Commissioners trade barbs about representation of constituents and facets of the plans put forth by Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners
It took about an hour and 50 more minutes of discussion on Nov. 30, including numerous pauses when Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie chastised attendees, citing their lack of appropriate decorum.
In the end, an effort by Commissioner Willie Shaw to rescind the City Commission’s Nov. 20 approval of a lease for the Lido Pool and Pavilion property failed on a 2-3 vote.
The lease between the city and Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners LLC is set to go into effect on May 1, 2018, with the firm committing to about $4 million in improvements that it hopes to have completed by the end of June 2019. Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners still will need City Commission approval of a major conditional use and a site plan before it can commence with renovations and some additions.
Two of the firm’s principals — Sarasota residents Gavin Meshad and Troy Syprett — were present on Nov. 30 to explain again that their intention is for the facilities to remain open to all members of the public.
Initially, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert joined Shaw and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch — who seconded Shaw’s motion — in voting to rescind the Nov. 20 action. However, as soon as Freeland Eddie announced the 3-2 split, Alpert indicated she had not intended to vote that way. After Freeland Eddie asked City Attorney Robert Fournier what to do, Fournier’s response prompted Freeland Eddie to inquire of the board members, as she routinely does, “Is that your vote, Commissioners?”
“No,” Alpert replied.
When the commissioners voted again, Alpert joined Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Hagen Brody in defeating Shaw’s motion.
Prior to the vote, Fournier referenced a legal case he had researched that he felt could serve as precedent for Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners to bring suit against the city, if the motion to rescind approval of the lease prevailed. “My job in this situation is to evaluate the legal risks,” he pointed out. In this case, he added, “I would characterize [legal recourse] as a significant risk.”
An attorney, too, Brody said he had reviewed the case law and felt that rescinding the Nov. 20 vote could lead to “potentially millions of dollars of taxpayers’ dollars [going to Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners],” and that was a risk he was not wiling to take.
William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota, who addressed the board on behalf of Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners, also warned of legal precedents that indicated the City Commission would be opening itself up for a lawsuit if Shaw won majority support for his motion.
Accusations and responses
The two Nov. 30 votes followed Shaw’s admonishment of all three attorneys on the board — Alpert and Freeland Eddie, as well as Brody. He indicated that they had acted on numerous occasions as if they were in court instead of at the board dais, working on behalf of constituents.
“I never showed my other side,” he said. “I’m a preacher.”
That night, he continued, he was going to proceed as a preacher by referring to the Book of Philippians in the Bible. “‘Is it pure?’ Is it just?’ … I’m still saying I will stand by my motion to rescind. … I like a fight. I love to fight … no matter win, lose or draw. Bring it.”
“We take everything that comes across the dais seriously,” along with every phone call and every email, Freeland Eddie responded. “We do our best to make the best decisions.”
“If we are supposed to represent the people that voted for us, we should be representing them not because we’re afraid,” Ahearn-Koch told her colleagues. “We should be representing them because we are emboldened to represent them. … It is my job to represent the people that voted for me.”
Then Alpert said she also felt the need to “weigh in on the comment that was made by Commissioner Shaw. … I think it’s very presumptuous for you to make the allegation that some of us on this commission aren’t working for the people of this city,” she told him. “That could not be further from the truth. … I took offense at that.”
She had been responding to every email she had received about the Nov. 20 vote, Alpert continued. Although “two or three” of the correspondents sent angry replies to her explanation about why she voted to approve the lease, she said, the majority expressed the sentiment that they had been misinformed about the Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners’ proposal.
Among the incorrect statements perpetrated by the “rumor mill,” Alpert continued, was an assertion that the company planned to tear down the existing structures and build a much larger facility. “This is just additional seating in the existing footprint that’s there,” she said of the plans for a 200-seat restaurant. “They’re renovating the buildings that are there now,” she added, and they plan to add a tiki hut bar, a splash pad for children and a playground.
“I am sure they would be really happy not to add those extra things,” Alpert said, raising her voice. “A splash pad and a playground [are not] going to bring extra revenue to the project.”
