- July 16, 2015
You know the feeling. You have it every time you drive from downtown Sarasota to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and back.
You pass through what everyone knows as “North Trail,” and you wonder: “When will this decaying, time-warp ever change?” … Or: “What a shame that North Trail is the gateway to beautiful Sarasota for visitors heading from the airport to the beach … and this is what they see.”
It has been this way for decades. Little changes.
Sure, Ringling College of Art + Design, the new Goodwill center, Walgreens, CVS, the Walmart grocery, Barnacle Bill’s, Light Up Your Life have improved the extended neighborhood between Fruitville Road and University Parkway.
Others have tried and are still trying — Jay Patel, owner of the Regency Inn & Suites; Marietta Lee, owner of the Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy; and now Elia Rofail. Rofail acquired the 1940s-era Monterey Village Motel at 24th Street and Tamiami Trail and plans to develop a 33-unit, $3 million apartment project.
But over the past 25 years these projects represent just a trickle of new investment and development compared to what has occurred elsewhere. And for good reason. Many, many others have tried on the North Trail, only to be thwarted by small groups of neighbors and vocal no-growthers, or city commissioners who, over the years, have fostered economic stagnation and blight with zoning ordinances that chase away investment.
We say it often: Capital flows where it is welcome. But clearly, it has not been welcomed and is not welcome on North Trail. The economic incentive to risk capital and expect a respectable return on that capital does not exist. All because of restrictive, non-sensical zoning — non-sensical in that it eschews rational marketplace behavior.
Indeed, in spite of their good intentions, when city commissioners adopted a new overlay district in 2013, they intended it to spur redevelopment and new development. But it has been a failure. It has spurred virtually nothing.
“So far, we’ve had only one project take advantage of it,” Gretchen Schneider, the city’s general manager of planning and development, told the Observer’s Alex Mahadevan. Or how about this ringing endorsement of the regulations that govern the overlay district: “The official version online is like reading Chinese,” said Sarasota architect Brent Parker, designer of Rofail’s project.
Rofail and Parker opted not to use the overlay district for increased density because it actually would have made their development less economically viable than if they followed the city’s existing zoning laws. How’s that for irony — a new law designed to make development easier in actuality makes it more difficult. So Sarasota.
Listen to architect Parker. He urges fewer restrictions in the overlay district — what you would expect from a businessman who understands market dynamics. As he told the Observer: “If we start redeveloping with a higher-density housing solution that people can afford to live in, there will be demand for the stores, and the whole thing starts to work.”
The response to Parker’s common-sense, rational, market-oriented logic is predictable. The neighborhood opponents to growth will pull out the old standby: He’s just another greedy developer.
We would hope, however, new city Commissioners Liz Alpert and Shelli Freeland Eddie and Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell — the three who want to move the city forward — would apply the old insanity definition to North Trail: When you do the same thing over and over and expect different results, you still get the same results.
North Trail has changed little in a half-century because city commissioners, city planners and a vocal few have crafted regulations to shape that street in their view of the world.
But if you have observed innovation in America and the process of filling market needs, they never come from a government regulation. Capital flows where it is welcome. Listen to Brent Parker.
Or be even more innovative: Create an overlay district devoid of all of the city’s rules. Give developers a blank slate. Let them propose whatever they think would work, and let commissioners have the final say. One vote, up or down. Be bold.
There was a time, say, starting almost 15 years ago, if you saw Rod Warner approaching or received a phone call from him, you might have reacted as so: Here we go again, another information-packed, eye-glazing, document-laden pitch for roundabouts in Sarasota.
It’s probably safe to say Warner, who died last week, knew more about the region’s road and highway network — present and future plans — than anyone, more than even those whose job it is to know regional transportation.
And the great thing was Warner became this region’s leading advocate for sensible road management and planning on his own — as a volunteer and someone who wanted to make Sarasota a better place.
Rod Warner made a difference. A big difference.
He changed the mindset of this community from being vocal opponents and skeptics of roundabouts to one that is embracing them as efficient traffic-relievers.
Some people may roll their eyes at Warner’s vision of a stretched-out necklace of 11 roundabouts on U.S. 41 from University Parkway to Orange Avenue. Warner believed they would become as iconic as the Ringling Bridge.
He proved the skeptics wrong before with his indefatigable persistence, easygoing demeanor and ever-present smile. A fitting tribute and legacy would be Warner’s vision fulfilled. That would really make him smile.
For anyone with half of a brain, what evidence is there anywhere, any time to convince the world the Iranian terrorist regime will abide by the Obama-Kerry-Iran nuclear “agreement”?
Mind you, this “agreement” is with the nation whose president, Hasan Rouhani, marched in full public view a week ago in the Iranian regime’s annual “Death to America,” “Death to Israel” parade.
Ask yourself: Why do the Iranians need a nuclear bomb? To be promoters of peace?
Let your congressmen, especially Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, an Obama supporter, know what you think of the deal. Nelson should be reminded he is serving Floridians and the national interest, not the president, nor the Democratic Party. — Ed.
Sen. Bill Nelson
“First thing is to not tear down this agreement before the ink is even dry, before we even read it. Congress has a role now, by law, and it’s to thoroughly scrutinize the details of the agreement. We’re not going to approve something that doesn’t keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons and doesn’t give us the ability to inspect and verify that Iran abides by all the terms.”
Sen. Marco Rubio
“I have said from the beginning of this process that I would not support a deal with Iran that allows the mullahs to retain the ability to develop nuclear weapons, threaten Israel and continue their regional expansionism and support for terrorism. Based on what we know thus far, I believe that this deal undermines our national security. President Obama has consistently negotiated from a position of weakness, giving concession after concession to a regime that has American blood on its hands, holds Americans hostage, and has consistently violated every agreement it ever signed.”
Rep. Vern Buchanan
“If Putin likes the Iran deal, how can it be good?” (His tweet)
HOW TO REACH THEM
• Sen. Bill Nelson – 202-224-5274
• Sen. Marco Rubio – 202-224-3041
• Rep. Vern Buchanan – 202-225-5015