Up & Down the Trail

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Sarasota news

by Stan Zimmerman
Commissions set tax rates
Sarasota City and County Commissions set their not-to-exceed tax rates. The county rate stays the same at 3.93 mills, or $3.93 per $1,000 of assessed value. City commissioners bumped their tax rate to 3.1738 mills from 2.8480 mills, an eight percent jump.

Both budgets will be reviewed at a pair of public hearings in September, but the proposed tax rates cannot be raised. They form the basis of a mailing to property owners called a TRIM notice – truth in millage alerting them to the date of the public hearings.

The city proposed $816,000 in new spending, about half for projects approved at a November retreat to develop “strategic initiatives.” The other half springs from a $300,000 effort to re-write the city’s zoning code into a “form-based code,” and $200,000 to replace failing audio-visual equipment allowing the broadcast of meetings at city hall.

Both governments saw their tax base increase for the first time in six years. The county experienced a 4.2 percent increase in property values for tax purposes; the city saw a 4.6 increase. But both will continue to raid their reserves to bring their budgets into balance.

Neither tax rate will raise enough in taxes to pay for anticipated expenses during the next fiscal year –Oct. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014.

City overhauls police department
Although she'’s only been on the job six months, Sarasota City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino has made sweeping changes in the department. The organization was reformed into four bureaus, two of them headed by officers recently promoted by DiPino.

Former sergeant turned Captain Pat Robinson will head the largest of the bureaus – patrol operations. The city is losing 17 sworn officers due to budget cuts. Of the 158 survivors, 98 will report to Robinson.

Veteran Captain Lucias Bonner will run the Office of Professional Standards, responsible for the departments many volunteers, as well as crime prevention, research and planning and internal affairs.

The department’s first female captain –Corrinew Stannish – is running the Bureau of Support Services. She is in charge of records, training, the property and evidence unit, special events and recruiting. The latter is important because the SPD will lose half of its serving officers in the next five years due to retirement.

The fourth bureau is Criminal Investigations, run by Lt. Pt Ledwith. He'’s in charge of 24 sworn officers, including 17 detectives.

Payne Park gets leash law
Sarasota'’s big downtown park east of Washington Blvd. joins the list of city parks requiring dogs to be on a leash. Payne Park joins Gillespie, Arlington and Bayfront Parks which also demand owners leash their dogs.

The decision by city commissioners followed another restriction to ban dogs from the new children’s circus-themed playground in Payne Park.

A summer of roadwork
Sarasota residents and summer visitors will need to be flexible for the next several months. There are two large projects and a number of small ones that will result in road closures and detours.

The biggest project will be along Old Bradenton Road between University Parkway and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The rehab will be a demonstration project for several techniques to make a “complete street.” Those will include low-impact design for stormwater, a five-foot wide median separating the travel lanes, and large bike lanes on both sides painted green.

The idea for the roadway rehab is to help tie together the “university corridor” between the University of South Florida, New College and the Ringling School of Art and Design. The Old Bradenton Road project is expected to last through December.

A second project will rehab downtown streets, thanks to the Downtown Improvement District. Improvements to sidewalks, landscaping, pedestrian crossings and parking are all planned. The district says all the work will be done by Thanksgiving.

Merchants are edgy because there will be some street closings, and there are ugly memories of business failures following street closures accompanying the construction of the 1350 condo tower at Main and Palm, as well as the building of the Five-Points roundabout.

Meanwhile the city’s usual summertime repaving program is in full swing. About 12 miles of streets all over the city will get a fresh surface.

Laurel Park gets security blanket
Sarasota’'s most charming downtown neighborhood is Laurel Park, composed of 1920s-era bungalows and duplexes. It is surrounded by land zoned for high-rise buildings. For years the Laurel Park residents have fought for a voice in what could be built around their neighborhood.

Meanwhile the city and developers wanted to retain a downtown zoning trait called “administrative site plan approval,” where no public hearings were needed before staffers could sign off on plans and building permits. For neighbors, the first inkling of a new tower would be the arrival of construction machinery.

A compromise has been reached, giving neighbors advance warning of projects and requiring two meetings between developers and neighbors. The first meeting would occur before any plans were filed, so residents could have early input and give local knowledge. The second meeting would be held after the plans are filed but before they are approved.

Neighbors worried developers could simply ignore their advise, so the compromise also includes a provision for an appeal to the planning board and even the city commission where the plans could be modified or even killed.

The compromise is called the Laurel Park Overlay District, and has been proposed for use city wide as a possible model for neighborhood-developer relations.


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