|

Sarasota City Election 2020: Candidates talk traffic, vacation rentals, development, Barwin’s fate, Unconditional Surrender & more…

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

With our readership stretching from Longboat Key through St. Armands, Lido Key and throughout Downtown Sarasota, no election contest is more important than the District 2 seat on the Sarasota City Commission. And both issues and candidates abound.

Incumbent Liz Alpert is being challenged by five candidates: Joe Barbetta, Martin Hyde, Don Patterson, Terry Turner and Jerry Wells.

Issues swirl: The effects of vacation rental properties on neighborhoods, traffic and development, roundabouts, road diets, as well as homelessness, the future of City Manager Tom Barwin, the fate of the Unconditional Surrender statue and more.

Longboat Key News and Sarasota City News asked each candidate a series of questions and this week we present Round 1.

Early voting starts Aug. 8 and Election Day is Aug. 18. Here is what the candidates had to say:

 

If elected, would you prefer to retain or replace City Manager Tom Barwin? Why?

Liz Alpert: If re-elected I would retain the City Manager. I have worked with Tom Barwin for five years and have seen him under many different circumstances and seen how he approaches problems and how he looks for solutions. I have not seen him operate outside the boundaries assigned by Commissioners. He not only works hard. He is always looking for better and more innovative ways of doing things. He has good instincts and has surrounded himself with highly qualified and quality staff to help him and the Commissioners make decisions. The morale among the employees is high due to his management.

But, lest anyone think I would not have the courage to act if I thought he was not doing a good job, I will remind them that I was the only Commissioner who finally had the courage to remove a Charter official that for years everyone knew was a problem.

Joe Barbetta: It seems pretty clear to me that the time has come to consider replacing the City Manager. If elected I would first call for a “Vote of Confidence” among the City Commissioners as to his status and performance. To me he has been acting as the “6th Commissioner” or even a “Boss Mayor” at times and that clearly should not be his role and should not be tolerated by the Commissioners. He serves at the will of the City Commission and he is there to implement their policies. He does not and should not make policy or even make decisions that are borderline policy decisions without bringing them before the City Commission. There have been numerous instances where this has occurred and it shouldn’t happen. The famous phrase he utilizes…”The City Manager in consultation with the Mayor….” is not a license or cover to make policy decisions. The Mayor is only a “ceremonial” mayor and has no additional authority or power than any of the other Commissioners other than presiding over the City Commission meetings. This whole issue needs to be addressed at the first meeting of the new Commission in November.

Martin Hyde: Absolutely at the first meeting I’d propose removing him. He makes $221,000 a year and dictates policy for which he isn’t elected or answerable. I wouldn’t hire a direct replacement as he has two capable assistants and a strong commission could do the rest.

Don Patterson: Tom has a terrible reputation among the candidates, but it is unclear if he leads the commissioners because the current commission isn’t able or willing to lead. As a commissioner I would not take immediate action on Tom Barwin. I need him in place on day-one as I review all city business and operations. Tom has the answers to the questions I will be asking. The city budget synopsis is over 400 pages, the city is a large organization with added complexity from Self-Performing services most cites would out-source such as trash collection. New Commissioners getting up to speed in a short time is paramount to making the needed impact on the city. During the transition and implementation of changes as we reimagine Sarasota City Government I will assess Tom Barwin’s abilities. The citizens will get the responsive government they deserve. Changes may go well beyond the City managers, but let’s reserve that decision for a later time.

Terry Turner: It is premature to ask this question. Most citizens are rightly unhappy with our city government, but performance problems start at the top and filter down through an organization. We must first replace the incumbent commissioners who are not providing the leadership we need. Then, with a competent commission, we can fairly ask this question.

Jerry Wells: I would terminate him. I was upset with his behind the scenes deal with the Lido beach pavilion. I am irate with his actions regarding the Bobby Jones golf course. I not impressed with his “executive orders” during covid. It’s time for change and to move forward.

