RDA 2020 Accomplishments
Not long after our new board members took office in early 2020, we learned about Covid-19. While the pandemic altered our plans, especially for in-person activities, we adjusted to the new realities and are proud to have achieved much during the year. These accomplishments are highlighted below. Importantly, our community remains vibrant, strong and active, and we look forward to more successes in 2021.
Rosemary District Park: After many years of lobbying City Hall and identifying potential locations for a park, the City Commission approved funds for a land acquisition. The property is in the preferred location, at the southwest corner of Blvd of the Arts and Central Ave., and will be purchased in a public-private partnership. The Rosemary District community will be expected to play a key role in the design and development of the park which will take place over the next several years.
Street Trees: Mature shade trees in Rosemary District are lost with each new development. RDA has taken an active role in lobbying the City to develop an urban tree plan with coordinated input from Rosemary District and adjacent urban neighborhoods. In the interim, we have worked to have shade trees planted at 332 Cocoanut and along Florida Ave. next to McCown Towers.
Streetscapes: The Rosemary District community provided input to the City's Sarasota-In-Motion Transportation Master Plan. After much lobbying, projects that will benefit Rosemary District — major improvements to both 10th Street and Blvd of the Arts for pedestrians, bikes and motor vehicles — were approved and funded by the City Commission.
Traffic Control and Pedestrian Safety: Cooperation between RDA, Sarasota Police Department, City staff and Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences led to improved traffic flow around the school and parking improvements throughout the neighborhood.
Traffic volume and speed on Cocoanut is an ongoing issue. The temporary speed tables installed at the neighborhood's request will be removed because traffic is no longer detoured from US-41. We are pursuing additional measures to ensure pedestrian safety on Cocoanut.
Implementing RROD-2 Zoning: In 2018 and 2019, representatives from RDA worked with the City planning staff to create innovative new zoning that includes requirements and incentives for improved walkability, more mixed-use projects, additional public art, historic preservation and affordable housing. The first potential development under the new Rosemary Residential Overlay District (RROD) zoning — an extended stay hotel — approached RDA, praised the provisions in the new zoning and welcomed input about their proposed project. If the hotel goes forward, it will be a positive addition to the neighborhood, so we were happy to lobby for them with the City Planning Board. We will work to establish similarly good relationships with others planning developments in the neighborhood.
New Projects: Some new projects in the neighborhood are still being developed under the prior zoning regulations, with different requirements and incentives. For these projects and others, we asked developers in the past to voluntarily present their plans for discussion at neighborhood meetings. Pandemic restrictions put this initiative on hold. As we all gain more experience with Zoom, we hope to reinstate meetings with developers in the new year.
Community Events: The RDA board wants to support our local businesses and build community through in-person events. In 2020, we planned to host regular visits from the Chill Mobile ice cream truck, but coronavirus spikes made that unwise.
Candidate Forum: Before the November election, RDA hosted a forum with the four candidates vying to represent us on the City Commission. This online Candidate Forum was a great success – with 200 viewers!
Supporting Our Peers: Because RDA wasn't able to hold our own neighborhood events this year, we did what we could to support others, like the SSA&S MLK Day of Service and outdoor events in Rosemary Square.
We stay in touch with neighboring organizations, like CCNA, the Bay Park Conservancy (BPC), DSCA and support their efforts when appropriate. Thanks to our relationship with BPC, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program that will fund the park's development will also be able to fund improvements to Blvd of the Arts and 10th St.
Our Homeless Population: We try to balance the needs of all members of our community. When homeless services at Salvation Army and Resurrection House were suspended because of the pandemic, we prevailed upon the City not to place all the hygiene stations in Rosemary District, so a few were located near the Downtown bus station. We regularly remind the City that, with the fast-growing areas of the County located far south of downtown and to the east, new support services for the homeless should be dispersed rather than concentrated near downtown Sarasota.
Building Community: Communications is key to building and maintaining a community. RDA tries to do that via an extensive website, an active Facebook page and a monthly newsletter. Our newsletter mailing list reaches close to 600 individuals with actual readership of over 250. The only in-person Community Meeting we were able to hold was in January 2020, but we will use Zoom for these meetings in 2021.
City Government: We also value our relationships with City Commissioners and senior City staff. Informal face-to-face contacts are now restricted, so we have been inviting individuals to join the RDA Board in conversation at Zoom meetings. We look forward to continuing that practice.
Local Media: Because Rosemary District has a reputation for doing exciting, newsworthy things, we have good relations and good coverage from local media.
Much of the invisible work of the RDA Board is advocacy: lobbying the City Commission to vote in support of Rosemary District priorities and lobbying City staff to make them aware of our neighborhood's needs or how minor changes in their plans could result in a better outcome for our community. Government often moves slowly, so a particular lobbying campaign can continue for months before results from the effort are seen. We continue to write letters, speak up at government meetings, invite City officials to meet with members of the Rosemary District community, talk with them one-on-one, and provide useful data. Many of our accomplishments result from this day-to-day advocacy.