On September 26, SRQ MEDIA hosted the second installment of our newest powerhouse initiative: SB2 Rumbles. Audience members turned out in droves to hear both sides of an impassioned argument as to whether or not public hearings should be required for all large-scale developments in the city.
Based on a modified Oxford Style debate, SRQ Rumbles tackle challenging topics relevant to the Sarasota–Bradenton region by presenting a thoughtful “for” and “against” position on a motion that distills the topic. The purpose of the SB2 Rumble is to provide the community with articulate, well-researched, presentations on both sides of the motion structured around transparent and civil public dialogue.
After opening remarks from event sponsor MaryAnne Young of the New College Foundation, event co-moderator, Jacob Ogles discussed the modified Oxford Style debate guidelines and presented the motion stating “Sarasota should require public hearings for all large proposals in the downtown development review process.”
Debating For the motion were Eileen Normile, Kate Lowman and former City of Sarasota Mayor, Mollie Cardamone. All three women are founding members of STOP!, a civic group organized to advocate for specific changes in the City of Sarasota’s zoning code. STOP! has asked the City to adopt public hearings for large projects, standards for wide sidewalks and to pursue better traffic studies. Kevin Cooper, President of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Chris Gallagher, Partner of HOYT Architects and Javi Suarez, Principal of Apex-Studio of Suarez were on the opposing side debating Against the motion.
Kate Lowman kicked off the debate by emphasizing that community input at hearings could ultimately benefit all involved including developers, landowners and members of the community. “That’s what public hearings are really all about,” she said. “They are almost never about stopping the project. Usually, they are about making a project fit better.” On the opposing side, Kevin Cooper argued that the current administrative review process does protect the rights of land-owners, including some 1,800 property owners who saw down-zonings with the approval of the Downtown Master Plan. “The other side of that was always administrative review, a simplified, stream-lined process,” he argued.
Former Mayor, Mollie Cardamone advocated that major developments should still land at public city hearings noting that elected officials often have to answer for projects approved without their input. An example of this would be The Vue, a project Cardamone said was attractive but had narrow sidewalks separating the building from the road. “There are some problems I would take issue with,” she said.
Chris Gallagher, a partner at HOYT Architects, however argued that more positive developments have come into place because of the master plan and administrative review such as the Aloft. Gallagher also noted that Sarasota’s WalkScore is the 4th best in America.
With a massive copy of the city development code in hand, Eileen Normile noted that asking the public to be constantly involved in public conversation about the broader city code isn’t fair to citizens who simply want input on projects that affect their neighborhood or community. Normile also stated that though our region is rated the 4th best according to WalkScore, it is also ranked the 10th most dangerous for pedestrians by Smart Growth America.
Javi Suarez, emphasized that developers share concern for the community and assured that professional city staff involved in review provide the oversight needed to make sure projects serve community needs. “It cannot take away public input and allow the staff to make decisions,” he said. “What it can do is determine dimensional standards, building design standards and so forth.”
Audience members brought the heat, with hard-hitting questions directed at both debate teams during the Q&A portion of the evening. Nothing was off limits as many voiced their concerns on such a controversial topic. Both debate teams were begging for more time to answer each thought-provoking and concise question that was posed.
In the end, the crowd swayed in favor of the motion and determined that Sarasota should require public hearings for all large proposals in the downtown development review process with a 5 percent sway of the crowd as opposed to the 3 percent sway on the other side. SRQ Rumbles serve as a reminder that we can disagree mightily, and then walk away friends through evoking change in our region.
To view a full gallery of images from the September, 26th SRQ Rumble, click here.
The next SRQ Rumble Parley will take place on Tuesday, February 27 at the Powel Crosley Estate discussing school vouchers, charter schools and school choice in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.
Purchase your tickets at: srqsb2.com and join us for the next “rumble!” Seats are limited at the location, so reserve yours early.