County Commission Growth Policies Ignore Best Data, Rob Us of Real Growth

Master: Is all growth good?

Student (thinks for awhile): Yes, I suppose all growth is good.

Master: Isn’t that the thinking of a cancer cell?

When it comes to land use and changing the 2050 plan, often the conversation doesn’t go deep. Those who claim to be “pro-business” equate building with growth, and all growth is good, right? Those who challenge a project or land use change are labeled “anti-growth.” This approach doesn’t make Sarasota thrive. It won’t create superior development and the economic diversification we want. If your goal is excellence, you consider all angles, gather the best information and develop policies which result in superior outcomes.

How do we get there? Measure our land-use policy outcomes. County Commissioners could learn a lot from how Sarasota Memorial Hospital operates.

Years ago, when Duncan Finlay became CEO, Sarasota Memorial created a mission statement. It reads: “Our community will be served by the best health care system in America. SMHCS will be the best place to be a patient, …to work, and …to practice medicine. Our extraordinary people, our innovative clinical technology, and our effective use of information systems will set us apart.” SMH walks their talk. Its website lists numerous national awards for clinical excellence. During my 20 years in pharmaceuticals, I called on hospitals all over the US. SMH is a different animal. It functions more like a University hospital than a community hospital. It’s impressive.

Sarasota Memorial commits to protocols that improve patient care. Their largest payer, Medicare, holds hospitals accountable. If a hospital’s patient outcomes are poor—for example if too many patients are re-admitted 30 days after a procedure with a complication—Medicare reduces or refuses reimbursement. SMH embraces best practices. Excellent clinical outcomes result and taxpayers benefit. The resulting savings and improvement for our health, our lives, is tangible.

Turning to Sarasota 2050, there is groundbreaking data measuring how land-use policy impacts community prosperity. Joe Minicozzi, a leading author of some of this work, gained national attention for a project using Sarasota County’s property tax data! After studying Sarasota’s property tax and infrastructure records, he found it took 42 years for a suburban single-family home in Sarasota to pay off it’s infrastructure needs (longer than the life of the infrastructure). Communities all over the US are using Minicozzi’s analysis to develop their comprehensive plans and inviting him to speak and review their policies. Minicozzi shows how the right mix of development creates value and community wealth.

Price of Sprawl

 

Charles Marohn is another thought leader in land-use policy outcomes. He documented how typical development patterns deliver a boost to community coffers for the first eight years, but once the infrastructure bills start coming due, the tax revenue generated doesn’t cover expenses. To meet new expenses, new development is approved. Marohn calls the problem “the Growth Ponzi Scheme.”

When County Commissioners decided to hire a consultant to evaluate 2050’s fiscal neutrality policy, Minicozzi or Marohn weren’t considered. Their data is absent from proposed 2050 revisions. SMH leadership would invite thought leaders like Minicozzi and Marohn to give lectures, and incorporate their recommendations into policy. Instead, our Commission is relying on 2050 landowners and their reps (like Kimley-Horn) to shape land-use policy. Insane.

We need leaders who will deliver excellence. Lourdes Ramirez and Shannon Snyder are committed to best practices in land use outcomes. Alan Maio and Paul Caraguilo are heavily bankrolled by the cache of developers who will benefit from 2050 changes which have no basis in sound, unbiased analysis—those who want to keep the Ponzi scheme going at our expense. In the end, voters hold the Commission accountable. It’s up to us

 

Graph from the website The Price of Sprawl, How Overdevelopment Robs You

6 Comments on County Commission Growth Policies Ignore Best Data, Rob Us of Real Growth

  1. Ms. Antunes is correct when she says “Property owners do not have the right to build however they choose at others expense.” However, she fails to see the most obvious way to keep taxpayer rights from conflicting with individual property rights: Don’t obligate the taxpayers to subsidize developers in the first place!
    And she is clearly wrong – as a matter of constitutional law – when she says “Property rights are secondary to taxpayer return on investment.” I’m not talking the U.S. Constitution here, I’m referring to the Florida Constitution, which is stronger in protecting property rights specifically than its federal counterpart. Read Article I, Section 2 which enumerates the Basic Rights of all Floridians, and includes “to acquire, possess and protect property”. It goes on to say whose property rights may be regulated: Aliens ineligible for citizenship. That’s the only constitutional exception to the primacy of property rights in Florida over government’s power to take them away, no matter what the rationale-of-convenience may be at the moment.
    When the 2050 Plan is viewed in the light of the Florida Constitution’s guarantee of individual property rights, it is clearly unconstitutional, and should be scrapped. Without the county government’s power to steal property rights by legislative whim and sell them to the highest bidding developer (read: campaign contributions), every property owner in Sarasota County would be free to utilize their land as they think fits their personal “best use” visualization. And along with the increased individual freedom, we would have a county commission that developers would not be able to “buy” because they’d have no special favors to sell to them. Growth would happen only where it was fiscally sustainable, because there would be no subsidy incentive from the county to skew the profitability calculations, and only the property owners would be on the hook in case of failure, not taxpayers.
    That would not allow one neighbor to damage another neighbor’s property in the process of enjoying his own, however. Trespass precedent in common law goes back longer than this country has been around, and if a group of neighbors want to persuade others to abide by a common neighborhood vision, they can voluntarily implement a private covenant which will have the force of contract law upon all the signatories to it. It cannot, however, trample on the property rights of others who do not sign it.
    Before we go down the dead-end “a majority of voters passed the 2050 plan” lane, we all need to be careful of the terminology we casually throw around to connive others into acceding to the sneaky theft of their Basic Rights when we describe this wonderfully created country of ours. We need to realize that we live in a democratically-elected constitutional republic, and not a democracy. In a democracy, the majority rule, which forces the preferences of the majority on every minority. However, in a constitutional republic, the job of the government is to protect the rights of every citizen equally, not to compel subjugation of some citizens to others by force of law.
    Do you want democracy, or equal rights? You can’t have both.

