Chamber official wins advisory board seat

Kevin Cooper will serve out an unexpired Sarasota County Planning Commission term, beating out a past county commissioner and past candidates for County Commission seats in the process

Kevin Cooper participates in a Siesta Key Village Association meeting. Photo from the News Leader archive
Kevin Cooper participates in a Siesta Key Village Association meeting. Photo from the News Leader archive

It took only a couple of minutes and one nomination from the dais for the Sarasota County Commission to appoint a new Planning Commission member during its Sept. 9 regular meeting.

The unanimous decision went to Kevin Cooper of Sarasota, vice president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce for public policy and Sarasota Tomorrow initiatives. Vice Chairman Al Maio put forth Cooper’s name for consideration.

“That was mine,” Chairwoman Carolyn Mason said of the nomination before calling for the vote.

Cooper beat out former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who had to step down from the board in 2012 because of term limits, as well as two candidates for the District 4 County Commission seat in 2014: Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key and Ray Porter of Sarasota.

Former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County
Former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County

Thaxton is director of community investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice. He also lost out in a bid for a Planning Commission seat in July 2013.

Ramirez, vice president and past president of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), faced Maio in the 2014 Republican primary. Porter, who has served as director of communications for the past 10 years for the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, ran as a Democrat for the District 4 seat, which was being vacated by long-time Commissioner Nora Patterson; she also was obligated to step down because of term limits.

Applications for the Planning Commission also had come in from James S. Piatchuk, a native of Sarasota who is a licensed Florida architect and owner of his eponymous firm; and Evan R. “Ron” Cutsinger of Englewood, who serves on the county’s Library Advisory Board. Cutsinger is a licensed financial advisor with Waypoint Advisors in Englewood and a real estate investor and developer, his application says.

The Sept. 9 appointment was made to fill an unexpired four-year term, effective through December 2016, according to a staff memo. It was necessitated by the resignation of Planning Commission member Vanessa Carusone, a former North Port city commissioner.

Prior to his joining the Greater Sarasota Chamber in December 2013, Cooper served as executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce for three years.

In response to a question on the application for the Planning Commission seat, Cooper wrote that he believes “preserving the community’s assets and managing an effective balance of land use in terms of both location and type” to be the county’s most pressing planning and land use issues. He added that a county priority should be to protect “those lands that best serve all stakeholders.” Further, he noted that it is critical for county residents “to evaluate the effects of development within our county and best practices from external peer communities.”

In response to a question about his vision of Sarasota County in 10 years, he wrote, “We need to maintain our current cultural/coastal amenities, enhance our unique positioning in travel/tourism, and continue to meet the demand of an ever-growing population in a way that continues to maintain high standards, fiscal responsibility, and long-term viability.”

Lourdes Ramirez. Photo courtesy of Ramirez
Lourdes Ramirez. Photo courtesy of Ramirez

Ramirez cited the proposed update of the county’s Comprehensive Plan as the most pressing planning and land use issue in the county. Thaxton’s response to the same question was “Long-range planning,” while Porter referenced what he said “appears to be a division in the community between those who want less-restrictive government growth regulation, and those who want tighter restrictions. The issue, like most in my opinion, requires a balanced approach.”

For his reply to the question, Cutsinger wrote, “Dealing with growth in a balanced way — not restricting it but also not getting ahead of infrastructure and creating sprawl. We are approaching gridlock in some areas during the season already. I am not opposed to growth — just that we should carefully consider how to best accommodate it in what is sure to be intense development in the next decade.”

In his application, Piatchuk responded to the question with the following: “The pressing issues are streamlining the Comprehensive Plan, continued work on 2050 policy, rezoning special exceptions, and mobility/transportation issues. Continuing to be mindful of sustainability and the health of our natural environment are very basic filters through which almost all issues have to pass through. No ‘growth’ is of course not an option though.”

According to documentation provided to the County Commission by staff, Cooper submitted his application for a Planning Commission seat on Jan. 20 of this year. Ramirez’s came in on Feb. 10; Porter’s, Feb. 13; Thaxton’s, Feb. 17; Cutsinger’s, Feb. 23; and Piatchuk’s, March 26.