City’s Tree Advisory Committee members finally seated

City Commission spends biggest part of discussion in effort to appoint neighborhood representatives

Steve Seidensticker, co-owner of Louies Modern restaurant on Palm Avenue, has complained to the City Commission about the damage to the sidewalk wreaked by roots of the gumbo limbo trees outside the dining establishment. Patrons have tripped over the damaged sidewalk, he said. Dealing with such issues is likely to be part of the Tree Advisory Committee’s focus. Image from Google Maps

It took slightly less than 25 minutes on Nov. 6 — with most of the voting related to neighborhood representatives — for the Sarasota City Commission to appoint members to its new Tree Advisory Committee.

That group has been charged with advising the City Commission on tweaks to the city’s Tree Ordinance, which has generated numerous complaints from residents and developers.

The members of the new committee will be as follows:

  • Mary Fuerst and Rob Patten, the two neighborhood representatives.
A spreadsheet shows candidates for the committee, with categories for which they would be qualified. John Barnett later asked that he be considered for a development interest position. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Fuerst is 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, she wrote in her application. Patten has his own firm, Aquaterra Associates, which handles landscape design and the construction of “large gardens,” he pointed out in his application. Additionally, he is a member of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and a member of the board of the Florida House Institute.

  • Michael Haflants and Chris Gallagher, the two development representatives.

An urban designer with Hoyt Architects, Gallagher previously was with the Jonathan Parks Architect firm in Sarasota, Gallagher wrote in his application. He designed “the acclaimed Citrus Square, a three-story, mixed-use, authentically-detailed, pedestrian-friendly project in downtown Sarasota,” he added.

Halflants, who submitted his application on Oct. 23, is an architect with the firm of Halflants + Pichette and an associate professor in the School of Architecture at the University of South Florida.

  • Trevor Falk, the downtown core representative. In his application, he wrote that he is a civil engineer with Universal Engineering Services, and he is a member of the Bayou Oaks Community Garden.
  • Shawn Dressler, a Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce representative. Dressler is a landscape architect, urban designer and urban planner with Kimley-Horn and Associates, he noted in his application.
  • Michael Gilkey Jr., the landscape architect/arborist representative. A landscape architect who owns his eponymous firm, Michael A. Gilkey Inc., he “also [provides] landscape construction and maintenance,” he noted in his application.
Michael Gilkey. Image from his firm’s Facebook page

The City Commission voted 3-2 on Aug. 21 to approve the ordinance establishing the committee. Then, on Oct. 2, the board also voted 3-2 to postpone a decision on the members. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch asked her colleagues to allow more time for people to submit applications, given the fact that several community meetings were cancelled because of Hurricane Irma, and news about the committee could have been publicized during those sessions.

Vice Mayor Liz Alpert and Commissioner Willie Shaw joined Ahearn-Koch in the majority on Oct. 2 that approved a 30-day delay on the vote.

Applications originally were due by Oct. 1.

Two other applications were submitted in October. They came from Stephen Sadoskas of Siesta Key and John Barnett of Bay Shore Road.

A retiree with more than 40 years of experience in engineering and business management, Sadoskas wrote that he is a member of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, the Siesta Key Association and the Bay Island Siesta Key Association.

Barnett is a former federal employee who worked with the Department of the Army for 10 years in Germany and Washington, D.C., and with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for 23 years at HUD’s District of Columbia headquarters. He noted that he is a member of the Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores Community Association.

How to begin

During the City Commission’s regular meeting on Nov. 6, Ahearn-Koch first asked what procedure the board members should follow in nominating candidates for the specific seats.

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie. File photo

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie responded that as chair of the board, her proposal was to start at the top of the list outlined in the ordinance, with the neighborhood representatives. However, Commissioner Hagen Brody suggested following the reverse order, because some people were eligible for more than one seat. His colleagues concurred with that. (Commissioner Willie Shaw was absent because of health reasons, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown noted at the beginning of the meeting.)

Alpert then quickly nominated Gilkey, who also had support from Ahearn-Koch.

