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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lido Beach: "Critically Eroded"?

No doubt about it. There are some places on Lido Beach that could use some more sand. There's a scarp near that groin in the center of the island (below), and then there's those two buildings near the south end that project much further west than their neighbors are dealing with a pretty minimal beach.

Erosion scarp next to groin. Lido Beach.

These two buildings were probably built too far seaward.

But overall, is Lido Beach in bad shape? Based on a recent walk, I'd say no (see photo below), but the State of Florida Department of Environmental Regulation begs to differ.

Image from the center of Lido Key. Many places in the US would love to have a beach like this.

In June of 2012, not that long ago, DEP updated their publication CRITICALLY ERODED BEACHES IN FLORIDA. I'm assuming the term "updated" meant that it was up to date.

Here's their definition of critically eroded: Critically eroded area is a segment of the shoreline where natural processes or human activity have caused or contributed to erosion and recession of the beach or dune system to such a degree that upland development, recreational interests, wildlife habitat, or important cultural resources are threatened or lost. Critically eroded areas may also include peripheral segments or gaps between identified critically eroded areas which, although they may be stable or slightly erosional now, their inclusion is necessary for continuity of management of the coastal system or for the design integrity of adjacent beach management projects.

So according to DEP 23.9 miles of Sarasota County Gulf beaches are critically eroded. And .4 miles are non-critically eroded. So 98.35% of our beaches are critically eroded. Ninety-eight point thirty-five percent. Kind of takes some of the meaning out of the term doesn't it?

In other words, according the the State of Florida, a beach does not have to be critically eroded, or even eroded, to be deemed critically eroded. It could be growing. And that's reassuring, because they were characterizing North Lido as critically eroded.

Here's what the report says about North Lido: The north end of Lido Key fronting on New Pass is a critically eroded inlet shoreline area (R31, east 1500 feet) for 0.3 mile. Nearly all of Lido Key (R31-R44.5) has critically eroded beach that has threatened private development and recreational interests along 2.4 miles. Beach restoration has been conducted along the island and maintenance dredging material has been obtained from the federal navigation channel at New Pass.

Which is interesting because North Lido, out at the end of John RIngling Blvd. is wider now than I can remember it being in 43 years. I would say it was critically eroded when waves lapped at the rocks north of the parking area. But now you could rent camels to get people out to the water since it is about 650' from the parking lot to the Gulf shore.

This image from January of 2012 presumably represents the "eroded" condition of North Lido reported in the DEP document.

So when you read that Lido Beach is "critically eroded", take it with a grain of salt. Or sand.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ten More Questions about the Corps' "Hole in the Shoal" Proposal

I may have been a little hasty in assuming there were only ten top questions about this project. Here are ten more that need to be asked (and answered):

11. Has the City of Sarasota or the Corps of Engineers been cooperating and collaborating with Sarasota County on this project? If so, how, when, and to what extent?

12. Have there ever been any hearings on this project? (We are unaware of any County or City hearings. Did the Corps ever hold hearings?) Implicit in this question is whether any fifty-year multi-million dollar contract should be entered into by the City without public hearings. 

13. There has been recent contention between the City and County regarding jurisdiction over new dredging projects within the City. This was believed to only affect a proposed navigation channel at the end of 45th Street. It is now clear the resolution could affect this project. What is the status of this jurisdictional dispute? 

14.What are the exact City and County boundaries in the vicinity of Big Pass and out into the Gulf?

15. Has this project subverted or derailed the previous pattern of alternating sharing of New Pass sand between Lido and Longboat beaches? 

16. How does the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan address dredging in previously undredged locales and adding hardening structures to beaches? Does the County Plan apply in municipalities?

17. Does South Lido Park have any covenants or management plan restrictions that would affect the placement of groins?

18. How do we reconcile the discrepancy between the recommended locations in the Corps proposal, which differs from the County's adopted Inlet Management Plan?

19. The state beach management plan mentions "offshore sources". How can the Corps claim their proposal is congruent with the state plan if it would be taking sand from the ebb tidal shoal and not offshore? 

20. Does the model the Corps is using predict the existence and movement of Sand Dollar Island, which is important both recreationally and for wildlife? If not, why not? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Image that Inspired Jono's "Hole in the Shoal" Column

The Sarasota Herald Tribune was kind enough to run my guest column on October 27th, but it did not run with the Google Earth image that inspired the piece. reproduced below is my column with the Google Earth image. 


Watching the suspenseful lost-in-space movie, Gravity, I felt guilty at times -- abandoning the tense plot to stare at our wondrous planet. With borders erased and most human works minimized, it's so very easy to appreciate the sublime character of Earth. That got me wondering about what natural phenomena in Sarasota look spectacular from space, so I fired my laptop spaceship, Google Earth, and gazed down at Florida.  

The Gulf shoreline and darker “Myakka Island” area make Sarasota County easy to find. But being recognizable is not the same as being beautiful. I love the two Myakka lakes, but from space they are dark, potato-shaped blobs. Our beaches, which are so dramatic on the ground, are mostly fine white lines from space. The only naturally gorgeous natural phenomena I see are the two luminous, sinuous tongues of sand to the north and south of Lido Key. These are the so-called ebb tidal shoals of New Pass and Big Pass – glowing pale green flames flickering in a blue sea.