    • Bill, thanks for reading! Land use policy doesn’t interfere with the right to “acquire, possess and protect” property.

      One reason land use policy exists is to efficiently allocate tax dollars to provide community infrastructure.

      In our built environment, infrastructure decisions involve more that just one property owner. Taxpayers must not be obligated without their consent to infrastructure bills. That is the wisdom of zoning and planning – so our collective investments in infrastructure are efficient and optimized.

      Property rights do not exist in a vacuum. When some people claim they have the right to do anything they want with their land, I expect they also believe their kids have a right to go to school, they have a right to police protection, to education, water, electricity, and an ambulance when they are ill or injured. It’s all infrastructure – it all involves their neighbor’s money.

      As for the 2050 plan, scrapping the plan would allow the original rural zoning to stand. Sounds good to me. The taxpayers would not be obligated to fund or maintain surplus infrastructure. I agree that scrapping the plan is a good idea, and not obligating taxpayers to fund infrastructure is wise here, though not entirely for the reasons you give.

  2. There is no choice offered here. It is not pro-growth versus anti-growth. It is not pro-developer versus pro smart growth. Both sides are anti-property rights for individuals. What Sarsotans and Floridians should be looking for is someone who advocates choices for individual citizens. Why should we the people of Florida have to choose between two factions whose mutually exclusive desire is to impose their will on us. The fear both of these factions share is that individual land owners will make their own decisions regarding the neighborhoods they live, and the lifestyle they lead.

    • The work of Minicozzi and Mahron shows the way to develop – development which is financially productive, generates enough tax revenue to pay for the services it requires, development that doesn’t gouge taxpayers. This is referred to in the post, and I’ll write more about it in the future. In the meantime, a google search will bring you lots of information on the work of these two men.

      The “anti-property rights” characterization is way off base. When taxpayer investments are involved (as with infrastructure) individual property rights clash with taxpayer rights. Because taxpayers are left holding the bag with the infrastructure bill if the development is done in a fiscally insolvent manner, the property owner’s rights cannot obligate others to taxation. Property rights are secondary to taxpayer return on investment.

      Simply put, property rights have limits, and those limits kick in when the property owner’s desired development obligates other people to pay for things.

      This is where the libertarian philosophies of “no zoning”, “properity rights” and “low to no taxes” are inherently inconsistent. You cannot have both.

      • Indeed property rights are limited when it is assumed that all property belongs to the state, and there is therefore a public interest in private property. This logic is unassailable only if all property belongs to the state. However, the premise is false.

        The concept of property rights, as opposed to property privileges, do not depend on libertarian philosophies. Ms Antunes, whom I regard very highly, and who deserves much credit for the hard work she does, is conflating unrelated issues. The libertarians are a modern political phenomenon. The property rights we are discussing belong to us by law.

        It is safe to ignore libertarian philosophy, and instead concentrate on the peaceful enjoyment of lawfully purchased property. Neither party in the original discussion evidences any regard for genuine property rights. Instead we have two arms of the same political body, punching their common, public face. This conflict amounts to nothing more than a quasi-internal struggle to determine how best to spend the proceeds of local government’s exorbitant taxation policies. The only one receiving the blows is the taxpaying public.

        The simple, practical approach to improving the quality of life in Sarasota County, is to advocate for a reduction in the tax burden. An adjunct to this simple prescription, is to reduce the authority of the local governors to the point that they have nothing with which to threaten property owners, and by extension, nothing to sell to developers.

        My purpose is not to denigrate Ms Antunes’ efforts. My purpose is to help focus attention on possible solutions, as opposed to the en vogue process of endless bickering over the distribution of spoils.

        • Thank you for the reply, and for reading.

          Here is the main point: certain forms of development fail to generate enough tax revenue to pay for the services they require (and by law, the government is obliged to provide). It is inherently gouging existing taxpayers to facilitate such development. Property owners do not have the right to build however they choose at others expense. The work of Minicozzi and Marohn illustrate these realities. Theirs is groundbreaking work and must be incorporated into sound public policy.

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