Commission Rejects Condo Owners Plans to Restrict Events Downtown

Last night Sarasota City Commission voted to dismiss a proposed amendment to the city ordinance which governs large events downtown by a margin of 4-1.

Commissioner Hagen Brody took a strong stand in support of large events stating more than once during his comments that this was “a solution without a problem.” Brody continued to challenge the idea of restricting the approval process for events downtown saying “I support any effort to simplify the events approval process, and I would be opposed to any effort which makes that process more difficult.”

The changes to the ordinance would have affected almost every major event taking place inside the downtown core by giving condo owners the ability to veto events that propose any street closings inside the city limits.

Here is a link to the agenda from last night’s meeting if you are interested in learning more.

Click here for a direct link to a PDF of the proposed changes.

Presented by Patrick Gannon on behalf of the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association, the proposed changes were a direct response to the city’s request for stakeholder input after deferring a decision on the same issue back in Feb of 2017.

Related – Watch our coverage of the process last year

Related – Our live video from city hall last year when the city voted to kick the can

During his presentation, Gannon stated that the proposed changes were “reached by a consensus of stakeholder organizations,” but a clever person might question the strength of that consensus upon discovering that it was made up of only 3 organization and was reached during a meeting which only 40 people attended.

Ron Sotto, Vice-Chairman of the Downtown Improvement District Board as well as an active member of the Downtown Merchants Association (one of the three organizations Gannon claims makes up his consensus) spoke out against the proposed changes. “We really have to question whether it’s worth putting some of these events on because of the costs…” he said in reference to the additional burden these changes would place on event organizers.

Commissioner Ahern Koch (the only vote in support of the proposed changes) along with Mayor Shellie Eddie and Liz Alpert, sought to clarify the confusion surrounding the wording of the proposed amendments on multiple occasions throughout the hearing. Specifically, they wanted clarification on section B of the proposed amendment which reads as follows:

B. Event-related street closures of any duration that prevent vehicular access, including limited vehicular access, to any residential building are prohibited under all circumstances except where 100% of the Affected Parties who are constrained by that condition have agreed to such closure.

The concern was that the language as written could be interpreted to restrict almost any event that proposed closing a street anywhere inside the city limits. Coupled with other concerns regarding the proposed changes, the end result was a vote to reject the proposal by a margin of 4-1.

During a conversation after the hearing Gannon sought to clarify his position. He claimed that the intention of the changes was to simplify the process of planning and approving events downtown. I told him it seemed that the opposite was true based on the presentation we had just seen and then asked why they never used language that clearly stated those goals in their presentation to the city. Gannon had no good answer.

I pressed further to try and understand their motives for the proposed changes. More specifically, I wanted to know if their true intention were to simplify the process of planning and approving events downtown, then why not reach out to the event planners themselves or bring in more than two other community organizations to come up with the proposed changes? Again, Gannon gave no good answer. This left me strongly questioning the real motives behind these proposed changes, and more than a bit relieved that the city voted to reject the changes.

What do you think? Should we support vibrant and diverse events in the downtown core? Or should we give the condo owners more control? Share your thoughts on social media, and share this message with a friend who might find this information useful. It helps us reach a larger audience, and gets us closer to our goal of Creatively Connecting Sarasota.

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