County Commission criticized by slow-growth advocate over ‘stacking’ that advisory board with developers and those in development-related fields
It took barely more than 100 seconds for the Sarasota County Commission this week to reappoint two current members of the Planning Commission and to name a third person to an open seat on that board.
The unanimous votes sparked a rebuke from the president of Control Growth Now, who told the commissioners they had “stacked the [Planning Commission] with developers and people that make their living in development in other ways.”
On a motion by Commissioner Charles Hines, seconded by Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, the County Commission approved new four-year terms for Mark Hawkins and Robert A. Morris III, both of whom sought reappointment to the board. Their terms were set to expire late this month.
A third Planning Commission member, Terry Richardson, did not want to serve another term, Tate Taylor, planning services manager, told the County Commission during its Jan. 26 regular meeting in Sarasota.
On a motion by Commissioner Carolyn Mason, seconded by Caragiulo, the board unanimously appointed Evan R. “Ron” Cutsinger of Englewood to take Richardson’s seat when Richardson’s term expires at the end of January.
Cutsinger is a financial adviser, his application says. Hawkins is a general contractor who lives in Sarasota, while Morris is president and CEO of his his own firms, Certified Fleet Services and RAMAR Group Companies, their applications showed. RAMAR is a privately held real estate development firm.
In a previous application Cutsinger submitted to serve on the Planning Commission, he identified himself as a real estate investor and developer as well as a financial adviser.
Morris also is the principal of Robert Morris Properties LLC, a real estate corporation whose address is the same as his home address, The Sarasota News Leader learned in a search of business records. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation identifies Morris as a real estate broker.
During remarks he made during the public hearing on the imposition of new school district impact fees (see the related story in this issue), Dan Lobeck of Control Growth Now pointed out that in their actions, the board had overlooked the former president of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) and “another very intelligent and involved public interest proponent,” referring respectively to Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key and Ray Porter of Sarasota, director of communications for the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.
Both Ramirez and Porter were unsuccessful candidates for the County Commission during the 2014 election; Ramirez, as a Republican; Porter, as a Democrat.
None of the commissioners addressed Lobeck’s comments.
Material provided to the County Commission in advance of the meeting showed Ramirez submitted her application on Feb. 10, 2015; Porter, on Feb. 13, 2015; Cutsinger, on Feb. 23, 2015; Hawkins, on Dec. 3, 2015; and Morris, on Dec. 14, 2015.
A Sarasota News Leader review of the applications submitted by each of the five candidates for the Planning Commission seats focused on the responses to a specific application question. It asked what each believes are the most pressing planning and land use issues in the county. The following were their answers:
- Morris — “Urban sprawl and affordable workforce housing … [b]oth of [which] can be solved by planning for density and mixed use development within the Urban Service Boundary.”
- Hawkins — “Maintaining a sustainable controlled growth over the next 10-20 years. There is little doubt that Sarasota will continue to attract new citizens from across the nation. It will be incumbent on us to insure that in providing for [them] we don’t destroy the very qualities that we value most in Sarasota.”
- Cutsinger — “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,” he continued, “just that we should carefully consider how to best accommodate it in what is sure to be intense development in the next decade.”
- Ramirez — the ongoing update of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
- Porter — “We face a difficult time, in that there 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 “requires a balanced approach,” he added. “For example, land use decisions regarding lands east of the Urban Service Boundary require considerable attention to the concerns and fears expressed by residents — those who live on or near the eastern areas; and those who live in existing neighborhoods.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 29 with additional information about Cutsinger and Morris.