Q&A

Learn more about STOP! and our mission from the Q&A below.

What is STOP!?

We are 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 its restrictions relating to input from the public and elected officials, is allowing looming buildings with narrow sidewalks that negatively impact traffic congestion, pedestrian safety and walkability. STOP! is committed to returning public input to Sarasota’s development approval process.

What do you mean by pedestrian safety?

Pedestrians appear to be an afterthought, and that is why one sees so many narrow or nonexistent sidewalks in the city. It seems that 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, plant trees along the roadway or implement other changes that make sidewalks safer and more appealing. 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?

Currently yes. The zoning code for downtown Sarasota allows for developers to build right up to the property line of adjoining owners and the front sidewalk. In many cases, it is required. This creates potentially dangerous situations for existing buildings and property owners/visitors while eliminating the possibility of setbacks for view corridors, sidewalks and greenspace. This is creating concrete canyons in the place of a lovely city.

What do walkable sidewalks look like?

Walkable sidewalks are open and inviting. These sidewalks can feature trees or benches and their width will vary, depending upon the intensity of the adjoining street. The overall goal is to encourage pedestrian use of sidewalks by making them safer and more appealing. The southwest corner of Sarasota’s Palm Avenue and Main Street is a great example.

THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF SARASOTA’S PALM AVENUE AND MAIN STREET: A SIDEWALK THAT ALMOST PERFECTLY FITS THE SPECIFICATIONS PROPOSED BY STOP!.

What is Administrative Approval?

Administrative Approval is a development approval process where new buildings are approved only by City staff with no public hearings before the Planning Board and no opportunity for input from the City Commission. It’s a process that prevents any formal public input into the development approval process. In Sarasota’s downtown, virtually all projects, no matter how large or intense, are currently granted Administrative Approval.

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 items, one of which was to include more incentives to development in the code. Administrative Approval for all projects in downtown Sarasota was one of those incentives. This settlement prevented citizens and elected officials from participating in public hearings for new projects. Unfortunately, this change was not discussed publicly at the time, and a conversation about public hearings is long overdue. 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?

First, sign up to receive notices from STOP! You’ll be alerted when it is time to write a letter or send an email to your elected officials. Also, send a letter to the editor at the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Here’s how. Attend a Sarasota City Commission meeting and let your voice be heard. Invite a representative of STOP! to speak to your group. Here’s how. We offer helpful tips and assistance on how to do these things in the Get Involved section of this web site.

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, employment, shopping, restaurants and entertainment to thousands of people each year. It’s the economic engine that supports our region. We all have a clear stake in repealing Administrative Approval for large projects because it affects the quality of life for anyone who drives in the city, has tried to cross a roadway, navigate a sidewalk or bike in town. Please help STOP! ensure the quality of work and play in Sarasota for everyone.

Is STOP! an anti-growth organization?

No. We support intelligent growth of our beloved city that involves public input, realistic traffic planning and walkability/pedestrian safety. We desire growth that creates value and preserves 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 Code, currently under review, proposes expanding Administrative Approval in areas outside the downtown. STOP! is working to prevent the expansion of  Administrative Approval, and to end Administrative Approval for large projects downtown, returning to a Planning Board and City Commission review and approval process. This provides opportunities for the public to submit materials, speak out and become involved in how our city grows.  

Does the City of Sarasota conduct traffic studies for new developments?

Not really. The current purpose of City of Sarasota traffic studies is solely to determine if developers will be required to pay their “proportionate share” of the cost of improving roadways impacted by their developments – they aren’t really about analyzing traffic.  We have discovered that these studies often use outdated information, rely on phantom traffic counts, include traffic that is far removed from downtown and do not consider traffic from surrounding developments. STOP! believes the current approach to traffic planning is unrealistic and damaging to the city, its residents and visitors.

How does the City of Sarasota determine traffic volumes for new developments?

There are three steps: (1) 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. (2) Each new development is assigned an estimated number of “new vehicle trips” based on the type of development being proposed. (3) Finally, “vested” trips are deducted from the estimated “new vehicle trips” to produce the development’s net new trip numbers.  STOP! believes the current formula is incorrect and artificial.  We are working to insert greater reality into traffic planning.

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 current 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 have 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 over the past few years of building boom. Developers are only responsible for paying either proportionate share fees or multi-modal fees, not both. STOP! is exploring which formula would best match the impact of development on the City’s roadways and related infrastructure, assuming 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. Greater common sense must be applied to the city’s traffic planning.

What about fixing the “too-narrow sidewalk” problem for new developments?

Several steps are needed to create greater pedestrian safety and walkability. 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?

Many regulations 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 as an engineering and New Urbanist document. 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.