 

Is the City growing too quickly in the number of housing units? Are we fostering too much traffic and congestion or is the current rate and projected rate of residential growth manageable? What are your concerns, if any, and what resolution or strategies would you like to see implemented?

Liz Alpert: The growth has seemed to come about really fast. Once the last recession ended, there was a pent-up demand that suddenly started manifesting itself in new buildings in the downtown.

The growth in the downtown had been planned for with the adoption of a downtown master plan in the early 2000s using smart growth principles. The rate of growth that is causing the traffic problems is not the growth in the City, but the growth in the County. In the last 50 years, the City has only grown by @ 18,000 residents-a 43% increase-while the County has increased almost 287,000 residents-a 238% increase. So, much of what we’ve been experiencing regarding traffic is due to the pressure of the County’s growth and the strain that puts on our infrastructure. Strategies for dealing with this are to encourage growth that fosters fewer vehicle miles travelled and encourage smart multi-modal transportation principles.

Joe Barbetta: I haven’t seen the recent numbers for current and projected annual growth rate but I believe that it’s most likely in the two percent or so range. Vibrant Cities need quality growth and density not only to support existing businesses and attractions but also to provide what we call “eyes on the street” resulting from the walkability and vibrancy which keeps crime down and assists law enforcement. Traffic congestion is somewhat caused not by just the large number of tourists who come into or through the City, but also due to road networks which are hampered or blocked by ongoing construction, or are actually closed. This doesn’t help matters. The roundabouts construction which has been ongoing for quite some time is not helping matters in any way with the traffic flow. The City certainly has some infrastructure concerns. Also a large number of service workers are driving into the downtown area to work at the Hotels and other businesses which adds many more vehicles since they can’t afford to live in or near downtown. Another argument for workforce and affordable housing somewhere in or around the downtown area.

In the meantime, walking and biking ability should certainly be enhanced throughout the City but we also must be realistic that being outdoors with the heat index as it is can be dangerous. I would also advocate a Trolley Circulator System which I talked about often when I was on the County Commission encouraging the City to look into and implement one but it fell on deaf ears. I also attempted to move the SCAT Bus Transfer Station out of where it is now and relocate it to the County’s Ringling Garage. Then the land where it now sits could be sold and put back on the tax rolls for future development such as a Drug Store and other mixed uses, also creating jobs and ongoing tax revenue. As for the Trolley Circulator System I would advocate about 6 or 7 Electric Trolleys, Air Conditioned but also open air in cooler weather which could go from the downtown area to Lido, St. Armands, the Airport, Van Wezel area, the Hospital, and possibly Robarts which could also operate as a Parking area. Hopefully a headway system of 15 to 20 minutes between Trolleys would be workable and I believe that Tourists would welcome and enjoy them as would current residents.

Martin Hyde: The population of the City really hasn’t grown to the extent that the County has over the last 25 years. Traffic we need to consider re-routing 41 around the city across 10th st to 301 helping North to South avoid the Bayfront. Less roundabouts and certainly no to the proposed Fruitville road diet.

Don Patterson: I am a third generation Floridian. My grandfather was welcomed to Florida when the population was under 1 million residents, we now have over 20 million residents. My childhood hometown grew 1000% from under 10,000 residents to over 100,000 in my lifetime. I had neighbor kids move in from Ohio, Michigan and New York. We live in paradise so closing the door to new residents is not an option. Floridians are now and have always been a welcoming state and I experienced these growth issue conversations my whole life. We can continue to grow and address all these concerns with a sound growth strategy and strong leadership. We need proactive planning with disciplined execution. Limiting housing only drives up costs and drives out our teachers, city workers, essential work force and impacts our diversity. “Smart growth”, of infill and higher density where appropriate leverages our existing infrastructure with new property taxes paying for the needed replacement of the aging infrastructure opposed to new sprawling infrastructure.

