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What Happens When a Developer is “Too Big to Fail?”

What would you do if the reverberating sound of construction was your alarm clock well before your real one went off? And the same sound was the last thing you heard before you went to sleep? You might call your city’s code enforcement and expect that the policies in place to protect you would be enough. When the construction is conducted by an international company, what would be a costly fine to most developers means nothing to their overall portfolio. If it is more convenient to their project, they will not have to follow any codes but their own. That is, if the international company is even fined to begin with.

Greystar is one such company. Developing Elan Apartments in Sarasota, Florida, is it any surprise then that Greystar has been violating city codes but have not received any code compliance violations? After following up on neighborhood complaints and a public records request, there are no violations incurred by Greystar despite many violations reported to the city. This includes but is not limited to consistent use of an off-limits local street as a loading zone, noise distrubances outside of hours and days allowed for construction, littering debris all over the surrounding neighborhoods, and much more.

Building and construction is one of the most important economic drivers of Sarasota’s economy, and the Rosemary District where this development is taking place is a major priority area for development. It is difficult to assess how much can be done by the city when the city may not want to do much in order not to deter further development. The neighborhood complaints could even be an example of the weaponization of construction similar to what some tenants have endured in New York City from Jared Kushner’s previously owned companies. Who is accountable when developers can do what they please and cities (seemingly) can’t do anything about it?

What is happening in Sarasota is a small example of a more prominent trend across the entire US. It is merely a symptom of a much greater issue: why is there a regulatory environment that allows a company like Greystar to thrive and flourish in the face of violations every day that affect the day-to-day life of the citizens it is paid to protect? Taxes are paid to create and enforce policies to protect citizens. If you lived in one of the houses in any proximity to Elan Rosemary, or in the nursing home that it borders, you would certainly wonder where your money is going.

The new gargantuan building towering over the existing houses and retail may be a sign of the vision for the Rosemary District. Is the incompatible urban design an accident? Part of a transition that includes the existing building? Without any effort to hold developers accountable before, during or after construction, it may be safe to say the residents are being shown what our decisionmakers want the Rosemary District to look like – or what they will accept it to look like.

Do you have a story of being affected by developers that are “too big to fail”? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.