Today’s post is from Bill Zoller, who serves on the board of CONA (Sarasota County’s Council of Neighborhood Associations) and CSG (Citizens for Sensible Growth). His letter to the editor was submitted to the Herald Tribune last December, but didn’t make it in the newspaper.
I suspect many of your readers will be shocked by the dire future situation around University Parkway/I-75, along with its stunning costs, foreseen in your front-page Gridlock article on Sunday. Groups such as CONA, the Sierra Club, Audubon, Control Growth Now, among others, are not shocked: they have warned against exactly this future at hearing after hearing when these extraordinary amounts of new development were authorized. What we are facing is, pure and simple, a gross failure of planning and of decision-making by our elected officials. The citizens have been betrayed. One of Commissioner Barbetta’s mantras over the years has been, “We don’t need to re-invent the wheel; we need to see what others have done in other areas and learn from that.” I wonder who-in-the-heck’s wheels they have been looking at, if this is the best they can come up with.
Perhaps a greater shock is to come, because these same minds are now feverishly working to destroy the protections that were built in to the Sarasota 2050 Plan (under the guise of making it “workable for the developers”). Perhaps your readers will focus a bit on the projected costs to make the University/I-75 transportation network workable; one of the key components of 2050 that the development interests want the BCC to remove is the Fiscal Neutrality one… the one that requires developers to pay for the costs that their developments outside the Urban Services Area cause. Looking at the numbers in this article shows the reason they want that element removed, and it also shows exactly why it must NOT be removed. Infrastructure costs are huge! Sadly and scarily, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the BCC will pander to the development interests over the interests of the larger community and will, essentially, remove Fiscal Neutrality, shifting the burden of paying for the infrastructure costs from the developers to all the taxpayers. Lucky us. It is indeed ominous that the County states that there is no way it can afford to pay for the fixes to this oncoming (but only unforeseen by the commissioners…after all, they approved it) calamity at University/I-75, and the State apparently has no intention of bailing out the County. Lucky us. This is just a minor harbinger of things to come if the County in effect destroys the protections built in to 2050 (not just the Fiscal Neutrality one). At this point, perhaps it would behoove the public to pay attention to the warnings and concerns of the groups listed above, and to challenge forcefully the assertions and blandishments of those who would, seemingly, lead us down the Primrose Path and only present the bill later. Unfortunately, it seems to come down to, “Whom are you going to believe?” Well, it is now becoming apparent that believing what our elected officials tell us is not necessarily the better choice. In making 2050 “work for developers”, they may be making it unworkable for the community.
If Pat Neal turns out to be correct in one of his quoted statements, an ultimate irony may be that some of these developments will fail because of the traffic disaster they have created. Potential customers simply will avoid the area at all costs. Perhaps it will be a case of, “Be careful what you ask for…you may get it.”
William C. Zoller