These are example of some smart growth strategies:

  1. Find opportunities for infill housing and locations appropriate for higher density.
  2. Revitalize our existing neighborhood retail locations similar to that found at Sarasota Commons (Fruitville and Beneva) and eliminate the need to drive long distances for our daily retail needs.
  3. Improve the downtown retail experience by expanding retail similar to those found at UTC, joining establishments like Sur la table, Blue Mercury and others for a more convenient, robust and diverse retail experience downtown where s many live in walkable distance.

Terry Turner: Yes. We are stimulating housing to grow much faster than we are able to provide the public infrastructure needed to support the increased populations. This imbalance between private development and new public infrastructure has been very disruptive for our residents and has often resulted in intolerable traffic congestion and flooding. We can mitigate this problem by slowing the growth in housing units. In the short term, it is likely that growth will be slowed by the COVID recession. To meet the long term challenge, the city must enforce the concurrency standards which are an integral part of its existing development standards.

Jerry Wells: We need attainable housing for our teachers, nurses, postal workers, law-enforcement, etc.  We can’t keep pushing the middle class further and further out of the city.  Making people commute great distances to work creates traffic and pollution.  Sarasota is a great city that has been hit hard by the virus.  We must create jobs.  That will be a top priority of mine.

 

Should paid parking be expanded to Lido Beach? Why?

Liz Alpert: My position on this would be that it is not something I would consider until the other beaches in the area instituted paid parking. At that time, we would look at whether we would even want to do that since we want to continue to keep Lido a low-cost destination for our residents. I am certain it is not something that would even be considered in the middle of a pandemic.

Joe Barbetta: I don’t think we need another Parking Bureaucracy. The cost of setting up the whole Parking operation, salaries, collection, ongoing maintenance, etc. will probably far exceed the revenue produced. Secondly there would clearly need to be a separation on charging the tourists versus the residents. The residents already pay property taxes and therefore should not have to pay for beach parking also and would therefore need Permits for their vehicles to avoid the charges. I would simply limit the parking to 2 or 3 hours by signage and enforce it. In addition, hopefully the City will eventually have Trolley Circulators from the Downtown and surrounding area out to Lido, St. Armands, LBK, etc. which will assist with any Parking concerns and provide a nice, clean, reliable means of moving people around the City and out to the Beach.

Martin Hyde: I’m generally against paid parking. If there was though a consensus among lido residents and merchants for it and a way to put the revenue back into the Lido area I’d consider it.

Don Patterson: No, absolutely not. Our beaches are national treasures and an integral part of Sarasota. We have the honor and the responsibility to preserve these for future generations of Floridians.

As a kid growing up in Florida, we loved going to the beach, including Lido Key. It was a great family activity and the big treat was to eat at the pavilion which was expensive for my single working mother. As a commissioner, I would oppose paid beach parking or leasing Lido Pavilion as an exclusive private venue.

Terry Turner: No. Paid parking is effectively a tax. We should not increase taxes during a recession. It would further depress our local economy.

Jerry Wells: No, it is just another tax on the local residents. The rent from the pavilion will help offset the costs of operation.  I am encouraged and excited about the new operator of the Lido Beach Pavilion Restaurant.  I believe, when we get back to a “normal” this will be very attractive and positive for the residents and Lido Beach goers.

 

Should development site plans be approved by City staff or the Planning Board and Commission? Why?

Liz Alpert: Administrative review makes sense for some projects that are following the existing zoning codes, for smaller projects, or for some commonsense approvals. For example, the St. Armands’ Parking garage had to go before the Planning Board and City Commission to add 1.8 feet to its elevator height. What the public doesn’t realize is there are a lot of projects that are turned down by our planners. I would like to see a process that allows for public input for large projects early in the planning phase, but then provides for feedback along the way so that when it gets to the Commission it is not summarily denied without any attempt to resolve some of the residents’ concerns and create a win/win situation.

