti-growth, anti-business planning commission (which is stacked with statists and a few faux business people) has been throwing up every obstacle it can to keep SMR from exercising its rights to improve and develop what it owns.

More amazing still: SMR has spent more than $2 million and 10 YEARS (!!!) trying to create a development plan that would generate an economic return for its owners and at the same time conform to what we’ve always known to be unworkable, irrational and confiscatory — the county’s disastrous 2050 plan.

SMR Chief Executive Officer Rex Jensen summarized this tortuous (and tortious?) process in his letter to the County Commission Monday after the county attorney surprised SMR with a last-minute obstacle a week ago:

“To receive a memorandum like that of 4/22/10 the very week of our hearing (when you consider that the DRI application was filed AFTER the effective date of the proportionate share law) is highly suspicious.

“This law has been on the books for three years, and you have approved other development orders with similar language under similar circumstances.

“We will have no choice but to conclude that a different process for this application presages a desire not to have this project occur.”

Jensen was being polite. If you know Jensen, you can imagine what he really wanted to say.

All of this is so typical of Sarasota. Its myopic residents don’t want growth. Mind you, it’s OK for them to have moved here and caused more roads to be built and more public services to be delivered, but heaven forbid, the county cannot allow “sprawl” east of Interstate 75 to let anyone else in. So it puts up boundaries and bureaucratic obstacles to stop growth.

Then it decides that ranchettes are inefficient and not a good use of land. So its statist politicians adopt — after more than five years of building a horse by committee — the infamous 2050 plan, which allegedly was designed to encourage (hah!) developers to create compact villages.

The plan is so confiscatory, however, large landowners have almost no economic incentive to build villages. The Turner family, for instance, figured out it would lose development rights on more than half of its 10,000 acres to build a village, a concept that developers don’t know whether consumers will even buy.

So it worked! There’s not one village.

And then, even when SMR wanted to build a village, the county’s demands brought SMR’s executives within inches on numerous occasions of abandoning their plans.

All of this is even more bizarre when you consider the irony at play. Sarasota County and the city of Sarasota, like nearly every government jurisdiction in America, are starving for money. Their tax bases are shrinking. They need more sources of tax revenue to feed their insatiable bureaucratic beasts. But they’re suffering through a devastating recession that has left 13% of Sarasota’s population unemployed.

What can they do? Raise taxes? That would be political suicide at this moment. Worse, higher taxes would
only make the economy worse.

The only answer: population growth.

More people create more demand for goods and services, more businesses, more jobs and more tax revenues. More people will give consumers more and less-expensive choices.

If Sarasota County commissioners would look back over the past 20 years and think about what has had the most positive economic impact on Greater Sarasota, the answer is obvious: Lakewood Ranch.

This extraordinary planned community begat jobs and begat more consumer choices. It begat the Benderson retail centers at University and I-75, which begat the new rowing center. Lakewood Ranch made our community better, not worse.

Get a grip, Sarasota County. Look in the mirror and face the fact that, if you continue your ways, you are choking yourself to economic death.

+ Wider sidewalks on Main
Mozaic restaurant owner John Anderson has a good idea — widening the sidewalks in the 1300 block of Main Street along restaurant row to accommodate outdoor dining and strolling pedestrians.
Sarasota city officials appear amenable to looking into the feasibility, though there are considerable doubts about whether the widening could be accomplished in conjunction with the installation of an underground water line from June 1 to June 30.

City officials are doubtful they can shepherd the idea through the government-approval process in time to meet the water-line schedule. And there are many questions to be answered:

• Thirteen of 14 businesses in that block signed petitions endorsing the widening, but what does the public say?

• How would the widening be financed — with tax-increment funds, Downtown Improvement District funds?

• What will be some of the consequences of widening? Who, for instance, would be required to maintain the cleanliness of the widened sidewalk — the business owners or the city?

To be sure, tearing up that block of Main Street twice would be costly. Doing the water line and widening at once makes the most sense.

Why not delay the water line?

City officials have expended great efforts to coordinate with contractors the timing of a downtown parking garage, the water line on Main and a roundabout at Five Points.

But you know the saying: Stuff happens. Life often requires flexibility.

Another cliche: Where there is a will, there is a way.

This idea is worth the extra effort.

+ Etc. …
Let’s hope it’s a lesson learned, and a new practice is added to the procedure manual. We’re referring to the lack of notification for residents of Harbor Acres, who found out almost too late that the city and county were about to convert a vacant parcel in their neighborhood into a park. A dispute over the park and lack of notification erupted after a Hudson Bayou property owner nominated the Harbor Acres lot for purchase by the county. “It was an act to preserve greenspace,” the resident said. Here’s a better way for that: Do what entrepreneur Ben Price did on Longboat Key. To keep a lot across the street from his home vacant, he bought it and now maintains it as a private park. … Re: Siesta Key Beach trash. It’s unrealistic to expect a rubbish-free beach if trash cans are placed primarily at the entrances and exits to the beach. Humans are humans. As long as they can bring food to the beach, they will litter. Here’s the choice: Place sufficient rubbish cans on the beach or staff the beach with litter cops to write tickets and arrest violators. We’ll take the cans.

At a Glance
The following is a snapshot of what Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is proposing to develop on its 5,500-acre Villages of Lakewood Ranch:
PHASE I: 2,032 dwelling units; 252,000 square feet of retail/commercial/office uses; 20,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial uses; 40,000 square feet of public/civic uses; an elementary school.
PHASE II: 1,581 dwelling units.
PHASE III: 1,531 dwelling units; 8,000 square feet of commercial/retail/office; 50,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial uses; 40,000 square feet of public/civic uses.

Crist Unveiled
As you would expect, Gov. Charlie Crist’s hometown newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, weighed in on the travails of its hometown boy. In last Sunday’s edition, the Times published a 1,600-word exposition entitled, “The Rise and Fall of Charlie Crist.”

It was a good read. But it could have been told in only 73 words — those of the former Florida Republican Party chairman, Tom Slade of Jacksonville. Slade summarized Crist’s career quite succinctly for the Times:

“He got elected education commissioner and spent the entire time running for attorney general. He got to be attorney general and spent the entire time running for governor. When he got to be governor, he spent the first two years running for vice president and the last two running for the United States Senate,’’ said Slade. “Finally the electorate says enough is enough. We want someone in government that cares more about us than him.”



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