Brody nominated Dressler, saying that while he really likes Gilkey, Dressler is “a nice young person” who has been wanting to get involved with community issues by serving on advisory boards. Brody added that he felt Dressler “will bring multiple perspectives to the [Tree Advisory Committee] that some of these other folks might not be able to satisfy.”

Alpert agreed that Dressler should be on the board, but she pointed out that he qualifies, as well, as the Chamber of Commerce representative. “I planned to nominate him for that category.”

Gilkey, Alpert continued, has “been very, very involved in the actual Tree Ordinance … and is an expert in landscaping.”

Brody then withdrew his nomination of Dressler, and the commissioners settled on Gilkey for the landscape architect position and Dressler for the Chamber seat.

Ahearn-Koch nominated Falk for the downtown core position, but Freeland Eddie proposed Lou Costa, a retired engineer who is secretary of the Sarasota Council of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA) Executive Committee and a Bayfront 20:20 stakeholder representative.

Alpert and Deputy City Manager Brown then pointed out that Costa would not be able to serve in the downtown core capacity, as he is a Bird Key resident.

When Brody asked whether the downtown core position would represent the Rosemary District, Freeland Eddie responded, “I think it should.”

Shawn Dressler. Image from the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

Then Brody nominated Gallagher, who lives in the Rosemary District. “He’s very well versed in this [issue],” Brody added of Gallagher.

“He’s tremendously qualified,” Freeland Eddie said, but she voiced concern that he had to recuse himself “a lot of times” when he served on the city’s Planning Board, as a number of projects that board addressed involved his clients.

Alpert explained that the Tree Advisory Committee “is being assembled … to tweak the current ordinance. It’s not going to address any specific projects.” Therefore, Alpert said, she could not imagine a scenario in which Gallagher would have to recuse himself during its discussions.

Freeland Eddie countered that the city has a consultant working on a new form-based code to cover land-use issues, so she felt Gallagher might not be an appropriate choice for the Tree Advisory Committee. He still might face conflict-of-interest situations, she said.

“I thought about that, too,” Brody replied, “but I would agree with Vice Mayor Alpert.”

Brody said that when he talked with Gallagher about the committee, he learned that Gallagher already is researching tree ordinances in other communities. “I trust Mr. Gallagher to really dive into … these issues. … I do think he would add a very critical element to the board.”

Then Alpert pointed out that she had planned to nominate Gallagher for one of the development interest positions.

Finally, with support from Alpert and Ahearn-Koch, Falk won the downtown core seat.

The board members quickly agreed to Halflants and Gallagher for the development interest seats.

Conflicting views

Multiple nominations ensued as the commissioners turned to the neighborhood representative seats.

Freeland Eddie again nominated Costa, while Brody put forward Patten’s name and Ahearn-Koch initially nominated Doug Means.

Means wrote in his Oct. 26 application that he is retired after a career in environmental planning that spanned more than 30 years. He worked in both the public and private sectors, he pointed out, including with Manatee County.

Ahearn-Koch asked that her colleagues consider Jono Miller and Susan Hagglund, as well. “This is the final piece [of the committee],” Ahearn-Koch told her colleagues. “How are we balancing [the committee]? … I’d like to point out that it’s all male at this point.”

Rob Patten. Rachel Hackney photo

Miller is the retired director of the New College Environmental Studies Program; he served for eight years on the board of the Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores Association, he wrote in his application, and that board endorsed his candidacy for a seat on the committee. Hagglund is the former president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, a former city Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection board member and past volunteer at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

When Alpert asked for any other nominations, Ahearn-Koch put forward Fuerst’s name.

As the voting ensued, Patten won approval, but no other nominee garnered support from more than two commissioners.

After Brody sought clarification about whether his colleagues thought they were voting on the final two positions, they told him they were. Brody replied that he thought they were voting on one person at a time. He then asked to add Andrew Dorr’s name to the list.

In his application, Dorr wrote that he is the project manager for Githler Development in Sarasota. In his accompanying letter to City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini, he 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.”

Finally, Fuerst won support from Ahearn-Koch and Freeland Eddie, while no other nominee had more than one vote.

Thus, Alpert said, Patten and Fuerst would be the neighborhood representatives.