In a Feb. 18 Herald-Tribune guest editorial, Ken Shelin criticizes the Sarasota City Commission’s rejection of proposed changes at the Bath & Racquet Club.

In his commentary, the former commissioner says the decision is “another major arbitrary NO! vote” and denounces the decision makers as “a group of people ill-equipped to make such a decision.”

He says the commissioners “vetoed” a proposed “development project that had gone through an excruciating review process of two years.”

Shelin is wrong. The project itself was not rejected. It was not even being considered because the proposed redevelopment is not allowed under the current comprehensive plan.

Before the commission could debate the merits of the project’s rezoning, site plan and major conditional use petitions, the future land use classification had to be changed. Unlike zoning districts, which are applied to individual parcels, land use classifications organize large land areas by designating the proposed future general distribution, location, and extent of residential, commercial, office and institutional, and industrial uses within the city.

It is not easy to change an area’s classification, because city residents passed a charter referendum that requires a supermajority commission vote to approve changes. This makes the strategic plan less subject to whims of the day and gives residents greater predictability about what might be built around their homes in the future.

Currently, 120 residential units in 28-foot tall buildings are allowed by the club’s classification. The change requested by the potential buyers would allow, but not entitle, up to 336 units in 95-foot tall buildings.

The commission denied the request because the proposed change is incompatible with the single-story, low-density residential neighborhoods, including mine, that surround Bath & Racquet on three sides.

The decision was not arbitrary. It was based on city staff’s Public Benefit Review, which says the project may not further the public interest because it does not encourage compatible land uses and does not create a map that reflects the grouping of compatible types of land uses. It states, “approval of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment may not enhance and contribute to the achievement of the above-listed Future Land Use Plan components and may not further the public benefit or interest.”

In Shelin’s ideal process, technocrats would make all development decisions because they are “educated, trained, experienced or qualified land development planners.”

Florida law says only the commission can change the comprehensive plan after receiving input during at least two public hearings. Shelin’s scheme fails to recognize that the comprehensive plan is a long-term strategic policy that must be determined through a legislative process.

I disagree with his suggestion that developers and staff huddling behind closed doors can produce better decisions than appointed and elected officials operating in the sunshine.

Shelin’s impassioned disparagement of the commission and his calls to reduce its role in deciding the shape of future should be ignored because they are not grounded in facts.

Instead, my neighbors and I extend our deepest thanks to the Planning Board and City Commission for making another good decision, after carefully weighing all the facts and considering all the stakeholders’ interests.

Ben Cannon is a neighbor of the Bath & Racquet Club.