Joe Barbetta: In 2000 to 2001 the City went through a detailed review of its planning, development, and zoning policies and brought in Andres Duany, a renowned Urban Planner who held numerous meetings, over a dozen charrettes attended by over 1500 people, and made presentations to the Planning Board, the City Commission, and various Civic and other groups relative to a new Master Plan for the City. After all of that the City adopted the Plan and it called for Administrative Review in the Downtown area. That seems to have worked relatively well and the downtown has developed accordingly over the years and has become a vibrant urban area. There are a couple of buildings that might have been handled somewhat differently by Staff but all in all the results turned out pretty well. There is however more work to be done. Outside the downtown area it seems that Administrative review should be coupled with some public input/public hearing and stronger review process and Commission approval for projects that would seriously impact neighborhoods and adjacent properties. Smaller projects outside of the immediate downtown area should not be subject to an overly burdensome process if they do not have any negative impacts on surrounding or adjacent properties. Staff should be charged with drawing up these standards and presenting them to the City Commission for review and approval where necessary.

Martin Hyde: Larger scale developments (Over 30 000 square feet) should come before the City commission not just staff.

Don Patterson: The current administrative approval process has failed on some critical projects that will forever negatively impact our city. The Vue is a gross example and total failure of the City’s Administration approval process. I am determined to change the approval process and add a public comment componet. If the building is fully to code the public comment should address code issues. If the staff is supporting Variances to the code in approving any new or renovated building, then they should be held accountable in a public forum to justify reasons for approving a building that is out of the code. The public comment would not slow the process or create “Red Tape”. The company I led acquires building permits in many states and almost every jurisdiction in Florida. I would lead the building department to be reimagined. There are processes that are antiquated and inferior to more innovation Florida cities. The new processes could move approvals with velocity saving the city and the developer time and money.

Terry Turner: It depends on the size of the development. It may be acceptable for City staff to approve small projects. However, monumental development projects which impact the livability of Sarasota and which may exceed the capacity of our public infrastructure must be approved/rejected by the Planning Board and then approved/rejected by the City Commission after input from the city’s residents. Our city belongs to it residents. Residents have a right to be heard on monumental projects which impact the livability of Sarasota. City staff approval (Administrative approval) should be eliminated on monumental projects throughout the city.

Jerry Wells: I believe it is possible to have a blend of all three, without stripping away property owner rights.  I am first and foremost for Property Owner Rights.  I will bring common sense, and seasoned negotiation skills to the table on each project. We can have smart attractive development if we do it correctly.

 

Some find the statue Unconditional Surrender an affront to women. Others see an ode to patriotism. What is your take and should it continue to stand at or near its signature location going forward? Should the City find another less prominent home for the work or should it be retired so to speak?

Liz Alpert: The Unconditional Surrender evokes strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but it can’t be denied that the majority of people love the statue and want it to stay near where it is located on the Bayfront. There have been suggestions that in addition to the Unconditional Surrender statue that some talented artists or art students do something else at the location to educate about the other aspects of this statue. I am in support of it being relocated near where it is on the Bayfront and would entertain the other suggestions regarding adding some educational aspects at the same location, but reserve judgment on whether I would approve until I saw what was proposed.

Joe Barbetta: As we all know it’s a symbol of the end of WW2 and is based on a photograph taken in 1945 in Times Square. It honors Veterans and is undeniably popular and probably the 2nd or 3rd most tourist-visited attraction in Sarasota, Siesta Key probably being #1. Its location is fine and if and when the roundabout ever gets built, which I doubt, it should remain in the relatively immediate area. As for the sexual assault allegation I find that to be a real stretch particularly since the woman in the photo never filed or alleged any such charges. Admittedly she was surprised. The kiss came after the news of Japan’s surrender, thus ending the War and Ms. Friedman’s words were..”Suddenly I was grabbed by a Sailor, and it wasn’t much of a kiss.” She went on to say that she later realized it was an act of joy…”It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back, I found out later, he was so happy…. The reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded…it was just somebody really celebrating. It was just an event of thank God the war is over kind of thing.”

The two united again in 1980 for a Life Magazine reunion story. I believed that they are now both deceased. In any event the Statue is fine where it is.