The Big Pass shoal is particularly striking. Two miles long, it departs from South Lido Park starting out wide and then turns and narrows in a reverse S curve, sheltering the north end of Siesta Key. Our other passes have been straitjacketed or bridged, but Big Pass remains wild and powerful  -- the juxtaposition of massive quantities of water and sand reshaping each other in a daily dance -- a place where the raw power of the Gulf can still be easily appreciated. Boaters and bathers need to be attentive and respectful.

These shoals are the result of two forces in dynamic tension. As the result of currents and winds, sand is generally moving from north to south along the Gulf shore. Meanwhile tides are surging in and out of the passes. The inhalation and exhalation of the bays sucks some sand into flood tidal shoals, and blows other sand out to ebb tidal shoals. Despite these distortions in flow, the sand keeps moving and the north-to-south trend is evident in the southward-bending shape of the shoals. While some of the sand lingers in the shoals, other sand continues on – so, metaphorically, some of Lido’s sand today was Longboat’s yesterday, and will be Siesta’s tomorrow.

The shallow shoals dissipate wave energy, which is why we see waves breaking on them. So in addition to passing some sand along to the next island, they shelter the shore in their lee, creating calmer areas that can lead to the accumulation of sand. In the passes this sheltering effect is contradicted by the force of water flowing in and out, but as the tidal flow is distributed, the wave shadow effect becomes more noticeable. So the shoals are doing at least three things: passing sand along, dissipating wave energy (sheltering areas of the shore), and thereby allowing for sand accumulation.

The competing forces that shape the shoals are so complicated (and so subject to random catastrophic events) that it requires extremely complicated and memory-intensive computer programs to even approximate pass behavior. There are very few people qualified to assess the predictive ability of these computer models. That doesn’t matter when the models are solely academic exercises meant to increase understanding of our barrier islands and passes.

But when people start using such models to make decisions about our beaches, then you want to make sure you understand the risks involved. Right now the City of Sarasota and the Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to remove more than 43 million cubic feet of sand from the Big Pass shoal. That’s going to create a big hole in the shoal. They want to put it on Lido Beach (and add three rock groins). The proponents have concluded, based on computer models, that the only noticeable effect of removing so much sand will be some “minor” increase in wave heights along the Siesta side of the pass.

But their model and conclusions have not been peer-reviewed. Local boaters, elected officials, homeowners, and other citizens do not have the training to assess how reliable these models are, so the only hope of objective interpretation of the risk to the shoal, and consequently the Siesta side of Big Pass, North Siesta Key and Siesta Beach lies in getting qualified experts to weigh in.

Did I mention Siesta Beach could be affected? The dramatically-wide Siesta Beach famed for its fine, blinding-white sand and gentle, family-friendly slope – our most popular park – the beach named the number one beach in the country in 2011.

Anyway, the City and the Corps are not currently planning on any peer-review (or any public hearings) on their hole-in-the-shoal proposal that will cost $23 million dollars and require a 50-year commitment with the Federal government. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Top Ten Questions People Should be asking about the City of Sarasota Proposal to Dredge Big Pass

The City and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are very deep into a project that would involve removing sand from the Big Pass ebb tidal shoal and placing it on Lido Key. 

The Big Pass shoal has never been dredged, primarily because of understandable fears of impacting Siesta Key and Siesta Beach.

There are a number of significant unanswered questions. 

1 Where's the peer review?  The County's generic inlet management plan has been peered review but this particular proposal has not. Why not? There are a number of very technical calculations and assumptions involved that only independent experts can fairly assess. (And there's some question that the peer reviews cannot be interpreted as open-ended endorsement of what is being proposed).

2 Where's the public hearing/input? The Corps alludes to public hearings held in either 1999, 2002, or 2004. That's their excuse for not having hearings now. We need to get the records both of those hearings and how they were advertised. 

Beyond that, it is an insult to current citizens to allude to meetings held a decade or more ago as meeting the need for public participation. Not only has Lido Beach changed, but so has our understanding of rising sea level, the ability of the state and federal government to pay for such projects, and even the appropriateness of such roles.

While they are not hearings, there will be additional public meetings 5:00 pm Dec.5 at St. Boniface Church on Siesta Key, 9:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Harley Sandscastle and another meeting on Dec. 7th. Don't be taken in, these brief opportunities to speak are NOT public hearings. 

3 Where would the sand that will be filling the hole in the Big Pass shoal have gone without the project? We've known for quite a while that the sand comprising the emergent and submerged portions of our barrier islands is a system and that, because it is a system, adding or subtracting sand anywhere in the system inevitably has other effects. So, conducting a thought experiment, imagine the sand filing the hole created in the shoal. Now ask where that sand might have gone if the hole was not there. If the answer could involve Siesta Key beaches, (or even the shoal that extends offshore of Siesta Key) then you have to conclude the dredging could affect Siesta Key. 

4 How can the project claim to make a big difference for Lido Key and simultaneously make no difference elsewhere? We know the sand comprising the above and below water portions of our barrier islands are a system. The Corps is proposing to excavate 1.3 million cubic yards of sand. A cubic yard is twenty-seven cubic feet. So imagine a box a cubic foot in size and imagine a line of these boxes 35,100,000 boxes long -- if my math is correct -- that is a line of square foot boxes over 6,500 miles long. A lot of sand. And a big hole in the shoal. How can that NOT affect the system?

