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Ex county commissioner urges voters to end over-development

Written by on Thursday, February 29, 2024

The former supporter of the 2050 Plan calls it his “worst decision”.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Feb. 28, 2024

Host: A countywide coalition of grassroots anti-development organizations in Sarasota invited a former county commissioner to talk about the impact of development. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: Jon Thaxton last week offered a sobering ‘state of the county’ assessment to Sarasotans worried about overpopulation. The former county commissioner is now the senior vice president for community leadership at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. He believes Sarasota County is at a crossroads regarding over-development and decline of wildlife. But he said all is not lost if county voters get organized, and elect political leaders that will protect the land.

About 70 concerned county residents gathered at Jacaranda Library for the second session of the Sarasota Citizen Action Network. The group was recently formed to provide a united front in their separate community battles with wealthy real estate developers. Thaxton’s topic? Growth and Balance.

Jon Thaxton: My presentation is guided under the premise, as naive as it may or may not be, that understanding the mistakes and the successes of the past will inform better decisions into the future. I will admit right up front that at times, maybe most of the time, this is going to sound somewhat pessimistic. It’s not intended to be. It’s neither optimistic or pessimistic. It’s a realistic approach about what happened. I have had not only a front row seat, but a participatory seat in the Sarasota County planning process now for about 46 years.

RL:  Thaxton was one of the county commissioners involved in adoption of the so-called 2050 Plan. At the time, he said it was one of the most progressive future land-use plans out there. The idea was to draw a line in the sand between urban development and retention of open space and the character of rural Florida.

But the plan that would allow for controlled growth and open county land preservation has been compromised and eviscerated by county commissioners. And Thaxton now regrets voting for it!

JT: Since its 2002 adoption, most of the 2050 commitments to protect the character of rural areas have slowly been eroded away. And the interdependent relationship between 2050 and the Sarasota County Charter has been lost. In fact, most of these covenants and promises made in the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan can best be described as broken promises.

I now characterize 2050 as the Trojan horse, because the only commitment that was made to the community in the 2050 plan is in fact the commitment of higher densities and intensities for developers. It could be said, and it has been said, that economic, social, and market conditions have changed since 2050. I’m not going to argue that. But 2050 was a voluntary overlay district. It was never intended to vest property rights. If the conditions have changed and the 2050 plan is no longer economically viable, fine. Remove it. 2050 was the worst decision that I made.

RL:  Speakers talked of corruption in the political system, a word Thaxton avoids using when discussing the voting of the current crop of Sarasota County Commissioners.

JT: I would argue that although it was wrong and a breach of public trust, it’s neither corrupt nor illegal for these terrible decisions to be made.

RL: But he said calling those decisions immoral would not be a stretch. Thaxton said an important land management referendum is fast approaching.

JT: We are gonna be coming back to the citizens of Sarasota with a renewal of the environmentally sensitive lands program in 2026. It will include the possibility of purchasing these last precious, remaining undeveloped lands in Sarasota County, and I would encourage you to support it so that we can save what’s left.

RL: Thaxton said citizens need to bond together to battle the real estate developers.

JT: Become engaged in these activist groups that do assemble a unified voice to speak to the elected officials.

RL: And he said the time is now to change the composition of the county commission.

JT: Every two years, the citizens of this community seem to forget about their priorities when they’re electing who represents them at 1660 Ringling Boulevard. I would suggest this election coming up November 5th, we’re gonna have three commissioners: Commissioner Cutsinger, Commissioner Rainford, and Commissioner Moran’s termed-out vacated seat are all gonna be up. It’s a five member board. I’m no mathematician, but calculating the majority of five and knowing that three are available, that’s a big deal.

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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