How the Public Lost Its Voice

Many people are mystified as to why residents and current elected officials in Sarasota are prevented from asking questions and making recommendations about large-scale developments in Sarasota.

Under our current zoning rules, only City of Sarasota employees are allowed to make these decisions. There are no public hearings, no review by the Planning Board and no vote by our elected City Commissioners. This is called Administrative Approval.  STOP! believes this must be changed.

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 in the new code. One of those changes was the creation of more “incentives” to build: “Administrative Approval” for all projects in downtown Sarasota was considered one such incentive. There was no public discussion about this change to the code, even though this aspect of the settlement prevented citizens and elected officials 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.

With Administrative Approval in place, a proposed project is guaranteed approval by City staff if it “meets the zoning code,” no matter how big the project may be, no matter how small the parcel of land or adjacent street, and no matter how close existing buildings may be. Those who support Administrative Approval argue that it provides certainty for developers and that eliminating “time-consuming” public hearings is desirable.

Really?

This experiment has failed Sarasota. For a quality Sarasota, we need public hearings, both to discuss individual buildings and make them more compatible with existing neighbors, and ultimately to fix the code itself. The code should change organically, over time, as input from citizens shows where the problems are. We need realistic traffic planning and a greater emphasis on walkability and pedestrian safety.