5 Where's the comprehensive coordinated gulf Shoreline management plan for all of Sarasota County? An adopted inlet management plan is not a Gulf shoreline plan. Allowing the City of Sarasota, Longboat Key, the City of Venice and the County to plan separate approaches to what is one system makes no sense. There are two reasons for this: this first is the interconnectedness of the sand system and the second is explored in 10 below. 

6 How can the Corps of Engineers claim this project is congruent with the state plan when the state plan calls for an offshore send source (and Big Pass is not such a source)? The Corps's representative quoted from a state plan that specifically mentioned "offshore sources". 

7 What are the implications of a 50 year commitment with the federal government? Embarking on this path is a deliberate decision to start an addictive behavior - sand addiction that is supposed to last half a century. I've been told on more than one occasion that commissions should not be binding future commissions. This is the ultimate future bind.

8 How might this project impact Siesta Key, Siesta Beach, and Sand Dollar Island? Put another way: What is the degree of risk  we are willing to accept that Siesta Beach will not be negatively affected? 20% 10% 5%? 

The Corps acknowledges only some "minor" increase in wave heights along Big Pass shorelines. But these reassuring statements are based on some of the most complicated computer models imaginable. That's why professional independent peer review is needed. 

9 Is Lido Key really critically eroded? When was that determination made? The City engineer referred to Lido Key as "fairly eroded". The Corps determined (at some point) that the beach is "critically eroded". Go out and look for yourself.

 Look at the end of John Ringling Causeway at the beach that is more than 600 feet wider that the worst we can remember. Look south of the Pavilion (photo below). And check out the giant plume of sand heading south from New Pass.

South Lido Key gives rise to one of the most dramatic shoals
in all of Southwest Florida.
Click on the image to enlarge.
Is Lido Key "Critically Eroded" as the Corps of Engineers claims?
Click on the image to enlarge.

10 What opportunity costs are associated with moving forward with this particular project? Choosing this project will indirectly and inevitably limit our ability to address other coastal challenges.  

We're talking about a project of only 1.6 miles costing an estimated $22.7 million-- so that would be about $14 million per mile. So approaching all 35 miles of county gulf shoreline in this manner, would cost about $490 million. Add a little inflation or cost overrun and we're talking $500 million. Since that is obviously not viable, moving forward with this project is an implicit choice to work on Lido Key at the expense of other beaches. 

Because of the important role Lido Beach plays in local tourism, that may be entirely appropriate. But the proponents should be frank with the rest of the county and let Longboat Key, South Siesta, Casey Key, Venice, Caspersen and Manasota Key know that this choice may well limit the supply of dollars to address other beach concerns.

While it is true that forgoing this federal money (62.4% of the estimated $22.7 million) will not free up those dollars for other local coastal concerns, it is also true that the federal government, state, and tourist development dollars are not inexhaustible. So while sand-shuffling on Lido is unlikely to affect a locale as far south Venice Beach, dollar-allocating conceivably could.

Bottom line: The City of Sarasota and the Corps are contemplating using stale decisions and an inadequate public process to initiate a fifty-year relationship with the federal government for a questionable project that  has not been peer reviewed and which involves tampering with a submerged supply of sand that has some not-completely understood relationship with the most valuable beach in the County. 

The Corps and the City are attempting to frame this project in the form of an ultimatum: either accept what we are proposing, or "we will have to go back to square one" and start all over. In other words, don't bother to question, improve, modify or adjust what we have come up with. If you do, the feds are taking their $14 million dollar basketball and going home. In light of the current beach condition, the lack of public participation, the absence of peer review, the failure to have a coherent, coordinated plan for ALL our beaches, and the insights we've gained in the last decade about the full scope of our coastal challenges, that is an option worthy of serious consideration. 


You might also be interested in an earlier post on the subject of the Big Pass Shoal.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Term Limited Lame Duck Side Effects Coming Home to Roost?

One newspaper column doesn't constitute vindication -- it barely rises to the level of affirmation, but today's (September 12, 2013) Sarasota Herald Tribune features a front page Jeremy Wallace column "Term limits causing ripples" that

"has some critics wondering if commissioners are more willing to curb public records access, reverse restrictive land-use policies and take on the county administrator without the prospect of having to run for election again.
“It doesn’t look like they are looking at the voters as much,” said Lourdes Ramirez, a community activist from Siesta Key who has been considering running for the County Commission herself."

On October 6th, 2011, I posted a blog I believe . . . term limits for County Commissioners with the following argument against term limits for Sarasota County Commissioners. I argued term limits would:
3) create guaranteed lame ducks with no second term accountability to an electorate, because once they get elected to a second term they need never consider the electorate again. If they are good commissioners they can vote their conscience, but if they are not so good they can act on behalf of their supporters, further their own interests, or generally thumb their nose at the electorate. ( And the whole premise of term limits seems to be based on the proposition that, if not initially rotten, elected officials soon turn towards the dark side.)

In his column Wallace recounts the curious sequence that led to us having four lame duck commissioners at one time. And that no doubt makes the situation more obvious. But I would argue this pattern was likely to emerge even with 60/40 split instead of 80/20. 

Then in November of 2011 I posted another blog Term Limits: Stifling Competition?, hypothesizing what I called Potential Contender Backoff (PCB) [political scientists probably have a real term for this phenomenon] in which I argued 

". . .instead of fostering challenges, two term limits may inadvertently give people a pass on their second term, functionally creating what amounts to an eight year term -- not a great outcome if candidate X is only a mediocre commissioner."

