Up and Down the Trail

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By Rachel Brown Hackney

Chickens soon may be coming to a yard near you

Thanks to a 4-1 vote of the County Commission on Oct. 10, backyard chickens will be permitted in a number of new zoning districts, including some on the barrier islands.

Jono Miller, a founder of Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping (CLUCK), led the effort to get such a law approved beginning in June 2009. The county ordinance is modeled on one the City of Sarasota approved in February 2011. Commissioner Christine Robinson cast the lone “No” vote, as she had during the first public hearing on the law, held Sept. 20. The ordinance has a sunset date of Jan. 1, 2019; the board may decide to revise the regulations or make it permanent.

The law has the following provisions:

• It allows for the keeping of no more than four chickens in the Residential Single-Family, Residential Estate-2, Residential Estate-3 and Residential Commercial zoning districts. Chickens have been permitted on property zoned for agricultural uses.

• It prohibits roosters.

• It prohibits the slaughtering or selling of chickens, eggs or related products on sites.

• It requires that the chickens be provided with a movable covered enclosure or a fenced enclosure at all times, and the space per bird in an enclosure must not be less than 4 square feet. The enclosures cannot be placed within a front yard or side yard. Further, they must not be closer than 10 feet to any property line for an area zoned residential or within 25 feet of any adjacent residential dwelling.

• It contains a provision ensuring the new standards do not affect any homeowner association declarations or restrictions.

The case of the vanishing trees

As a leader of the nonprofit Bicycle/Pedestrian Advocates in Sarasota County, Mike Lasche was distressed when he learned recently that the towering row of palm trees next to U.S. 41 just north of the Gulfstream Avenue intersection in Sarasota had disappeared.

In an email to Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin, he pointed out, “[O]ne of the best pedestrian walkways in the whole City” was on the east side of the Ritz-Carlton. It featured a 12-foot sidewalk flanked by a 6-foot-wide greenway adjacent to the road and a 13.5-foot-wide landscaping area next to the hotel property. “Both of these strips were planted with stately palm trees which not only offered striking civic beauty but provided needed shade for Sarasota pedestrians,” he added in the email.

He was alerted by a nearby resident, he continued, “that the trees on the road side had been removed." What happened, Lasche asked?

City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw reported that she had spoken with the manager of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) resurfacing project scheduled to begin in late September from the vicinity of Bay Street, north to the general area where the 10th Street roundabout is planned. “He let me know that the Ritz relocated the palm trees as requested by the FDOT” in preparation for the resurfacing project,” she added.

FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen explained that the trees had stood in what FDOT calls a “clear zone,” a secure area that allows traffic to get off the road in an emergency. “We’re actually doing curb and gutter work there,” Stublen added of the strip east of the Ritz. No trees will be replanted along U.S. 41 by the Ritz after the resurfacing project has been completed, Stublen pointed out.

Asked why FDOT had not asked for the removal of the trees at an earlier point, given that the palms were in the “clear zone,” Stublen replied, “Evidently, it wasn’t a problem until we needed to do the curb and gutter [work].” It could just have been a matter of extra inches needed for that undertaking, he said.

Countdown to the World Rowing Championships

The official year-long countdown to the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park began on Sept. 23.

Meredith Scerba, the executive director of the event, introduced artist Malcolm Robertson — a native of Scotland — whose sculpture “Vortex” holds a digital clock that will tick until the event begins. Hundreds of spectators were on hand for the unveiling of the artwork, which will remain as a permanent feature in the park landscape, Scerba told the Sarasota County Commission. Robertson described his design of “Vortex” as a reflection of his fascination with waves and shorelines. The stainless steel sculpture is located on Regatta Island at the park.

Ticket sales also have begun for the Championships. Two-, four- and eight-day passes are available for the grandstand, beach seating and the Championship Pavilion on the west bank of Nathan Benderson Lake. They range in price from $50 to $200. Day passes will be available closer to the event, she told the County Commission.

Altogether, about 1,700 athletes from around the world are expected to participate in the rowing competitions, which will be held Sept. 23 to Oct. 1, 2017.

City has new finance director

Kelly Strickland has been promoted to financial administration director in the City of Sarasota, becoming the first woman to fill that role in the 100-plus years of city history, the city has announced. She had served as the deputy finance director since 2009. She replaces John Lege, who recently was tapped to be the assistant city manager. The Financial Administration Department not only prepares the city’s $200-million annual budget, but it also manages city investments, the employee payroll and procurement activities, the release points out.

Prior to her employment with the City of Sarasota, Strickland served as the interim finance director and accounting supervisor for the Martin County School Board in Stuart. She previously was the assistant finance director for the Alachua County Clerk of Courts.

Still no agreement with Airbnb

In March, Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) that she and her staff felt they were “just moments away” from signing an agreement with Airbnb to ensure the collection of the tourist development taxes on units its hosts rent in the county. Airbnb is an online service through which people can rent out accommodations worldwide.

Flash-forward seven months, and an agreement has yet to be inked. Robert R. Lewis, director of community and intergovernmental relations for the county, contacted Ford-Coates after hearing a discussion about Airbnb during a Florida Association of Counties (FAC) meeting.

She explained to him in an email, “Over many months, we attempted to negotiate [an agreement] but [Airbnb representatives] have insisted on a number of provisions that are not in compliance with state law. This summer, Monroe County contacted the [Sarasota] County Attorney regarding the potential of a class action lawsuit that could be brought by multiple counties against Airbnb.”

Ford-Coates stated that Airbnb thus far has been insistent on an agreement with the county that would allow it to keep secret any details that would identify its hosts. That would make it very difficult, for example, for Karen Rushing, the county clerk of the 12th Circuit Court and county comptroller, and her staff to complete their annual audit of county finances, Ford-Coates added, because they would have insufficient information about Tourist Development Tax revenue.

“I hate the fact that we’re not collecting [taxes from Airbnb hosts] at the moment,” Ford-Coates said. However, it would not be fair to those people who have been honest enough to pay the money, she explained, if her office could not collect revenue that should have been paid by others who failed to report it.

She also has been frustrated by the fact that the state Department of Revenue forged an agreement with Airbnb, “which we’re shocked at,” to collect taxes going forward but with no provision for recovering past revenue. Lewis said he expects to hear more this fall regarding “any FAC legislative policy position.”

Mote senior scientist honored as ‘White House Champion’

On Oct. 7, Dr. Kevan Main, senior scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota was among 12 people from across the country honored in Washington, D.C., as “White House Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood,” Mote announced. Main, who serves as director of the 200-acre Mote Aquaculture Research Park, is past president and a current member of the World Aquaculture Society. She has led Mote’s aquaculture research efforts since 2001.

“The Champions of Change program allows the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities,” a Mote news release explained. The 12 Champions of Change promote sustainable seafood through commercial enterprises, conservation, management and research, the release explains. Main is one of just two Champions working in aquaculture. 

New owners for the Sarasota Hyatt

The 294-room Sarasota Hyatt Regency has been sold to a group led by Dr. Kiran Patel of Tampa. Although the purchase by Sarasota Hotel Acquisition Group LLC was recorded at $57.8 million, that figure likely did not include furniture, fixtures and equipment, and operational supplies, according to knowledgeable people in the hospitality real estate industry. The full cost is believed to be closer to the $75-million mark.

Blackstone Group, the giant equity fund, had owned the hotel since May 2007, when it spent $65 million for the property. Blackstone invested $22 million into the Hyatt the following year, winning the “Regency” designation from the Hyatt Hotel Corp. The hotel is expected to remain a Hyatt going forward, industry sources say.


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