Sarasota Observer: Young advocates find collective voice (2/21/13)

June 3, 2013 | By

Young Advocates for SarasotaThis article was originally published in the Sarasota Observer (Feb. 21, 2013)

Maya Sullivan has lived in Sarasota for three-and-a-half years.

The 28-year-old dealer channel manager for PlexiDor moved to the area in August 2009, from Alabama.

“It was for a guy, and it didn’t work out,” Sullivan said. “I bet there a lot of stories like that around here.”

Sarasota isn’t the best destination for recent graduates or young professionals whose lifestyles tend to favor late music, Sullivan said during a Feb. 15 phone interview with the Sarasota Observer.

Sullivan is eyeing other U.S. cities that attract indie-rock acts, such as Band of Horses or Bon Iver, as future destinations to which she may relocate.

But, with Sarasota City Commission candidates in the March 12 election touting platforms that include affordable downtown Sarasota housing and an extension of outdoor music curfews, Sullivan may want to wait for a few post-election City Commission votes.

Once only a political buzzword whipped around during elections, the young-professional demographic in Sarasota now has a determined political group: Young Advocates for Sarasota.

“We want to be part of the conversation,” said Young Advocates co-founder Rochelle Dudley.

The bipartisan group is based on voluntary membership — it doesn’t collect dues, Dudley said.

The kind of Sarasota that Sullivan envisions came a step closer to realization Feb. 19, when the City Commission decided to suspend part of its city code regulating outdoor amplified sound because it feared it was unconstitutional. City officials now face the task of deciding what kind of regulations to draft next.

“I think it’s indicative of the act that the City Commission is coming to terms with how necessary it is that the noise ordinance be revised,” said Dudley, who attended the late commission session with fellow Young Advocates co-founder Sean Duade.

“The laws are products of a different era,” said local land-use attorney Casey Colburn.

Colburn served as founding director of the Sarasota Young Professionals Group and fought Sarasota County’s noise ordinance in the early 2000s.

The Young Advocates has met at least four times since founder Rachel Denton headed a leadership group at the SUM+ conference. The forum, held last summer, was aimed at addressing technology, environmental, political and demographic issues and impacts on Sarasota.

Young Advocates, for which seven core co-founders began drafting an idea last fall during a meeting at Pastry Art, has roughly 25 regular meeting attendees, more than 100 likes on its Facebook page and attracted all of the City Commission candidates to its Feb. 6 kick-off mixer.

The group uses email blasts to spread the word about the group, but also has a strong social media presence.

Though the group is not affiliated with YPG, Colburn has become a mentor to its members.

“Guys like Casey broke through the wall,” Duade said. “They got bloody so we could walk through, and we thank them for that.”

“I like it,” said Dean Eisner, former president and CEO of Manheim, a $3.8 billion automotive wholesale business, and Young Advocates mentor. “I like the passion.”

Denton tapped Eisner as a mentor to help develop the group’s structure, Dudley said.

Grassroots effort
Co-founder Chris Laney, 25, said he built Young Advocates’ website in three hours and will pay the few hundred dollars to incorporate the group.
The group’s site touts affordable housing and a less restrictive noise ordinance as two key issues.

The website breaks down density into concrete numbers and shows the effects of restrictive unit thresholds.

“But, building a place that caters to the young-professional lifestyle is more important than that,” Laney said.
The group’s political push is to get youth to participate in politics, regardless of their political views, Laney said.

Of the roughly 5,300 Sarasota residents who voted in the 2009 commission meeting, voters age 18 through 29 totaled 68.

That number grew to 74 in the next off-cycle election in 2011.

“For someone like me, who works in politics, that scares me,” said Young Advocates co-founder Vickie Brill, who works for State Sen. Bill Galvano.

Dudley said the City Commission’s decision about the noise ordinance is encouraging. And she recalled that Eisner once said when you want to get behind something, make sure you have a win under your belt.

“We hope to build our credibility over the next year and show that we’re serious and we care,” Dudley said.

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