So, I was, and am, predicting that some of the many ramifications of term limits for Sarasota County Commissioners will be fewer, not more, challenges for first term incumbents as well as second term commissioners less responsive to the electorate. 

I'm not saying that will happen in every case, or even that our current commission's behavior is necessarily the result of term limits. But I continue to believe that letting 26,000 primary voters in 1998 determine who 283,189 registered voters vote for County Commissioners in the Twentifirst century was a dangerous and debilitating mistake. And, if I am correct, there will be no pleasure in finding out.
Bottom line: the combination of PCB and lame duck status is likely to make Sarasota County Commissioners more entrenched and less accountable. We can bemoan that this likely outcome was underanticipated, ignored, or otherwise given short shrift, but it was not, contrary to Jeremy's column, unexpected -- it was predicted. 


N.B. I have a total of seven or eight blog postings dealing with term limits (you can search for them), including a strange posting in which I aligned myself with Dave Waechter - proving not only that I am flexible, but fallible too.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Long Bar Pointe and Western Manatee's Mixed-Use Challenge

Well, there's a bunch of us eligible for tee-shirts reading: 


My main accomplishment, aside from staying awake, was being one of the last speakers and not repeating or re-phrasing any previous points.*

It is hard not to sympathize with Carlos Beruff when he pleads for "not another boring subdivision". The alternative apparently is Mixed Use, but despite Commissioner Benac's views to the contrary, I don't think this the Long Bar Point parcel is a very strong candidate for mixed use. You really want Mixed Use associated with significant transit, and definitely not in the Coastal High Hazard Area.

Kudos to Commissioners DiSabatino, Chappie, and Gallen for resisting the siren song.

From a development perspective Mr. Beruff and his partner, Larry Lieberman, have a very challenging (I was tempted to say crummy) parcel -- it is low, it is scrawny, most of the uplands have been trashed, and the coast happens to consist of the most significant, most easily impacted, and tallest mangrove section remaining on Sarasota Bay. But it was the last major hunk of undeveloped property on Sarasota Bay, so you can see its appeal. It has probably remained undeveloped for so long because the significant liabilities meant it would take a blend of clout, capital, vision, and hubris to attempt much of anything other than more McMansions. Enter Carlos Beruff. 

[And I have to say the development to the South of Long Bar is a textbook example of how destructive and sterile this development form can be - sorry IMG, but Legends Bay makes the case for Beruff's vision.].

With the Long Bar Pointe parcel that is pinched between El Conquistador Parkway (shortened to ElCon in the vernacular) and the Kitchen (a reliably productive section of Sarasota Bay), Mr. Beruff was hoping to implement a BOLD vision, but that vision was snatched away August 6th when the Manatee County Commission deleted reference to, and the possibility of, a marina in their approval of Mixed Use.

Mr. Beruff was quoted in the Sarasota Herald Tribune as saying the Hotel (5 or 4 star) depended on the marina (boat slips) that would require a channel through the seagrasses. "Without that water access, Beruff says, the destination hotel just is not feasible." Since it is possible the conference center hinged on the hotel, the entire vision may collapse. Or Mr. Beruff may have more strategy to employ.

The key challenge for environmentalists and those seeking to protect the bay, its Kitchen, and the adjoining seagrasses will be protecting the mangroves. Pruning 40 foot mangroves to 6 feet is a recipe for disaster.

But now that Mixed Use has been approved, the solution to Mr, Beruff's problem is simultaneously obvious, elegant, and quite probably impossible. But let's review it anyway.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The presumption of improper prejudice

I'll probably catch a bunch of crap from people suspicious of my environmental credentials, but I don't really care. The fact is I kind of admire Hugh Culverhouse Jr. He controls a lot of land, which is admirable. And if the best attorneys are those that win, he hires the best attorneys. And he doesn't always fall in with the other big landowner developers around here. 

I wish he'd take a page from Bertha Honore Palmer's sons and Elsa Scherer Burrows and commit to creating a meaningful native habitat connection between Oscar Scherer State Park and the Pinelands Reserve, but there's still time for that.

Mr. Culverhouse has a new bone to pick with Sarasota County. He believes he has unfairly been denied access to the County Commissioners --- access he believes other developers have, or at least have had. The County's attorneys agree he has been denied access, but contend that is for good reason -- to avoid what are known as "ex parte" communications that are inappropriate in "quasi-judicial" decisions. 

Quasi-judicial sounds a little like Elmer Fudd (think quasi wabbit), but refers to what kind of decision is being made. "The function of a quasi-judicial land use hearing is to be judicial-like in only applying the existing adopted regulations or policies to specific development applications, as opposed to the legislative-like creation of new laws or policies." So, as I understand it, if an administrative body is working on broad policy affecting hypothetical situations in the future, that it is legislative (or maybe quasi-legislative), but if what is being proposed involves application of existing laws here and now related to a specific proposal, that would be quasi-judicial.

Back to ex parte. So if it is quasi-judicial, the decision should be based only on testimony presented at the hearing. Thus you can see that having the applicant meet with Commissioners outside of the hearing could color the the Commissioners thinking. Communication outside of the open meetings is "ex parte".

I'm sure attorneys can bill plenty of hours exploring the nuances of all this, but on face value it appears pretty simple: If you are dealing with the application of existing rules to a specific proposed project, it's going to be quasi-judicial, and if you are working on adopting new general policy with broader application it is legislative. 

