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Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2020 1 year ago

Sarasota City Commission District 3: Rob Grant

Meet the candidate.

Name: Rob Grant

Age: 48

Family: Flo, my wife, and I live in Arlington Park Neighborhood. We enjoy visiting our families in Sarasota, Tampa and Fort Myers.

Bio: Although not a Sarasota native (born in Tampa), I have always considered Sarasota my hometown since attending Sarasota High School and graduating in 1990. I moved to Washington, D.C., to attend American University. 

After college, I landed a job working as a writer that culminated in a fast-paced experience as a wire service reporter for a Dow Jones news service. I was there when the tech bubble burst in 2000 and covered a wide range of business sectors.

Missing Sarasota, I returned in 2003 to a bustling and growing city with an itch to get involved in the business world and found I had a knack for accounting. Today, I use those skills and knowledge to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations prepare for the challenges they face in a constantly changing business landscape.

I live on Floyd Street in Arlington Park neighborhood with my wife, Flo, who has lived in Sarasota for more than 30 years and owns a personal training business. We love living in Arlington Park and never plan on leaving this beautiful neighborhood. 

Why are you running for office?

District 3, which comprises diverse neighborhoods stretching from Arlington Park on the south to Bobby Jones Golf Club on the north, has some unique challenges that require thoughtful and committed leadership. Much of the vacant land that is available for development in the city is in our district, and I intend to make sure the voice of the people is heard as decisions are made about future growth, as these decisions affect everything from housing costs and job opportunities to transportation and infrastructure.

I am a founding member of the Preserve Arlington Park Neighborhood committee, which was formed in response to several proposed large-scale developments adjacent to the Arlington Park Neighborhood. I have spent many hours reading background materials and attending meetings with neighbors, developers, city commissioners and staff, so that misguided, overzealous development does not impact residents’ access to services and a high quality of life. As a member of that committee, I realized the only way to have an effective voice and make a difference for neighborhoods is to have a seat at the table.

I am here to work for the people and protect the character and integrity of our neighborhoods. I have already been working for the neighborhoods, which will continue to be my No. 1 priority while I am a city commissioner.

If elected, what will be your top three priorities during your term? 

  1. Seek a comprehensive update to the city’s zoning code to provide predictability for neighborhoods and developers. This is especially important to District 3 because much of the vacant land that is available for development in the city is in our district;
  2. Address community concerns through public safety reforms that include anti-racist policies and improved hiring and training for police officers. As the son of a retired police officer, I will always support our first responders to ensure their safety and happiness as well; and
  3. Establish a long-term budget planning process. Homelessness, housing costs, jobs and economic growth, mental health, and addiction — none of these issues are going away, but the city will have to figure out how to address them with the funds available. Another strength I will bring to the City Commission is my accounting and finance management experience at a time when the city’s budget will require careful attention in the face of economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do you think the city is being managed and governed? What would you recommend be done differently?

Overall, I would rate it as average. As a voter, the thing I want to see most are proactive commissioners that take a hands-on and collaborative role with the city manager. As a commissioner, I will hold city management and staff accountable for the policy we make to ensure the voice of the voters is reflected in city operations and services.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being excellent, how would you rate the performance of the city manager? 

As a voter, I would rate Barwin a 6. My biggest concern is that sometimes it appears city management and staff are attempting to implement policy or ignore the direction given to them by the commission. For instance, staff was directed to research the setbacks issue nine months ago but no action has been seen. 

However, should I become a city commissioner, I do not want to begin a collaborative working relationship from an adversarial perspective. Being a city manager is a very demanding job, and I will start by offering Barwin the benefit of the doubt. What will matter to me most is his performance once I become a commissioner.

What should be done to address the supply of workforce housing?

