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Split neighborhood has two associations

Written by on Saturday, March 2, 2024

Gillespie Park rivalry puts the City of Sarasota in awkward spot.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Mar. 1, 2024

Host: Gillespie Park is undergoing rapid gentrification. Long-term residents and duplex rentals are disappearing from that once-affordable neighborhood near downtown Sarasota, and they are being replaced by short-term rentals and lot-filling mansions. Gillespie Park now has not one, but two neighborhood associations claiming to represent all residents of the area. That puts the City of Sarasota in an awkward position. Ramon Lopez has the story.

Ramon Lopez: This is a tale of two community associations in the Gillespie Park neighborhood that don’t get along, putting the City of Sarasota between a rock and a hard place.

So matters remain unresolved after years of in-fighting, some before the Sarasota City Commission. It’s a tempest in a teapot inasmuch as the current argument is over small city grants for proposed Gillespie Park neighborhood projects. The two competing associations in question, the 40-year-old Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, Inc. (GPNA) and the newer, so-called Original Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association (OGPNA) were back before the City Commission on Feb. 20, to determine which group should receive neighborhood partnership grants.

The first, for $1,000 from the Original GPNA, would pay for movie nights in Gillespie Park. The second from the older group for $750 would pay for community composting.

For years, the two associations have fought over control of the historic neighborhood just north of downtown. The latest squabble came to a head last October over the twin grants. The Commissioners held off on providing the grants and admonished
the two groups, saying they needed to work out their differences, and perhaps even merge.

City Manager Marlon Brown said the two groups remain far apart.

Marlon Brown: The direction was for the two neighborhood associations to work together. And I know they have attempted. I’ve seen the emails where there have been invitations. Again, Commissioner Arroyo, to no avail.

RL: Commissioner Erik Arroyo opposes the neighborhood grant program altogether. He said a neighborhood squabble should not rise to the level of the city commission.

Erik Arroyo: We are arguing over a $750 grant and a $1,000 grant. As you know, I’ve expressed in the past I really don’t believe that this program should exist, that there should be a better way in the private sector, give it to private sector, let them do it. But us having this grant writing, giving taxpayer dollars, hundreds of thousands, I can’t stand behind that.

RL: In the end, the city commissioners voted to only move the composting cash request ahead to the city’s Grant Review Committee for final action at its March 18 meeting. They said a neighborhood can only receive one grant.

But the question remains: Which group is the official Gillespie Park association? The commissioners tasked Brown to come up with criteria for officially recognizing neighborhood associations, of which there are 55 in the city, with only two representing the same neighborhood. What Brown and his staff come up with will go before the commissioners at a later date.

Linda Holland is vice president of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association.

Linda Holland: What’s happened is this, just as a footnote, has now become so personal that particular factions, they just can’t let it go. They can’t move on. They want to bring back, everything comes back to the fact that they claim this position as the original group, and it just simply is not true.

RL: Holland says there should be light at the end of the tunnel.

LH: Now it’s the biggest waste of time. It’s a waste of commissioners’ time, it’s a waste of our time, and so all we want to do is make our neighborhood better. Leave us alone. How we should resolve it is for the commission to take a look at both associations and determine by facts which association has been the association that has worked and produced the improvements to the neighborhood, the safety and the improvements of the neighborhood and meets the criteria that will be established for recognized neighborhoods.

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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