On July 28, 2013 the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran an editorial "A question of access" discussing all this and came down on the side viewing special meetings with developers regarding rezonings as quasi-judicial.
Last four paragraphs of the Herald Tribune Editorial

But are the two (quasi-judicial and legislative) really that different?

What if instead of one developer seeking a rezoning, two developers team up and seek a comprehensive plan amendment instead that, as a practical matter, only applies to them? Then instead of general policy with broad application we end up arguing about rules that will apply to specific parcels of land -- should people seeking those changes be treated differently than people who only want one thing changed? Couldn't one argue that changes that apply to multiple parcels deserve even more protection from special access that could bias commissioners? 

Or what if one developer wanted to have the Comprehensive Plan changed in a way that only affected their property. That is what a developer is claiming to be doing in Manatee County with a project called Long Bar Pointe

His proposed project does not comply with the existing Manatee County Comprehensive Plan, so he was advised to try to change the plan. And he believes he has laden the proposed changes with so many specifics that, when taken in total, the changes could only apply to his project. The Comprehensive Plan exception would only apply to:

• Water-Related Uses or Water-Enhanced Uses, that also
• demonstrate new, substantial, and material public benefit, that also
• increase public access to the waterfront, that also
• provide appropriate mitigation of impacts by the use of performance or design standards that seek to achieve the objects of the Chapter (of the Comprehensive Plan), and that also
• are large, innovative, mixed use projects, and are
• at least 200 acres in size, and are also
• along a coastal line adjacent to navigable waters, as well as being adjacent to 
• an arterial roadway as shown on the Future Traffic Circulation and Functional Classification Map. 

Now, for the record, some people don't agree that this set of constraints could only apply to one parcel in Manatee County, and they worry that this change would be precedent setting.* Their arguments will probably be brought forward at the hearing Tuesday Aug 6 starting at 1:30 pm at the Bradenton Area Convention Center at 1 Haben Blvd in Palmetto.

But let's assume the developer is correct and these eight conditions in combination could only apply to one parcel. Adopting ostensibly "comprehensive" plans that apply to only one parcel starts seeming a lot more like a specific project that is being discussed than a general policy with broad application. So why might it make sense to allow decisions in that situation to be based on testimony that was provided outside of public purview??

I mean if the principle is that the commissioners should be free to talk with anyone about general policies being proposed with broad application but that dealing with specific parcels and projects requires that the sole basis of the decision be based on testimony provided in open, advertised meetings, why would Comprehensive Plan amendments that only deal with one parcel be treated differently than a re-zoning?


• Some believe the proposed skyway development would qualify, but that section of highway is shown  as limited access (being I-75) and not an arterial. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sleight of Finger?

If you're like me and enjoy professionals who use misdirection and banter to mislead an audience, you should have been at this afternoon's (July 1 2013) Sarasota City Commission meeting. 

Perhaps because I grew up in Jersey, I've always enjoyed the pitchmen at the State Fair and on the Boardwalks (think Ron Popeil) who could get you interested in buying something you really had no need for. Pitchmen like Popeil and Billy Mays relied almost solely on banter (and excited audiences that unknowingly functioned as shills). 

Then there are the magicians, mentalists, and pickpockets who escort your attention somewhere else while the real "magic" is happening precisely where you are not looking.

And then there is a certain class of attorneys who also can use both banter and misdirection to great effect.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Urbanist Andres Duany Returns to Sarasota

Well, Andres Duany has been in town the past few days, escorted around town through a variety of speaking events and site tours, shepherded by a variety of people hoping he won't say something diametrically opposed to their own views on urbanism and dreams for Sarasota.

Duany combines encyclopedic knowledge gleaned from careful observation of hundreds of cities with a provocative style that swings from acerbic quips to brilliant insights. And just when people are about to conclude he's just on a prolonged slashing riff, Andres drops a compliment on some aspect of Sarasota and the audience experiences a warm glow.

Andres Duany addresses a joint
Sarasota City and County Commission meeting

I didn't get to all his presentations, but I do have eight pages of notes -- so what follows are some things I think are worth repeating:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Promo Video Not as Transcendent as our County

Because I believe Sarasota County is a great county, deserving national recognition, I dutifully clicked in a manner that indicated I "liked" a YouTube video "Sarasota Transcends", which should translate into another vote in a campaign to have Sarasota County declared the 2013 All American City (I know - it's not a City) by the National Civic League.

But I did not click with enthusiasm. If you haven't seen the less-than-four-minute YouTube video you probably should (and "like" it if you feel compelled). 

Here's what I like about it: It contains some history, and gives a nod to community diversity by featuring the North Library and the Embracing Our Differences exhibit. 

That is not a very long list. 

Because it is, of necessity, a booster type of production, I concede that it would have been inappropriate to point out the Scots were victims of the first local land scam. I'm okay with that Pollyanna perspective as well as touching base with the Ringlings while skipping Mrs. Palmer. And featuring our arts scene is natural, even if claiming to be the "arts and cultural capital of the south" is a little ambitious. 

The video then proudly embraces (we do a lot of embracing around here) the fact that we are the "oldest large county in the nation" and gets a plug in for the Institute of the Ages. That's cool.

