Sarasota to vote growth on measurenext week will they require unanimous vote by County Commission to change urban service boundary?

04/28/08 Seán Kinane
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Sarasota County may soon have more strict controls on growth in rural areas. One of the two questions on the ballot during a special election next Tuesday asks voters whether County Commissioners should unanimously agree to any changes to the comprehensive plan outside the urban service area boundary (USB).

The ballot initiative has support among environmental, business and community activist groups. If passed, it will amend the Sarasota County Charter to require a unanimous vote of County Commissioners to either move the USB or to add overlay development districts outside the USB without actually moving the boundary.

Outside of the urban service area boundary, which in Sarasota County means most areas east of Interstate 75, developers are required to pay for infrastructure and services; inside the USB, county taxpayers pay.

Laura Benson chairs the public policy committee for the Sarasota Association of Realtors. Benson said her group supports the proposed change to the charter because it represents a "compromise between slow-growth advocates and the business community [regarding the] urban service boundary line.” Originally, Benson said, advocates wanted to require a referendum for any change to the USB, but she thinks a unanimous decision by the County Commission is a better option.

“Frankly, it’s the lesser of two evils. Referendum for every land use decision is problematic. While the citizenry in Sarasota, I think is very sophisticated, the nuances and the details with land-use decisions exceed an awful lot of understanding for many people."

Kerry Kirschner is executive director of the Argus Foundation, a public policy group that is supported by presidents and CEOs of southwest Florida. He also supports the current charter amendment over the proposed referendum process.

Citizens for Sensible Growth’s Bill Zoller said passing this initiative will end up saving Sarasota County money.

“The result of the initiative, should it pass, should be to save taxpayers money because no longer would they be looking at funding infrastructure and services in developments beyond the urban services boundary, instead the developer would have to pick up those costs. And this will also help focus development on the existing urban area through redevelopment and infill which means we make more efficient and effective use of our existing infrastructure and services.”

Laura Benson from the Sarasota Association of Realtors said she thinks voters will pass the initiative.

“Well, I hope they’ll approve it. I think it’s remarkable that we did come up with a compromise. Two constituencies in this community who have been traditionally at odds came together to find a better solution and I think that says more for the long-term health of dialog and planning in Sarasota than these continuous referendums that were pitting us against each other. I think with the support from all communities it should pass without a problem.”

On the second ballot question, voters will be asked if Sarasota County should issue bonds to fund infrastructure. Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce President Steve Queior said his group supports that as well.

The special election in Sarasota County is Tuesday, May 6. Early voting is currently under way.

Learn more:

Ballot language

Citizens for Sensible Growth, in Sarasota County, FL

Opinion piece by Gayle Reynolds, Chair of Manatee/Sarasota Sierra Club

Manatee-Sarasota group, Sierra Club

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections

Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

Sarasota Association of Realtors

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