The city needs to fill the position created to manage an affordable housing strategy. The next step is to establish a workable and clear definition of workforce/attainable/affordable housing. Often the rental rates proposed by developers and backed by city staff do not match with how real people live. Finally, we need to attract developers that are committed to building workforce/attainable/affordable housing using creative designs that are compatible with Sarasota neighborhoods. 

Do you support creating a special tax-increment financing district near the Bay Park to help finance the $200 million project? If not, how do you think the park renovation should be funded?

Yes, I do support the special tax-increment financing for the Bay Park project and have confidence in the Bay Conservancy’s ability to fulfill its commitments. While the project will serve as a regional asset to help attract visitors, it also will be a park for residents from the entire city. This is an example of how the city and county can work together.

The Van Wezel Foundation is supporting the development of a new performing arts center at the Bay Park. What’s your view of that, and how do you think a center should be financed?

It is difficult to discuss a potential new performing arts center in the midst of a pandemic that could change how we access the performing arts for the next few years and possibly longer. I cannot see any funds in the city’s budget for such a project right now, and any proposal would need to be carefully scrutinized.

Bobby Jones Golf Club: Do you agree with the commission’s most recent decision to downsize to 27 holes of golf and a 130-acre park? If not, what would you propose differently?

I support the decision. The city should move quickly to establish a conservation easement on the entire property and then implement the plan as funding becomes available. This might be more challenging in the near term, given recent economic uncertainties, but we cannot keep reconsidering plans. The residents in that part of District 3 have been frustrated with the lack of access to green and park space. It is time for those residents to have easily accessible park space nearby like other Sarasota neighborhoods, rather than having to drive 15-20 minutes.

Where do you stand on the roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41?

I lived in Washington, D.C., for 10 years, and there are many roundabouts, so I know they work. Once construction is completed the traffic congestion should ease, giving us another proven tool to improve transportation and connectivity in the city.

The STOP group wanted the city to require public review hearings for large development projects in the city instead of administrative reviews by the city staff. What’s your position on that?

I do not support administrative review in its current form and would like to see changes that include public input in the downtown core. Administrative review serves a purpose in some cases but not for large scale, intense developments that have a significant impact in the public realm. Residents deserve the opportunity to play a role in their own built environment.

Many people have complained about all the condos and apartments being developed with little setbacks. If elected, will you initiate a change to the city’s zoning?

Public input is essential to the planning process. One adjustment I would like to see is moving that input from the middle of the development review process back to the creative design process. This might mitigate the contentiousness we have seen by allowing all stakeholders a role at the beginning that helps create ownership and pride in a project. Good planning starts at the beginning with the generation of the idea.

The transportation concerns of the city’s barrier islands don’t always mesh with those of downtown and other portions of the city. What’s the best way to align those competing concerns?

Communication and compromise. The best way to be good neighbors is to talk and try to understand each other’s point of view. 

What are your suggestions on a new home for the orchestra? 

I thought the idea to build on Fruitville Rosad near East Avenue had merit, but it is my understanding the orchestra didn’t see it as a good candidate. As a working member of the arts community, I am supportive of the orchestra’s need to build a new facility and establish a permanent home in the city. I am committed to helping the orchestra’s leadership as they continue the search.

If proposed by a commissioner, would you vote in favor of putting a referendum on the ballot to create an elected mayor form of government? If not, why not?

No. I am not sure why a city commissioner would propose such a referendum. The city charter provides a mechanism should the voters want to consider an elected mayor form of government. Voters can require the commission put the referendum on the ballot by submitting a petition signed by 10% of the registered voters in the city. A commissioner who believes in such a referendum could use the petition mechanism to show that consideration of a dramatic governance change is warranted and supported by the public. 

The idea of a strong mayor was put before the city voters three times, and the city voters voted it down. It is somewhat disrespectful of the will of the voters to force this process on them for forth time. Conventional wisdom tells us that a city manager/City Commission form of government works best for municipalities the size of Sarasota. For a community like Sarasota, a strong mayor allows too much room for corruption to flourish.

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