Unfortunately, virtually all the accompanying footage depicts seniors engaged in activities that could have been filmed anywhere in the US. That is a disappointment because our seniors are doing amazing things-- citizen science, serving on advisory boards, helping young entrepreneurs, working in the FABLAB, and volunteering like crazy. At least there were no bingo scenes.

While I hope to be dancing at their age, I'm not sure this image adequately conveys the vibrancy of our seniors.

We're now more than halfway through the video and so far there has been no mention of:
• our transcendent schools - PineView, New College, and Ringling College
• our transcendent 35 miles of Gulf shoreline (even if it is not all beach), Siesta Beach, and our bays
• our transcendent wildlife -- sea turtles, scrub jays, manatees, alligators, etc.
• our transcendent Legacy Trail, Water Atlas, or Florida Yards Program
• our transcendent Mote Marine Lab, Ringling Museum, and Selby Gardens
• our transcendent Myakka River and Oscar Scherer State Parks and the more than 30% of the County preserved

But instead of shoehorning fifteen seconds of each of these arguably essential features, the video cuts to the Unconditional Surrender statue (which I have mixed feelings about) on the way to a 51 second tribute to our National Cemetery, a segment which takes up one fifth of the entire video! 

My father, who served in Australia with MacArthur (and became a friend of his family,) would be turning over in his grave, if he hadn't been cremated. He believed veteran-related dollars should be spent on the living veterans. The cemetery segment includes testimony from one individual who states: "I don't know that there is a more special place in Sarasota than the Sarasota National Cemetery." 

Really? No place more special? There may be no more poignant place, or no more moving place, or even no more inspiring place, but I'm having trouble signing up for the proposition that the most special place in our county is a cemetery. 

No doubt the gentlemen shown in the video believes that and it entitled to his devotion and opinion --(It is always a mistake to try to contradict someone's feelings.) But due to the nature of the brief film, he has to be assumed to be speaking for multitudes. I confess it never occurred to me that there is some sort of unspoken general consensus that one fifth of what makes Sarasota County special might be a cemetery. 

Whether or not Sarasota County becomes this year's All American City, I hope the curiosity of those who view the video will be piqued, and they will be inspired to visit where they will find there is so much more than what was promised.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sarasota City's Ego Trumps Its Eco in Seagrass Dredging Issue

I suppose something could happen and I may come to regret endorsing Susan Chapman, but the evening of Monday May 20th she was a voice of reason seated at the sunken dais with four City Commissioners more concerned with asserting their imperious sovereign dominion over a matter their staff conceded they were ill-prepared to administer. Thank you, Commissioner Chapman.

The matter at hand involves a waterfront property with a massive mansion in the IBSSA neighborhood. The home is separated from deep water by extensive shoals covered with healthy seagrass. Now, when I was in diapers back in 1951 there was dredged channel to this lot. But there hasn't been a channel there in decades and the bay has healed - a tribute to natural restorative powers that should be respected. 

This video depicts a walk across the ostensible "channel" the applicants want to re-dredge for the first time in many decades. The walk through shallow water is characterized by healthy seagrass. The City's efforts to assert dominance over the County on this matter appears to be endangering the bay, partly because the City lacks environmental staff that can interpret the nuances of such proposals.

Sarasota County denied a previous request to dredge through this seagrass 5-0, in part because the County requires that in order for a channel dredging project to be approved there has to be an existing functional channel in need of dredging - a criterion many of us consider common-sensical: If there is no channel, you can't claim to be maintaining a channel. The video above demonstrates there is no extant channel. But the City attorney favors a "simpler and more straightforward approach" -- dispensing with such details. 

According to his line of argument, if an archaeological consultant team can prove the Calusa once scooped out some bay bottom (or upland?) then it would appear a 2013 applicant has a fair shot of getting a permit to ream it out again- no matter what has transpired or whether the channel was ever maintained in the interim. Representatives for the applicant stated the channel had first been dredged in 1926 and felt no shame in arguing Great Gatsby approaches to the bay should prevail in the 21st century.

IBSSA resident and spokesperson Don Farr provided compelling testimony on behalf of IBSSA, arguing that the City was ill-equipped to evaluate such requests and that it made sense to utilize the expertise of the County. He was responding the the City attorney's argument that it was best to keep it simple because the City would have trouble dealing with the technical issues.

The County also prohibits dredging through seagrasses, a distinction the City apparently didn't feel needed to be included.

Hired advocate and former DEP Southwest District Chief Deborah Getzoff argued that the city should "allow existing features to be maintained" despite the fact that there are no existing features. Well, in truth, the existing feature is a naturally restored healthy seagrass meadow with six pilings.

Much was made of the fact that the State and Feds had already approved permits, but those far-off approvals reflected ignorance of what was being proposed. One example is that the seagrass planting mitigation that the applicants proposed (and which had been rubber-stamped) was located on sandy shoals too shallow to support seagrass.

But most of the commissioners were less interested in environmental impacts than asserting the City's exclusive jurisdiction over dredging. Actually, not jurisdiction over dredging so much as establishing that the City, and not the Count,y will make decisions regarding the City's portion of Sarasota Bay. They wondered why City staff had issued some permits but deferred to the County on the channel dredging.

Indeed, one of the stranger aspects of the proceedings was the fact that it took place without the relevant City staff being present. It is still not clear why the City attorney would launch into a pre-arranged presentation without making sure staff would be there to explain their understanding of the issue. In their absence, some Commissioners started engaged in some staff-bashing that probably would have been mitigated had the staff in question been there to explain their actions.

