STOP! May Sue City

STOP!, a local civic group, is challenging the City of Sarasota to provide public notice when plans for new downtown developments are submitted and approved by city officials. The current system, according to a statement released by STOP!, allows certain large projects to be built without providing notice to citizens and without paying the required site plan review fees to the city.

According to a letter submitted to the city, STOP! intends to pursue legal action if this persistent violation is not corrected. The group noted they have raised the issue multiple times – publicly at a city commission hearing and privately with staff. “We have been reluctant to take this step, but after making repeated appeals to the city, we see no alternative,” said Kate Lowman, a member of the STOP! Steering Committee.

In its letter, STOP! argues that this policy not only deprives citizens of their right to comment on a project, it fundamentally affects their right to appeal: citizens have only a 10-day window to file an appeal. “You can’t meet a 10-day deadline if you don’t know the project was approved,” observed Lowman, adding “we call these “the invisible projects.”

The city appears to have lost a substantial amount of revenue. In an analysis of sixteen major downtown developments, nine were approved without paying fees or giving any notice to affected property owners. The other seven paid fees and provided notice. To help define the city’s financial loss, STOP! was able to identify the fees paid by five of the projects which did pay a fee: the total was $119,485, or an average of $23,897 per development.

Bob Hendel, Secretary for STOP!, expressed amazement that the city allowed this to happen. “Given an average payment of $23,897, those nine ‘invisible projects’ we found would have brought in roughly $215,073 to the city. How many more invisible projects are there, and why would the city allow this to continue?”