Local entrepreneur Michael Evanoff lost his first battle against Sarasota County in a skirmish over impact fees — though he refuses to concede defeat.
Evanoff, who along with his family runs Evie's, a chain of well-known taverns and golf centers in Sarasota, is battling county officials over the fees assessed on his latest project: A plan to turn a onetime construction equipment rental business into a restaurant, nightclub and bar called White Buffalo Saloon. Evanoff says he would hire at least 80 people for the project, which doesn't include construction.
But the project is in limbo. That's because Evanoff balked at paying the county's impact fees, which are taxes municipalities levy to cover a broad range of services, including roadwork near the property, water and sewer lines. The initial impact fee was $221,330 — nearly one-third the $595,000 Evanoff paid for the property, the former ASAP Enterprise building. (See Business Review, June 22.)
Evanoff met with a bevy of county officials in May and June, from staffers to department heads, and he exchanged emails with at least two county commissioners. While the impact fees were ultimately dropped to $90,000, Evanoff maintains the formula is flawed and the result is an extra cost that makes a tough business only tougher.
In a July 2 interview with the Business Review, Evanoff says he filed an official appeal with the county over the fees. The appeal goes past having meetings and appointments to plead his case. “They yes, yes, yes you, but don't change anything,” Evanoff tells Coffee Talk. “It makes me want to throw up.”
Evanoff also assessed his predicament in a recent email to county officials. “I plan on letting everyone know that Sarasota County is very business unfriendly,” Evanoff wrote in part June 21. “You forget to take the positive impact that I bring to Sarasota County. When this place is open I will employ close to 500 people in Sarasota.”
Some county officials have sided with Evanoff, including county commissioners Jon Thaxton and Joe Barbetta, who both expressed their frustrations with the situation. Thaxton, in a June 26 email response to Evanoff, says he's committed to making the project a reality. “Due to the confusion with this issue,” wrote Thaxton, “the board just voted to have a discussion item scheduled to understand what can be done to improve the county's image.”