Commissioner Caragiulo sought to confirm that the City did have environmental expertise on staff, but was told they did not. He pursued the matter, asking if Alison Albee wasn't environmental staff, but was told Environmental Specialist was her job category (essentially her rank) and not her area of expertise, which is sustainability. 

Commissioner Shaw and Chapman were interested in getting to the bottom of some of the environmental issues, but once Commissioner's Chapman motion to let the County handle the matter died for lack of a second, Commissioner Caragiulo made a motion (seconded by Commissioner Atwell) that seemed to place upholding the City's jurisdiction above bay health, although it included some language (I'm not sure everyone knew exactly what the motion was) aimed at clarifying exactly what staff had done and possibly what a better policy might be. 

Stay tuned folks, this is going to get interesting.

The legal question apparently hinges on the question of whether the City and County approaches are in conflict. If they are, the City gets to apply its "simple" (but non-sensical) rule. Commissioner (and attorney) Chapman argued they need not be in conflict. These could, for instance, be nested compatible requirements -- the City requiring that maintenance dredging require a previous channel having been dredged and the County wording clarifying that, in addition to having been dredged, there needs to be an existing functional channel. An example of conflicting policies would be one that forbade maintenance dredging and one that allowed it, but both entities allow maintenance dredging.

Frankly it was embarrassing to hear City officials arguing for a path of deliberate ignorance when local expertise was available.

Having taken City-County turf wars underwater to luxuriant seagrasses, one can only hope cooler, common-sense heads prevail and we can avoid seeing the bay needlessly degraded because the City needs to be riding its high horse instead of collaborating with the County to protect Sarasota Bay.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sarasota County Commission Aborts 2050 Scoping Process

Sarasota County apparently does not use the “ordinance bank” feature of Municode, so I don’t think I have easy access to Ord. No. 2011-070, § 2, 11-9-2011. That's the ordinance that adding a scoping requirement for County initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendments. 

As a result I can’t easily research the whereas or intent sections of that change in Section 94-85 County Initiation of Comprehensive Plan Amendments, but I suspect the County Commission added a scoping process via 2011-070  in order that the proposed amendment will be clearly defined and all pertinent issues identified”.

Now according to section (a) the Board may waive the scoping requirement, and, as I argued yesterday, that would make sense in constrained, technical cases since the purpose of the scoping (having clear definition of what needed to be done) would be implicit in the proposed amendment.

But very little was clear yesterday. In its simplest terms, the County Commission was voting whether to re-open 2050. According to a much-maligned graphic* , when the county initiates a CPA  (Comprehensive Plan Amendment) there is to be a public workshop on scope (pursuant to 94-85(c))

And indeed, according to the County’s REVISITING 2050 webpage, “The commission subsequently directed that the public be engaged in discussions with the process of preparing a scoping document for appropriate implementation actions.” 

But then, according to the dreaded diagram, the matter is to go to the Planning Commission (pursuant to 94-85 (a) before coming back to the Board.

I don’t think that happened. At least, I don't see any reference to Planning Commission involvement. If I am right, the county entered into the scoping process. If they wanted to waive it,  that should have been done as the first step, but once they entered “the dashed box” in the Comprehensive Plan Amendment process, the next step was to be the Planning Commission. 

I am arguing that they could have skipped the whole scoping effort if they did that at the front end, but once they started the scoping process they initiated a process the public (and presumably the Planning Commission) was relying on.

Throughout all this Commissioner Barbetta stated at least twice (and maybe three times) words to the effect that “we’ve always done it without the scoping process”. I know that’s not true because the effort to amend the TDR ordinance went through the scoping process. I was at the public workshop, and received notices about when it was going to the Planning Commission.

What surprised me was that no one, not the County Administrator, nor representatives of the Office of the County Attorney, nor the several high-ranking members of the planning staff interceded and politely said something to the effect of:

“Commissioner Barbetta is right, we did always do it that way, and then in 2011, a previous Board passed an ordinance requiring a County Initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) to go through a scoping process. I believe the reason for that was to ensure both that what was being proposed was sufficiently narrowed or defined, and to make sure the Planning Commission is involved at a relatively early stage. As I recall, the Board has the power to waive the scoping process, but I would have to go back and look at the ordinance and board discussion to provide any guidance on when that waiving was to be invoked.”

The fact that no one said something similar suggests that either a) they didn't know that, b) they were afraid to even obliquely challenge a commissioner, or c) I have no idea what I am talking about (in which case I will admit my error, something I am about to encourage the Board of County Commissioners to do).  

So, If I have the facts straight, the Board initiated the scoping process (by using that preparing a scoping document language cited above from their 2050 website) and then in their meeting yesterday, aborted that process, taking the Planning Commission literally and figuratively out of the loop and proceeding with very little clarity on what staff is to be doing.

My understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order is that someone voting on the prevailing side can initiate a motion to reconsider at the next meeting. 

I think one of the four commissioners (Barbetta, Robinson, Mason, or Hines) who voted to abort the scoping process should make such a motion, if only to clarify what exactly took place and correct the lingering misunderstanding regarding the scoping process. Ideally, someone should make the motion to put this collection of major proposed 2050 changes back on course.


1) Since sometime in 2011 the Scoping Process has been the default setting for all Board-initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendments. (This is contrary to statements made by Commissioner Barbetta.)

