The biggest question at the standing-room-only STOP! Town Hall Meeting Thursday, September 22 at the Selby Library was this:
How on earth did a monstrous building like the Vue gain public approval?
The simple answer is that it didn’t.
And it didn’t because, unbelievably, it did not need public approval at all.
As Kate Lowman put it, “Administrative review gave us the Vue.”
This exclusion of a public voice regarding development is behind the formation of STOP! (a community-based organization of Sarasota citizens). In order to “preserve our quality of life,” four City Master Plan & Zoning Code changes are sought:
- Wider sidewalks with room for greenspace;
- Realistic traffic studies;
- Reintroduction of opportunities for public input during the review process; and
- Prevention of expanding the administrative review process beyond the downtown into neighborhoods.
(More information at forqualityprogress.com)
Over the course of an hour, four speakers offered details that explained how The Vue and other downtown development projects came to be.
Kate Lowman, who serves as a steering committee member, described how in 2003 new city zoning codes, inspired by the principles of New Urbanism, aimed to create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly downtown. But this effort was undermined when a lawsuit by Argus was settled by replacing a public review process with a purely administrative review process. Without any opportunity for public input, approval for development was guaranteed as long as a proposal met the zoning codes.
Mike Lasche, a bicycle and pedestrian advocate argued that “walkability” must mean more than a mere possibility that a person could walk a path. He suggested that walking is a form of transport that should be safe, viable, shaded, conspicuous, and even convivial.
Eileen Normile, former city commissioner, explained that the use of arcane traffic impact formulas result in developers (e.g., those of the new Quay project) escaping any amount of “concurrency fees.” What is needed, she argued, are realistic traffic studies.
Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, former planning board member, contrasted the public process of development approval (that includes 3 closed and 3 open steps) with the abbreviated administrative process that makes no room for public input at all.
STOP! is clearly onto something here. Anyone who attempts to walk by The Vue or new construction sites near Fruitville or First Street can experience first hand how truly pedestrian and bicycle un-friendly these sites are. It’s like walking through a concrete tunnel with traffic racing nearby.
So, the points made at the September 22nd meeting clearly resonated with the 200 plus people who attended, and the four speakers were informed and informative.
But as political scientists, we would like to suggest several questions for STOP! to consider as it moves forward. Continue reading “The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)”