City Commission delays vote on Tree Advisory Committee applicants for 30 days

Split decision comes at request of Commissioner Ahearn-Koch, who says she hopes more people will apply for the development interest seats

Laurel Park residents have been among those in the city most vocal about tree protection. File photo

On a 3-2 vote, the Sarasota city commissioners agreed to extend by 30 days the deadline for applications to the Tree Advisory Committee it approved — also on a 3-2 vote — during its Aug. 21 regular meeting.

“I would like to respectfully ask if we could delay this by 30 days, if possible,” Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch told her colleagues when they addressed the appointments on their Oct. 2 agenda. Because Hurricane Irma’s potential for striking Sarasota in early September led to the cancellation of meetings, Ahearn-Koch explained, she was unable to make the announcements she had planned the creation of the advisory committee and encourage people to apply for the seven seats. Among those meetings that were called off was a regular session of the Sarasota Council of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA), she added.

Her primary concern, she continued, was that only two developers had applied by the Sept. 20 deadline for the two seats set aside for development interests. “[They] actually have a 100% chance to get one of those seats,” she said, whereas one of the 11 applicants for the two seats representing neighborhoods had only an 18% chance of appointment.

Later commission discussion made clear, however, that some of the other applicants had qualifications that would enable them to be considered for more than one type of seat.

Nonetheless, with greater outreach efforts, Ahearn-Koch told her colleagues, she believes more people will apply for the development interest seats.

Vice Mayor Liz Alpert and Commissioner Willie Shaw finally joined Ahearn-Koch in voting for the postponement.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch. File photo

When Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked City Attorney Robert Fournier whether the 30-day delay would be permissible under city guidelines, he replied, “I think you have the discretion to do that.” He pointed out that the board agreed on the Sept. 20 application deadline on a vote separate from the one that created the committee.

Still, Freeland Eddie said, “I don’t know that I necessarily agree that the word didn’t get out” about the committee’s formation.

Commissioner Hagen Brody noted that the news media carried stories about the Aug. 21 discussion, and “people have been talking about this issue a lot. … I’m impressed,” he added, by the number of applicants. “I think it would be a little bit disrespectful of them [for us] to say, ‘No,’ or ‘We want more [people to apply for the seats].’”

“I don’t have very strong feelings about extending [the deadline 30 days,” Alpert said, adding that she, too, was impressed by the people who had made themselves candidates.

“It’s not that I didn’t like those applicants,” Ahearn-Koch told her colleagues. She then reiterated her statistics about the numbers of applicants for specific seats, based on the slots they had indicated on their applications. She added, though, “I am pleased by the number of applicants that we have gotten.”

“[With] some of the advisory boards that we rely on most” — such as the Planning Board and the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Board, she continued — “we don’t have these categories” for specific types of representation.

Along with two neighborhood representative seats and two for development interests, the City Commission approved one downtown core resident, one Chamber of Commerce representative or downtown core merchant, and one landscape architect or arborist for the Tree Advisory Committee. Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw voted in August to oppose the development interests, but their colleagues affirmed the need for diversity among the committee’s members.

Should they or should they not?

Alpert pointed out during the Oct. 2 discussion that if even the commissioners agreed to the 30-day extension of the deadline, she did not believe that announcing at a CCNA meeting that the city is seeking applicants would increase the number of people applying for the development interest seats.

Ahearn-Koch disputed that. A number of people — whom she characterized as “crossover” applicants because they have represented neighborhoods in other capacities but they also would qualify for the development interest seats — routinely attend CCNA meetings, she noted. Among those, she said, is Andy Dorr.

Andy Dorr addresses the County Commission in July 2016. File photo

In Dorr’s application for the Tree Advisory Committee, he wrote that he is the project manager for Githler Development in Sarasota. In his accompanying letter to City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini, Dorr added, “I fit several of the criteria for committee make-up and representation. I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce for 7 years” and have served on its Executive Committee for the past two years. He noted, “I’m involved in commercial and residential real estate development in the City of Sarasota” and have served “as my neighborhood’s CCNA representative.”

Nadalini’s staff had marked on his application that he could be appointed to the Tree Advisory Committee as a Chamber of Commerce representative, a development interest representative or a neighborhood representative.

Alpert said she found a total of four people among the applicants who could serve in the development interest seats.

The two people who identified themselves as candidates for the development interest seats were G. David Walters, whose real estate firm, Tenth Way Corp., “owns one of the largest undeveloped heavily wooded properties within the City,” as he noted in his application; and Chris Gallagher, an urban designer with Hoyt Architects.

Chris Gallagher. Image from the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

While he was with the Jonathan Parks Architect firm in Sarasota, Gallagher wrote, he designed “the acclaimed Citrus Square, a three-story, mixed-use, authentically-detailed, pedestrian-friendly project in downtown Sarasota.”

Responding to Ahearn-Koch’s comments about Dorr, Freeland Eddie pointed out, “I could decide that I don’t like either one of those [development interest] candidates. … We do have options.”

The commission could seat enough members from among the applicants to create a quorum, so the committee could begin its work, Freeland Eddie added. Then the commission could try to seek more people for the development interest seats.

When Freeland Eddie asked for consensus about how to move forward, Ahearn-Koch responded that at the outset of the discussion, “I made the motion [to extend the application period].”

Commissioner Shaw then seconded the motion.

The rest of the applicants

The following also applied for seats on the Tree Advisory Committee:

  • Jono Miller. Rachel Hackney photo

    Jeffrey Lambrix, whom staff identified as someone who could be a neighborhood or downtown core representative. He has served on the 1350 Main Condominium Association Board of Directors, he wrote, and has been chair of the organization’s Landscape Committee since 2015.

  • Mary A. Fuerst, a retired high school mathematics teacher who is secretary of the Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association and a member of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection (PREP) Board.
  • Susan Hagglund, former president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, a former PREP board member and past volunteer at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. She noted that she is a Master Gardener “working at Bay Haven Elementary Schools Food Forest.”
  • Jono Miller, the retired director of the New College Environmental Studies Program, who identified himself in his application as “an outspoken environmentalist and recognized tree defender.” However, he added, “I also understand the practical realities of property rights and ownership.” He served for eight years on the board of the Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores Association, he wrote, and that board has endorsed his candidacy for a seat on the committee.
  • Rob Patten, whose firm, Aquaterra Associates, handles landscape design and the construction of “large gardens.” He is a member of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and a member of the board of the Florida House Institute, he noted on his application.
  • The Rev. Susan Bierker, who has a master’s degree in social work.
  • Trevor Falk, a civil engineer with Universal Engineering Services, whom staff identified as a potential member of the committee in a neighborhood representative or downtown core seat. Falk noted that he is a member of the Bayou Oaks Community Garden.
  • Shawn Dressler, a landscape architect, urban designer and urban planner with Kimley-Horn and Associates, who is a member of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. He applied for the landscape architect seat.
  • Lou Costa, a retired engineer who is secretary of the CCNA Executive Committee and a Bayfront 20:20 stakeholder representative.
  • Michael Gilkey Jr., a landscape architect who owns his eponymous firm. Michael A. Gilkey Inc. “also [provides] landscape construction and maintenance,” he noted.
  • Philip J. Smith, a registered landscape architect and certified arborist with David W. Johnston Associates Inc. Staff identified him as being able to hold a neighborhood representative or landscape architect/arborist seat on the committee. Smith noted in his resume that he has been project manager for a number of the Ringling College of Art + Design’s undertakings, including the new library and the sound stage and visual arts buildings.