2) The Board initiated the scoping process in this case when they directed staff to prepare a scoping document and posted that intent on the 2050 webpage. The staff initiated the scoping process as directed and held the required workshops.

3) The next step according to the law and their flow chart involves going to the Planning Commission and providing for public comment.

4) Then, once the Planning Commission weighs in, it goes back to the County Commission, which authorizes the scope and processing of the CPA (or not).

5) I don't think it went to the Planning Commission (seeking confirmation).

6) If they didn't want to go the scoping route, they should have made that decision at the front end, not by deviating in the middle of the process. Once they started on the scoping process the public and Planning Commission had cause to act in reliance of the process, since the Commission did not waive scoping at their initial decision point as shown in the flow chart.

7) Instead of following the procedure, on May 8th they took a short-cut, aborting the legally-reqired scoping route they started on, thus depriving the public and Planning Commission of the opportunity specifically laid out in and mandated by ordinance 2011-070.

8) The only remedy I am aware of is for a commissioner that voted on the prevailing side to make a motion to reconsider at their next meeting. Commissioner Patterson cannot make the motion, but she could second such a motion.

9)If you would like to encourage them to reconsider, you may email them at commissioners@scgov.net.

NOTE: Commissioner Patterson should be recognized for her efforts to follow the Commission's own duly-adopted process to involve the public (and unstated) the Planning Commission in a MAJOR revisiting of 2050. Unfortunately, she is just one person, less than one hundredth of one percent of our county population, and so her voice was discounted. 

*[ I don’t believe that graphic was available online as part of the Board Packet Supporting Materials, yet it became a key item in the discussion that followed and the public should have access to it.] A similar, but I don't believe identical, graphic may be seen here.

Finally, if there are any factual errors in what I have written, please use the comment section and I will make changes as appropriate.


Here is most of the body of what I wrote to one commissioner (with some typos corrected):

I think for myself, don't swing at every pitch, and when I communicate with the board it is because I feel something important needs to be said. I'm neither emotional nor accusatory about this matter. It may all be one big, crucial misunderstanding.

But my understanding is that the Commission adopted a process (that was inaccurately portrayed by one commission member and which may have led others to misunderstand the process) that features, as the default setting, a clearly laid-out sequence involving public workshops and the Planning Commission

Months ago, the county commission had a choice to take that "scoping" route or not. At that time, the Commission could have argued this was too urgent, too important, or too whatever to wait, and go directly to the public workshop on the CPA (as shown in the orange hexagon on your flow chart).

But that's not what happened, instead, some months ago the board directed staff to initiate scoping -- at least that's what your 2050 webpage says (see attachment). Once y'all posted that on your website you clearly communicated to the public that you had embarked on a scoping process that involved public workshops and would subsequently have the matter brought before the Planning Commission before it came back to the board. 

Maybe your webpage was wrong, or vulnerable to misinterpretation. But I think a reasonable person would conclude from it that the county had embarked on "a process of preparing a scoping document" since that is what the website says. And that process goes from public meetings to the Planning Commission. 
Screenshot from the County's 2050 webpage.
This is why people like myself believe the Planning Commission should be the next step.

I know abort is a connotation-laden word. But let's not go to the most incendiary meaning. If NASA has to abort a mission to the moon, they would be well advised to do that before launch or immediately afterward while the vehicle is over the Atlantic and not when it is half-way to the moon. Your collective vote yesterday was halfway to the moon because Option 3 specifically tries to opt out of the scoping process you had already told the public you were engaged in.

I participated in the TDR scoping process and knew from that experience that the scoping process involved the Planning Commission. Your County Administrator, legal staff, or planning staff should have told you that before you voted. I tried to in Open to the Public after you voted. 

You're aware of my reputation in defense of our natural areas, but lately I've been more vocal defending the role of our advisory boards. The Planning Commission is the mother of all  local advisory entities and it has a special role in comprehensive planning. It should be involved early in this process, but it has not been.

The Commission has just made a decision about the most significant changes proposed in our comprehensive plan in more than a decade without 1) any public hearing, 2) any involvement of the Planning Commission, or 3) following the procedure you adopted in 2011 and chose to utilize in this matter by invoking the word  "scoping" in your direction to staff and on your webpage.  Even if every other contention of mine is fallacious, it seems nearly inconceivable that a county commission would make a decision to embark on major changes in a comprehensive plan without any hearings or Planning Commission involvement. In my opinion this is not good public policy.

This 2050 process has started out unduly polarized. I regret that, but short-circuiting your officially-adopted and communicated-to-the-public process is not a path towards less polarization.

No one likes being told they were misled. But I am contending that 1) the repeated inaccurate statements of one commissioner combined with 2) silence on the part of your staff regarding the scoping process, and 3) a webpage that told the public the county was preparing a scoping document presumably as part of the scoping process, which had not been waived as you were required to do; all combined to created conditions that enabled the majority of the board to make a decision based on misunderstanding of the law as well as what had been communicated to the public. 

There are some driveways in life where you turn off your headlights, make a u-turn, inwardly resolve to try to not do that again, and get back on the main road. There is nothing wrong with any commissioner admitting he or she was making a decision based on inaccurate information, without understanding that the public had been told via your website that the the county would be engaged in the process of preparing a scoping document, which directly implied Planning Commission involvement. Therefore, please give consideration to making or supporting a motion to reconsider. 

This blog entry was viewed 55 times in the first twelve hours.