Monday, December 10, 2007

How the Lake Sarasota Community Group Began


(This is excerpted from a report presented to the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners in 2007)

In 2006, Lake Sarasota, a neighborhood of 1,600 homes, was approached by Sarasota County.

Debbie Marks of Sarasota’s Neighborhood Services, as it was then called, got out the word that there was help available if residents of Lake Sarasota wished to try to build neighborhood identity and a community group to address local issues. 

Several residents responded and began to meet. Several themes emerged: identity, neighborhood beautification, community events, security and traffic calming. 

Over the course of the next 16 months, Ms. Marks gave support, guidance, and served as a liaison as a core group of residents began work on these issues. The “core group” consisted of about a dozen active members who worked tirelessly, often getting out at the crack of dawn on weekends to clean up, to plant, to move bricks and mulch.

A brief list of initiatives and actions that have taken place over the past year would include:

Neighborhood identity 

  1. Lake Sarasota Signs at two entrances: Mauna Loa and Westminster
  2. Directory of neighbors and interests, skills (in development)
  3. Welcome wagon (currently suspended).
 
Beautification 

  1. Medians – picking up trash, painting curbs, plans to plant trees.
  2. Front entrance – removal of bricks, new flagpole and flag, new signs and landscaping.
  3. Westminster Entrance – new sign and landscaping
  4. Clean-ups – major neighborhood clean-up July 2006, 2nd set for July 28, 2007.
  5. Yard of the Month Program
  6. Lakeview Park Clean-up Mar.21-22, 2007.
  7. County improvements to Lakeview park – benches, tables, removal of deadwood, invasive plants, bathrooms, security gate.
 
Community Events 
  1. Regular monthly general meetings, committee meetings.
  2. Neighborhood Yard Sales Jan. 20, 2007; 2nd scheduled for May 19th 2007.
  3. Spring Flings (2006 and May 2007)
 
Security Matters 
  1. Traffic calming: two stop signs on Mauna Loa installed in 2007.
  2. Citizen Patrol: training, organizing, weekend schedule in operation.
  3. Neighbors helping Neighbors – helping elderly, infirm.
  4. Relations with police – monthly reports from community liaisons.
 
The group used a variety of means to communicate:

 
As a result of these efforts, with about $3,500 in funding help from the County, the neighborhood is cleaner, with a stronger sense of identity, and a spirit of community that is actively concerned with improving the appearance, the security, and the quality of life for the 1600 homes of Lake Sarasota.

The group’s efforts have also created revenue for local businesses – landscapers, alarm system vendors, food vendors. A local Realtor has also been a helpful contributor, funding various efforts including the newsletter.

Some new and ongoing plans for Lake Sarasota include:

  • Additional traffic calming measures (traffic tables or stop signs)
  • Protective, non-intrusive Lighting
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Community Garden in Park
  • Restoring pumps to Lakeview Park
  • Anything else we can think of to preserve property value and to push back  against effects of the recent softening of the housing market.
 
This last initiative deserves comment. The Florida real estate market, like much of the nation’s, is afflicted with negative consequences of the housing bubble of the past decade. Foreclosures are up, property taxes are up, home insurance costs at all-time highs. 

At times like this, some neighborhoods evince signs of depressed real estate value and physical deterioration – vacancies, ill-maintained properties, increased litter. Thanks to the spark provided by Debbie Marks, the Lake Sarasota Community Group has formed a strong and willing team that offers a positive spirit running counter to the current economic turmoil, dedicated to focusing on improvements for the good of the community.

We believe the investment of the county in our neighborhood has been a constructive example of unusually good policy. On Wednesday, April 25, 2007, the County Commission made it clear that this program is now imperiled, thanks to cuts in property taxes now being considered in Tallahassee. 

We are grateful that Lake Sarasota had the opportunity to experience the benefits of this governmental outreach. We understand that the county’s investment was far greater than its cash outlay, involving the time and effort of many who helped us make the progress we have made. 

This community now has an identity and a will to help itself that will repay that investment for years to come. In this time of deterioration, a program like this – which some in local and state government under fiscal pressure might consider a “frill” – could prove to protect and preserve quality of life and property value in ways both calculable and incalculable for years to come. 

Rather than a program the county cannot afford to keep, our experience in Lake Sarasota suggests it’s a clear example of good governance that Sarasota County cannot afford to lose.


  

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