A vibrant downtown with no noise …

No vagrants without a place for them to go …

More jobs without workforce housing…

No sprawl and no increased density…

Direction and vision without leadership…

No, Sarasota, we can’t eat our cake and have it, too.

I saw the recent comments by some city officials and city residents who want a revised sound ordinance to stop amplified music after 11 p.m. That sounds great to the few people who live right above Main Street but not to the business owners or the thousands of patrons of those businesses. Those businesses rely on the money they make from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. If you shut them off at 11 p.m., they will shut down completely and move out. For those who want a vibrant downtown with nightlife but want the nightlife to end at 11 p.m. … well, you can’t eat your cake and have it, too.

I recently sent a survey from www.BiterECO.com asking city residents their opinion of the proposed homeless shelter. The majority support it but don’t want it near downtown Sarasota. According to the experts, it won’t work if it’s not near the problem. Once again, we can’t eat our cake and have it, too.

I hear a lot of people complain that we need more jobs and that we should work on keeping the graduates from Ringling College, New College and USF in Sarasota. Through the efforts of the Economic Development Corporation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Enterprise Florida, we are working to attract new businesses here. The No. 1 response we get from our marketing efforts is: “You don’t have the workforce pool needed to support our business.” Without scalable workforce housing, we will never have the workforce. We can’t eat our cake and have it, too.

As the battle over Sarasota County’s 2050 community development plan heats up, I can’t help but chuckle at the groups fighting against urban sprawl and density. Certainly infill is nice but it doesn’t create housing the average worker can afford. It’s much more expensive for a developer to do one-off deals on older homes or empty lots vs. building up or building new communities from scratch. So, do we build up or do we build out? We can’t eat our cake and have it, too.

So, how do we go forward from here? How do we balance the needs, wants and desires of our community, which does in fact include those who own, operate and work in our local businesses?

I believe it starts with leadership. The Sarasota City Commission is made up of five equally powered individuals. As such our commission is really a committee and, as we have so often seen in the results of commissioners’ deliberations, it can perhaps best be described in the words of a wise old observation: A camel is really a horse that was designed by a committee.

This is not an attack on any one commissioner; they are good people dedicating their time to make our community better.

The commissioners are paid $25,000 per year to manage a $190 million annual budget. I don’t pretend to be a government expert, but I imagine a company with a $190 million budget would spend more than $25,000 per year to have someone manage it. Furthermore, I don’t see many companies without a CEO. Our state has a governor. Our country has a president. Where is our leadership?

Having an elected mayor will provide the voter referendum needed to give Sarasota the direction it needs. Like it or not, Sarasota is a city and it needs to be run like a city, not a gated retirement community.

Jesse Biter is an entrepreneur who lives in Sarasota and is currently working to provide attainable housing for young professionals in the core of downtown Sarasota.

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