The recently transformed Sarasota City Commission is a more pro-active group that encourages businesses downtown and wants applicants to get through the city’s building permit process quickly and efficiently.
But, at the end of the day, the majority of the commission couldn’t justify approving a zoning code amendment that would have sped up the permitting process and allowed zoning code conflicts to be resolved in a manner most favorable to applicants.
The commission voted 3-2 at its regular meeting Monday to deny an amendment originally proposed and supported by the majority of the commission, but criticized by the Planning Board and some residents and community organizations.
“I supported starting down this road in an informal meeting to take a more positive approach to what’s happening with our economy,” said Vice Mayor Terry Turner, who, along with Commissioner Shannon Snyder, proposed the idea over the summer to create a more pro-business attitude.
“But reviewing the Planning Board meeting twice makes me pause and gives me concern,” he said. “We need to be respectful to the larger community, and I am also concerned about potential litigation.”
Some people spoke in opposition to the code amendment, including Sarasota land-use attorney Dan Lobeck.
“The proposal you have before you would declare war on your neighborhoods and tilt standards toward a developer,” Lobeck said.
The city’s zoning code states that a building’s setback must be 50 feet, but another code states the same building would require a 150-foot setback; the city must enforce the greater setback. To encourage a pro-business/applicant attitude, the proposed code would have allowed the city to let an applicant proced with the lower setback, to allow him greater use of his property and encourage him to move forward with the application.
“You have a universal standard right now that respects neighbors and the interests of property owners,” Lobeck said. “To have a broad, radical approach that says a developer wins every time doesn’t make any sense. Don’t tilt the playing field always in favor of developers.”
Others, however, denied the code amendment was a detriment.
Sarasota resident and former City Commission candidate Diana Hamilton urged the commission to approve the amendment.
“Everybody always asked us while we were campaigning how we could simplify our code so it’s a place that welcomes enterprise,” Hamilton said. “This simply says when there’s a way to make a change helpful to an applicant, why not do that?”
Mayor Suanne Atwell agreed with Hamilton. “We need to look at the greater good and bringing business in here.”