One wonders that if the statue was to be removed and replaced with a 26 foot high flagpole with a very large American Flag would that also generate criticism and a call for removal?

Martin Hyde: To me it’s a celebration of the triumph of good over evil in World war 2 as well as an homage to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for us. I wouldn’t move it from the Bayfront because I think it is a part of our history both in the US and for Sarasota too. They’d have to carry me out of City hall in a box before I’d agree to moving it!

Don Patterson: I live in Golden Gate point and often pass the statue. So often people are at the statue having fun recreating that moment. It makes great sense for it to remain on the waterfront in a promenade location. I am committed to addressing our communitie’s affront to women issues and would serve with any committee to address the protection and advancement of women.

Terry Turner: Many believe it as an affront to women. On the other hand, it is an enormously popular statue. Some of them are unaware of the offensive action associated with the statue. Others are aware, but are willing to overlook it. I believe that the commission should require a full staff report regarding the statue’s history, and a lengthy public hearing. Ultimately, the commission should represent its citizens, not decide what is best for them. If at the end of public hearings, the public favors the current location, the commission should bow to the public’s will.

Jerry Wells: To me the statue represents the end of a terrible war that cost many innocent people their lives.  I can only imagine the joy, and excitement, singing and celebration throughout the country on that day.  My mother (85-yrs old) said it was an overwhelming feeling of celebration, pride and relief.  I vote to leave the statue where it is.

 

How serious a problem is noise? The Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations requested and the Commission is considering increasing the penalty for a first violation of sound regulations from $100 to $250. The penalty for a second offense would rise from $100 to $500. Is this reasonable or too much of a noise damper?

Liz Alpert: The origins of the increased penalty requested by CCNA was the result of a particular venue outside of the downtown that was ignoring any reasonable sound restrictions on virtually a nightly basis until the early hours of the morning. The benefit of ignoring the noise ordinance outweighed the cost of the penalties for this particular business. CCNA requested relief from the City Commission by increasing the fine to discourage the continued flouting of the ordinance. I don’t believe most venues have this issue. Most venues try to stay within the confines of the noise ordinance. I would hope that this is not too much of a noise damper as we also don’t want to go so far as to make it impossible to have entertainment venues in the appropriate locations. If it turns out that it is, the Commission always has the option to revisit the fines.

Joe Barbetta: I believe that just a few days ago much to the surprise of many people the City Commission increased the fines on a 4 to 1 vote. No doubt the City Sound Ordinance needs to be revisited since I believe it is about 17 years old and could use some updating. However this should be a collaborative process among the City Residents, City Staff, the City Commission, and the Business Owners in the City. It should not be an arbitrary decision. Communication and Collaboration are imperative. Once the Ordinance is tweaked where necessary after all the input and final decision making then it becomes a Code Enforcement concern.

The fines should all be part of that discussion among all parties prior to that decision being made. Not sure if that was done here. Downtown Sarasota should continue to be vibrant and in conjunction with that any violators of the Ordinance should be dealt with but the proper Process must be followed.

Martin Hyde: It depends who you ask. To those that live in condo’s in Downtown I’ve heard complaints. My issue would be one of equal treatment so we can’t offer special permits for events and to Selby then fine bars for music that’s too loud. The same rule for everyone consistently applied in terms of time and level is my position.

Don Patterson: As residential condo development moves away from the bay front and into the Downtown entertainment area’s we see conflict. We must balance between a city “Rolling up the Sidewalks” at 8:00 pm and all-night noise. Sarasota in a city of 57,000 people and we must account for everyone’s point of view and reach compromise. I propose a progressive noise level lower at 41 and the bayfront residential areas and progressing as it approaches 301. I would like to debate an entertainment district close to 301 and main street.

Terry Turner: I believe it is a very serious problem and that the increase in fines was appropriate. We also need to change our approach to enforcement. The current system is passive and relies on citizens to complain about noise. We need active code enforcement in which staff patrols downtown and neighborhoods to identify violations and issue citations.

