A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Flawed Process Erodes Neighborhood Goodwill

The City of Sarasota Planning Board approved a new Goodwill Supercenter following a flawed process that had neighbors who support Goodwill pleading for more answers. By a 3-2 vote the board gave a green light to a new 30,000 square foot facility on the North Trail even though 1) Goodwill declined to hold a neighborhood workshop, 2) the information available to public on-line was inadequate and possibly inaccurate, and 3) City legal counsel essentially told the board that a proposal need not meet all the criteria they are required to use when evaluating a project. 

No Neighborhood Workshop. City staff testified that they had advised Goodwill to meet with neighbors, but no neighborhood workshop was held. Had there been one, many of the concerns raised by the public might have been addressed. But, somewhat ironically, an operation named Goodwill took a pass and has wandered off in the direction of ill will. They are not starting off on the right foot.

Packet materials not available online. The error of not meeting with neighbors was compounded by another mistake, possibly the city's.The  information available online did not include a plan view of the site and many documents alluded to in the testimony could not be accessed by clicking on the link attached to the agenda item. Can you believe there was no map that showed the site with the proposed building!? That meant citizen testimony was based on information that differed from what City staff and possibly the Planning Board were contemplating. If you ask me (and no one has) the City should be required to post the complete, most current information packet online at least 24 hours before a hearing. Failure to do so seems tantamount to not advertising a hearing properly. 

No need to meet criteria. In order to approve the project, the Board had to find the proposal in compliance with seven provisions of the NT (North Trail) zoning district. That included Whether the proposed development, design, and layout has preserved the natural features and characteristics of the land; including but not limited to the regard given to large trees, . . . According the documents attached to the meeting packet, 77% of the trees are slated for removal. 

Personally, I don't see how you can remove three quarters of the trees from a site and claim to have met this criterion, but the City's legal counsel had a solution. According to his reasoning, the project apparently doesn't have to meet all the individual criteria, just meet them "on balance". 

So if the City encountered a lifeboat bobbing about with seven people and six were in great shape (100%) and one was dead (0%) they could radio back that they found the life boat and, on balance, everyone was in good condition (600 divided by 7 = 85.7%).

In response to my objections, a representative of the applicant came forward during rebuttal and said at least two of the trees I made particular mention of were being saved. But the public still has no way of knowing if that is true or not. And it is not clear how remaining questions regarding access (a DOT issue) are to be resolved because the Planning Board was the last stop -- this matter does not need to be approved by the City Commission. 

The owner of the parcel (no doubt channeling President Bush's enthusiastic endorsement of "Brownie") claimed "We landscaped the heck out of it" while the audience sat with dropped jaws staring at two giant monitors that displayed the following image:

This stark view with a smattering of palms (and some Ixora?) makes Family Dollar look luxuriant.

While there were a few NIMBY arguments, most citizens raised legitimate concerns about noise, traffic, impact on the environment and CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) a term the project architect had never heard of.

I was there to talk about the trees and, without any prior conspiring, Gretchen Serrie also mentioned the noteworthy pines on the site. While doing research I learned that the only "grand trees" in the City are Live Oaks.* Pines need not apply. That means the South Florida Slash Pine on the Caples lawn, a specimen with no known superior anywhere on the planet, would not be considered a grand tree by the city. This travesty is compounded by the fact that anyone can grow a grand Live Oak in 30 years, while the pines on the site might be five times that age. More evidence of the City's cluelessness regarding our arboreal resources.

Some of the magnificent pines on the site seen by an estimated 40,000 people a day.
We still don't  know which of these will be protected and the Planning Board didn't bother to find out.
Special recognition is due Chris Gallagher and Susan Chapman who recognized the need for more information and were outvoted. 

The public has been treated very poorly in this process because of the lack of a workshop and inadequate posting of information, and it would appear the trees may be treated worse. We still don't know. 
Grand tree: A Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) or similar nomenclature for species, consisting of a tree and its root system whose single trunk or combined trunk DBH size is 24 inches (addition of all trunk DBH for a multi trunk tree) or greater.

If the grand tree regulations only pertain to one species, wouldn't honesty dictate that they call it the Grand Live Oak program? Otherwise it leads the public to believe there is some protection program in place to protect old, large, venerable, acclaimed, or otherwise noteworthy trees. As mentioned above, Live Oaks are fast growers. Read on for an image of a Live Oak planted in the mid-80's.

Substantial Live Oak planted in the mid-80s as a sapling on the New College Campus.

Trunk of Live Oak shown above. This tree is less than 30 years old.
A slash pine this diameter could easily be five times as old, but would have
no special protection in the City of Sarasota.