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Population growth spawns prosperity. Development comes with it.

Anyone who lives in Florida, full or part time, and thinks they have the right to keep others from having what you have is delusional. Don’t like it? Go back to New Jersey.

  • Sarasota
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They oppose the proposed Obsidian on Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota. A Planning Board member says it doesn’t “feel” right. Residents complain it will be too tall.

They oppose 1,200 residential units and mixed use on the site of the eyesore Sarasota Square Mall. They say it will generate too much traffic.

They adamantly oppose hotels being built in Siesta Key Village. The Village is already overcrowded, say the opponents.

They don’t want any more bars on Main Street or its adjacent streets. The nighttime noise is too much for the people who bought condos next to the city’s longtime nightclub and bar hub.

Same old, same old. 

For 100 years, the Florida story has been the same: It’s growing in population and typically, growing faster than most other states. And once the Northerners move here, they want to use the law and ordinances to stop other people from moving in next to them. 

Hello? Anyone who moves here with the expectation that the spit of sand you bought was going to be immune from the effects of population growth is, well, delusional.

This is reality: Traffic will continue to increase; more development is going to occur.

But here is their “but”: “But we need to control the growth.”

That is, all of the NIMBYs want their local governments to adopt more obstacles and must-do’s to make it more difficult and more expensive so as to scare away development or restrict the number of units that can be built.

How has that strategy worked? Just look at Sarasota. The downtown, waterfront condos look magnificent. But they are affordable for the wealthy few.

The price of housing for the working classes even in many of the older, interior single-family neighborhoods is so high that middle-class working families essentially are poor. They’re living paycheck to paycheck, always struggling and stressed over how they will avoid falling into a financial abyss. One health care catastrophe away.

What’s more, baby boomers know well that high city housing costs drive working people to the suburbs and far away places (e.g. North Port, Parrish) that are less expensive, but require driving long distances to work, creating more traffic, spewing more emissions from the cars and spending less time with their families.

It’s difficult for people to realize it, but over the past decade there has been a change among Florida developers. Prior to submitting plans at City Hall, they are now meeting with neighbors to gauge what would fit and be feasible. They are more amenable to neighborhood input than in the past.

But at the same time, neighborhood residents should keep property rights in mind — the notion everyone has the right to put their property to their benefit so long as that does not harm their neighbor. Likewise, every developer is also expected to conform to a jurisdiction’s codes.

It’s not a matter of whether a proposed development “feels” out of step with people’s tastes and wishes; it’s a question of whether it conforms to a jurisdiction’s written rules (which also shall not be so burdensome as to deny an owner the benefits of what they own).

So to the opponents of the Obsidian: If it’s not the Obsidian, there will be a development there one day. And you can be sure it will be taller than the Bay Plaza condos. You can either go with the Obsidian, a signature architectural landmark, or, be assured, an ordinary rectangular box will arise — and likely be a forever disappointment.

To the opponents of the 1,200 residential apartments and mixed use at Sarasota Square Mall: All across America, developers are converting eyesore, vacant malls into attractive, beneficial  mixed-use developments. 

Study after study and report after report have shown that such developments, which often include parks and recreational space, generate less traffic than a shopping mall (where cars and trucks are going in and out at least 14 hours a day.) What’s more, the new mixed-use developments turn a deteriorating drag on surrounding properties into rising property values for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Back in 2010, when the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s owners proposed a $400 million expansion, Florida economist Hank Fishkind presented to the Town Commission multiple examples of how successful commercial and residential developments, once built, enhanced surrounding property values to a greater extent than prior to their development.

Now think of your own case and where you live. You chose your residence because of the pleasure and utility it would bring you — presumably better than, say, living in the hell of Taxachusetts or New Jersey. You came here and, presumably, have contributed positively — creating jobs, helping a business serve its customers, volunteering to help the less fortunate.

Should elected rulers have rejected the man, woman or company who developed your former scrub-land into a neighborhood? Should that developer have been denied improving the value of their property and constructing homes for you and others to enjoy? 

If the Obsidian is denied, who is to say there would not be a tragic loss — say, the denial of residence for a couple that in time would contribute $50 million, $100 million for the benefit of Sarasota? 

If the Sarasota Square apartments are denied, who is to say we would not have gained a valuable nurse, police officer or teacher, all of whose lives, presumably, would improve while they simultaneously contribute to the betterment of where we live? A thriving middle class is essential to an economically and socially vibrant community.

So many Florida residents — in fact, it’s true all over the United States — refuse to accept the economic and social truth that British economist Sir William Petty concluded after studying London’s population growth in the 1660s: “Fewness of population is real poverty.” Or, conversely, population growth is essential to the flourishing of prosperity.

There are two simple solutions to these debates over development and housing affordability.

  • If you don’t want the Obsidian or a mixed-use development Sarasota Square Mall, the easiest solution of all is this: Buy the property. Own it yourself and keep it vacant.
  • To solve the seemingly intractable problem of housing affordability, it’s Econ 101: Supply and demand. At present, demand for urban and near-urban workforce housing far outstrips supply. 



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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