Frequently Asked Questions about STOP!
- What is STOP!?
STOP! is a civic group organized in 2016 to advocate for specific changes in the City of Sarasota’s zoning code. STOP! is concerned that the zoning code and project approval process are creating looming buildings with narrow sidewalks. Furthermore, citizens are shut out of the decision-making process. STOP! is committed to returning public input to Sarasota’s development approval process.
- What caused STOP! to be formed?
The Vue crystallized concerns of many citizens that development in the city was heading in the wrong direction. It was time for this to "STOP!".
Pedestrians have historically been an afterthought, and that is why one sees so many narrow or nonexistent sidewalks. The desires of property owners and roadway proponents are satisfied first and pedestrians are given whatever space remains. Sadly, once a road and buildings have been built, it is usually very expensive and impractical to come back later and widen a sidewalk/street side. It is highly unlikely that part of the building will be demolished to make room. And, widening the sidewalk out from the curb not only means reducing space for traffic but usually requires the very expensive move of drainage systems. If a street allows parking, creating bump-outs with trees can make the sidewalk feel safer and wider.
- Is it possible for developers to build projects right up to the property line?
Yes. The current zoning code for downtown Sarasota allows for developed to build right up to the property line of adjoining owners. In many cases, it is required.
- What do walkable sidewalks look like?
Walkable sidewalks, or street sides, as pedestrian science calls them, are spacious and include "street side furniture” such as trees or benches. Street side width will vary from 14 to 21 feet, depending upon the intensity of the adjoining street.
Walkable street sides include FOUR zones:
- a frontage zone for exit/entry along building fronts,
- a pedestrian throughway,
- a furnishings zone,
- and an edge zone next to the roadway as a transition between the road and street side.
The southwest corner Sarasota’s Palm Avenue and Main Street, a street side that almost perfectly fits the specifications of DWUT.
For pictures/diagrams and detailed specifications and standards, please see Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context-Sensitive Approach (DWUT), co-authored by the Congress for the New Urbanism and The Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2010.
- What is Administrative Approval?
Administrative Approval is a development approval process in wherein new buildings are approved by City staff with no public hearings before the Planning Board or City Commission. In Sarasota’s downtown, all projects, no matter how large or intense, are approved administratively.
- Why was Administrative Approval granted for major developments in downtown Sarasota?
In 2003, a group of development interests threatened to sue the City of Sarasota following the adoption of regulations implementing the Downtown Master Plan. To avoid a lawsuit, the City of Sarasota agreed to a number of changes; one of them was Administrative Approval for all projects in downtown Sarasota. This settlement prevented the citizens of Sarasota from participating in public hearings for new projects. STOP! believes citizens should reclaim their voice in how the city grows and develops. Read How Did Sarasota's Massive New Vue Win Approval? from Sarasota Magazine.
- What can I do?
Write a letter or send an email to your elected officials. Send a letter to the editor at the Sarasota Herald Tribune here. Attend a Sarasota City Commission meeting and let your voice be heard. Invite a representative of STOP! to speak to your group. We offer helpful tips and assistance on how to do these things in our Tool Box.
- If I don’t live in the City of Sarasota, why should I be concerned with Administrative Approval?
Sarasota is a beautiful city that provides housing, workplaces, shopping, restaurants and entertainment to thousands of people each year. City residents have a clear stake in repealing Administrative Approval because it affects their quality of life, but so does anyone who has tried to cross a sidewalk, biked through the city, or drive though traffic. Please help STOP! ensure the quality of work and play in Sarasota for everyone.
- Is STOP! a no-growth organization?
No. We support intelligent growth of our beloved city that involves public input, realistic traffic studies, and walkable communities. We desire growth that creates value and preserves our quality of life. STOP! enjoys the endorsement of citizens, neighborhood associations, and homeowner associations throughout the city.
- Are City Commissioners considering any changes for Administrative Approval?
