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 that was originally proposed and supported by the majority of the commission, but was 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.
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,” Atwell said. “This is powerful if we make this statement.”
Turner and Snyder, however, changed their minds on the code amendment and voted to deny the amendment along with Commissioner Willie Shaw.
“I think we should leave it the way it is,” Snyder said. “The economic situation is what’s causing our problems, not the code as it’s currently written.”
Atwell and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo supported the code amendment.
The decision comes after the Planning Board and the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations rejected the code amendment and a proposed expedited procedure to move proposals forward to the Planning Board more quickly.