The noise levels we are experiencing are significantly degrading Sarasota and adversely affecting the livability of Sarasota. Ultimately, this degradation will adversely affect our economy.

Jerry Wells: Excessive noise can be very stressful.  I grew up in NYC and I can tell you the sound of fire trucks blasting a horn at 3 am is enough to shake you silly.  There are ways to control noise and you can do it with out further punishing an already desperate business community. 

 

Are Vacation rental homes undermining neighborhoods in the City? Many on Lido Key and in other areas say trash, noise and the constant churn of visitors upsets their idea of community. What is your take? Should the City enact additional inspections and regulations for these uses? What, if anything, would you propose?

Liz Alpert: Yes, they undermine neighborhoods, upset community and additional regulations should be enacted. The City must act within the parameters of the state legislature’s preemption of the City’s authority to regulate hotel houses. The city can’t prohibit vacation rentals or limit their duration. We can, however, prohibit rentals for less than 7 days because our ordinance was in effect prior to the legislature passing the preemption statute. The St. Armand’s Residents Association has proposed three possible solutions.

1. A registration/permitting program;

2. A limitation on the number of bedrooms; and

3. Limiting the number of persons that could sleep in a vacation rental

I will lead the effort to move forward on these suggestions and any others that might provide a solution, such as a locally-designated conservation historic district which could help preserve the fabric of the area and provide the community buy-in to create a restrictive overlay district in order to, hopefully, avoid the issue of taking away property rights.

Joe Barbetta: There is a fine line between a vacation rental home for an extended period of time and a business which utilizes these vacation rentals as if they were hotels, with short stays and multiple unrelated people staying in them. This is a code enforcement problem and should be addressed in that manner. If there is uncertainty in the Ordinance then it needs to be addressed immediately and the City Attorney should opine as to how it can be enforced, and if there are shortcomings then it needs to be modified accordingly. Established neighborhoods are sacred and they should not have to suffer with these negative impacts or unintended consequences of situations such as these. Revise the Ordinance if necessary and step up Code Enforcement.

Martin Hyde: I don’t care for so called “House hotels” but that goes to code and those that are there aren’t going anywhere so it’s about changing the code to limit the growth of them and enforcing all ordinances to make sure they don’t become a bigger problem.

Don Patterson: Sadly, vacation rentals are going as a business and do adversely affecting the neighborhoods. There is no upside to having a vacation rental in a neighborhood. Homeowners have NO property rights to convert a residential unit into a commercial enterprise. Short term rentals in a commercial area can work if treated similar to the surrounding Hotels and Motels. As commissioner I will create a Task force using existing surplus employees to identify every short-term rental unit in the city. As we assess these units a determination can be made on the course of action needed and architect a workable solution for the city. What regulations and oversight needs to be in-place to address those units that become permitted to operate going forward. We will respect all points of view and request comment from all interested parties until reaching a solution that is workable for our community and the affected neighborhoods.

Terry Turner: Yes. The city recently increased penalties for noise violations. This increase was a good start. We also need to change our approach to enforcement. The current system is passive and relies on citizens to complain about noise. We need active code enforcement in which staff patrols downtown and neighborhoods to identify violations and issue citations. Additionally, we should enact more stringent nuisance ordinances and enforce them vigorously. In some cases our ability to manage disruption caused by vacation rentals is restricted by state law. In conjunctions with the League of Cities, we should lobby for state legislation which will give our city more freedom to manage this problem.

Vacation rentals are significantly degrading or neighborhoods and adversely affecting the livability of Sarasota. Ultimately, this degradation will adversely affect our economy

Jerry Wells: I don’t think it’s the vacation rental market that is out of control.  It is the hotel housing market.  What has happened is that a developer is using a “grey area” to build big beautiful homes with the potential to rent them out to multiple families.  They are purchasing single-family residential homes and turning them into multiple family “hotel housing”.  That is what we are concerned about out on the islands.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Longboat Key News

Leave a Reply