The Sarasota County Commission approved an ordinance by a 3-2 vote Wednesday to establish a maximum height and minimum setback on barrier islands, modify heights along the Intracoastal Waterway and cap maximum building heights allowed in Critical Area Plans (CAPs).
CAPs are general planning areas to look at particular areas. That process requires neighborhood input and a number of public hearings before a large-scale project can be approved.
Amendments to its zoning code include height amendments along the Intracoastal Waterway and the bays “in order to preserve the scenic character of the waterfront and the bays and ensure appropriate massing of buildings along these waterfront areas,” according to ordinance language.
The elimination of increased heights in residential multi-family zoning districts when it’s applied to mixed-use development was eliminated. A provision that would cap a maximum CAP height allowed at 85 feet was also approved.
Commissioners Nora Patterson and Jon Thaxton, though, were worried the changes were too lax, in part because special exceptions in the code allow the commission to go above the 85-foot cap to a maximum of 110 feet if a supermajority vote (four votes needed) is held.
Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Association President Lourdes Ramirez and others urged the commission not to make the changes.
“We didn’t fully vet this, and if we’re already going over Comprehensive Plan changes soon, we could review building heights at that time,” Lourdes said.
Sarasota attorney and Control Growth Now representative Dan Lobeck also urged the commission not to approve the changes.
“Do you want to be known for allowing unlimited building heights in Sarasota County?” Lobeck said. “Even though you have density limits, a developer could come in with a huge commercial office building and stick condominiums on top of it if you approve this.”
Thaxton worried that the amendments would allow commissioners to grant an even higher building height if a CAP is developed.
Thaxton urged commissioners to keep in building-height restrictions that are 250 feet past the waterfront setback line along the Intracoastal Waterway, so the commission could discuss the issue further, but he didn’t have enough support.
Motions made by Thaxton to institute maximum building height caps of 110 feet and 120 feet in a CAP to avoid approving even higher buildings if a supermajority vote were approved also failed.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta said the problem he had with approving such caps is the limit it puts on future developers seeking to build on large plots of land.
“What we would be saying is if there’s no residential around a CAP that’s a 50-acre commercial parcel, that developer can’t have anything higher than nine stories,” Barbetta said. “Developers might need 12-to-14 stories to make it work, and we would be automatically disallowing it.”