City of Sarasota's plans to ease traffic downtown as city grows

6:56 PM, Jan 14, 2014   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida - In real estate, we're seeing a reverse migration from the suburbs to downtown... and downtown Sarasota is one example. But with the new growth comes new challenges, such as an increase in traffic flow.

If it's not being built there are signs indicating it will be. Downtown Sarasota's growth is on the way up, way up.

"We are planning our next evolution here, really fine-tuning the connectivity between our neighborhoods, shopping district and promote healthy living," says Tom Barwin, Sarasota City Manager

Barwin estimates about 500 residential units including condominiums, townhomes and apartments, plus about another 500 hotel rooms are going up in the next two years.

Barwin says, "We need to get a handle on how we are going to move people around."

Barwin says the answer is in the use of impact fees money developers pay when pulling a permit, money used for widening roads and intersections to meet the added traffic but city officials say there's a problem. "Our citizens don't want to see wider streets anymore," says Barwin.

City officials have asked to opt out of Sarasota County's impact fees system to give the city more flexibility in using those dollars to help meet the city's growing urban needs.

Barwin says, "Whether they can be used for wider sidewalks, pedestrian amenities, enhancing public transportation. City officials would also like to see some bike paths extended into the City of Sarasota such as the county's Legacy Trail.

"There's no proposal to increase tax fees, just have greater flexibility," says Barwin.

"You're seeing a reverse migration of citizens all over the country," says Richard Habersham, a New York visitor who says he's been visiting Sarasota every year since 2000.

Habersham says, "You can see there's a lot more foot traffic, a lot more people walking, it's for the good health of the citizens, and health of the city makes it more vibrant."

Sarasota County Commissioners say they will need more information from the city on opting out of the county's impact fees system. County commissioners have given city officials until June to provide it.

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