Moreover, Alpert pointed out, Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners had been “working with the residents for three years to modify the plans to bring in a plan that people wanted. I weighed all of those things. I view governance not as putting your finger in the wind to say, ‘What way is the wind blowing right now?’ I view governance as ‘You are elected to be the representative. You are elected to look at all of the facts, pro and con, and make the best decision under the circumstances and not take a poll.’”
People also had complained that the new facilities would be much more expensive for people to use, Alpert continued. Admission to the pool is $4, she pointed out, and Syprett of Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners had talked of raising the fee only to $5 after adding the splash pad.
“I’m told that the Ringling Bridge got tremendous pushback when it was originally proposed,” Alpert told the meeting attendees. “Guess what? Everybody now loves the bridge.”
A change of mind
Early in the week, Shaw had asked that the discussion about rescinding the lease vote be put on the agenda for the special meeting on Nov. 30. The session had been scheduled just for the board to decide how to handle public meetings and hearings over the next months regarding an extensive overhaul of the city’s zoning regulations.
Early during the Nov. 30 discussion, Shaw reminded his colleagues that he originally made a motion on Nov. 20 to direct staff to use $1,250,000 in city funds set aside for improvements to the Lido Pool and Pavilion to begin that work, in lieu of acting on a proposed lease for the property between the city and Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners.
However, Shaw continued, City Attorney Fournier indicated that the motion was out of order. Thus, Shaw said, “I chose the option that would keep [the property] in local hands.”
On Nov. 20, only Ahearn-Koch voted against the lease, which has an initial term of 10 years and then two 10-year options for renewal.
The Nov. 20 agenda item took almost five hours and included comments from 43 members of the public.
Shaw also explained on Nov. 30 that 356 people had contacted him in the aftermath of that vote, so he felt compelled to bring up the issue again. “The public is overwhelmingly opposed [to the terms of the lease].”
When he was “a young black man,” Shaw said, he was prohibited from visiting Lido Beach because of segregation laws in effect at that time.
“I have to vote conscience,” he said; “vote right.”
At the conclusion of his statements, applause rang out in the Commission Chambers at City Hall, producing Freeland Eddie’s first bang of the gavel and admonishment of the attendees.
Fournier then explained, at Freeland Eddie’s behest, that if the motion to rescind the Nov. 20 vote passed, that would lead to the necessity of re-advertising a City Commission discussion of the proposed lease and then another vote on whether to approve the lease.
Fournier suggested the commissioners listen to public comments before engaging in their discussion.
Nineteen people addressed the board that evening, including several who had made comments on Nov. 20.
This time, two prominent African-American women in the community signed up to speak: Barbara Langston and Valerie Buchand.
“I’m standing up for Sarasota,” Langston told the board. “Our beaches are for everyone. … Do not ever consider selling out to any developers.”
The Lido Casino on Lido Beach “lasted exactly 29 years,” Buchand said, noting that it was a “whites only” establishment.
Sarasota attorney John Patterson, representing the Lido Beach Resort, argued that the lease the commission approved on Nov. 20 lacked measures needed to protect city residents, including terms similar to a number in the city’s lease with O’Leary’s in Bayfront Park. “You have a very flawed document …”
For example, Patterson said, the city has the power to stop the sale of alcoholic beverages at O’Leary’s if consumption of alcohol becomes a nuisance there. No such measure is included in the lease with Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners, he pointed out.
Another Sarasota attorney, Dan Lobeck, argued that the plans to keep the new restaurant open until 10:30 p.m. will lead to “really intense, very late drinking.”
On the other side, Merrill, the attorney representing Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners, reminded the board that the plans were “heavily vetted through a three-year process. … We haven’t heard anything new today; all we’ve heard is a lot more clapping [in response to opponents’ remarks].”
Merrill added that if the commission rescinded the vote on the lease, that would create “uncertainty and instability” for other companies considering entering into contracts with the city.
“I just feel like the representation that we are going to be exclusive is ridiculous,” Meshad of Lido Beach Redevelopment Partners told the board. Instead, he continued, the firm’s plans will improve the operations at the pool and pavilion.
The final speaker, Sarasota attorney Stephen Rees Jr., also warned the commissioners that they would be opening themselves up to a lawsuit if they approved Shaw’s motion. “I’m familiar with the case law.”