Yes. The new form-based zoning code, currently under development, proposes expanding Administrative Approval in areas outside the downtown. STOP! opposes any expansion of Administrative Approval. The draft form-based code also proposes reintroducing some public hearings downtown, a step in the right direction, but not sufficient.
- Does the City of Sarasota conduct traffic studies for new developments?
The purpose of City of Sarasota traffic studies is solely to determine if the developers will be required to pay their “proportionate share” of the cost of improving roadways impacted by their developments.
- How does the City of Sarasota determine traffic volumes for new developments?
There are THREE steps:
- Each property proposed for redevelopment in Sarasota is assigned a number of “vested trips,” which estimates how much traffic the property created in its prior use.
- Each new development is assigned an estimated number of “new vehicle trips” based on the type of development being proposed.
- Finally, “vested” trips are deducted from the estimated “new vehicle trips” to produce the development’s net new trip numbers.
- How realistic are the traffic studies that are conducted in the City of Sarasota?
Traffic studies that are conducted for individual projects in Sarasota are not designed to be realistic. They are formulas used for determining whether the developer has to pay fees to alleviate the project’s impact on nearby roads. There are no permanent traffic count sites in or near the City of Sarasota. Many of the counts used in traffic studies for new development and for the building of new infrastructure in the City are dependent on temporary (one or two day) counts done once a year.
- Which development projects are required to perform traffic studies and what determines which developments pay road impact fees?
A traffic study is required if the estimated traffic from a proposed development exceeds 1% of the city’s currently adopted Level of Service traffic volume on nearby roadways. If the volume of traffic from the new development exceeds 4.5% of the city’s approved Level of Service volume, the developer may be responsible for paying his “proportionate share” cost of mitigating that impact.
- Based on the traffic studies, have developers paid any “proportionate share” fees to the City of Sarasota for the traffic and infrastructure consequences caused by their developments?
No, since the State law changed in 2011 none of these fees been collected by the City of Sarasota. STOP! believes that the way the City calculates its traffic studies should be updated and made more realistic. Multi-modal transportation impact fees were adopted in 2014, but the City has collected less than $1 million in multi-modal fees from commercial projects since then. Developers are only responsible for paying one or the other—“proportionate share” fees or multi-modal fees. The question: which one would best match the impact of development on the City’s roadways and related infrastructure if the City’s traffic studies were more realistic?
- What is the City of Sarasota’s Transportation Concurrency Exception Area?
For traffic purposes, the area within Downtown Sarasota’s boundaries is known as a Transportation Concurrency Exception Area. Developers in this downtown area benefit by having the traffic impact from their proposed developments discounted. This further reduces the developers’ responsibility for paying fees to the City of Sarasota for impact caused by their developments.
- How could the City’s Concurrency Traffic Studies be updated?
- The City could reduce the percentage impact required as a threshold for payment of fees.
- The Transportation Concurrency Exception Area should be eliminated.
- Vested trip credits should be reduced or eliminated.
- Off-season traffic counts should be realistically translated into in-season counts.
- What about fixing the problem for new developments?
Several steps are needed to create wide streetsides from the beginning. The first step is for the City to adopt generous standards for sidewalks, both in terms of width and “sidewalk amenities.” If the public right-of-way is not adequate to meet that standard, then the City must require sufficient setback so that the “setback plus public right of way” allows adequate space.
- Why did STOP! choose Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context-Sensitive Approach (DWUT) as a standard?
Most standard-providing manuals for road corridors provide minimal recommendations for walkability – their main recommendation is usually a minimum sidewalk width, often as narrow as 5’, even along major highways. Such standards do not make walking a safe, viable, and attractive mode of transportation. After an extensive search, it is our conclusion that DWUT provides comprehensive, thorough, and detailed standards that can transform typical cities into walkable urban environments. And, because it is co-authored by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the 17,000 member professional society of American transportation engineers, DWUT has credibility. It comes from a group that has unparalleled experience in building transportation corridors, plus the knowledge to ensure that DWUT meshes well with other transportation standards.