The Sarasota County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve proposed changes to Sarasota 2050.
The fiscal neutrality component of the 2050 plan in its current form states that charges, fees, assessments and taxes for services relating to a new development will balance with new public facilities and services to support the development. The developer must show up front before construction begins that the development will be adequate to provide the infrastructure needs, and prove it again during different phases.
The county has received criticisms from developers that these requirements makes too difficult to develop anything because it makes it difficult to get financing. Also, when making projections, those may not be accurate as the development continues.
The amendment would loosen the noose of fiscal neutrality on development, giving them some wiggle room at the beginning of developing, when it is difficult to predict if the proposed development is fiscally neutral, and allow county staff and administration to decide how often analyses would be required to prove continued fiscal neutrality.
However, opponents of the changes are concerned that a lack of monitoring will mean a burden on the taxpayers and create a problem with urban sprawl, traffic, and overdevelopment.
Changing 2050 in the proposed way would eliminate the back audit of a development, which would transfer the tax payer money to the developers forever, Pete Theisen, who is running for the District 2 county commission seat, said.
“It will never get paid off in our life time,” he said.
He also said that without routine assessments, developers will continue to insist there will be no impact on infrastructure.
Ron Saba, President of DeSoto Lakes Neighborhood Association, said Sarasota could become the next “Fort Lauderdale” of urban sprawl, which will turn people away from coming to Sarasota.
“Sarasota is beautiful the way it is,” Saba said. “People who want to come here should pay to come to this wonderful community.”
Some members of the audience spoke in favor of the changes.
Bo Metrid, president of Genesis Planning and Development, said he saw issues with the original 2050 plan when it was approved.
“I could see it would be difficult for development to be approved,” he said.
The changes would help 2050 be implemented, he said, and he had heard many pieces of misunderstanding and misinformation about the changes.
There wouldn’t be increased traffic congestion because there wouldn’t be an increase of units, he said. The developer would still be responsible for infrastructure costs. Urban sprawl would not be a risk because the urban development boundaries would not be altered under the changes.
Another supporter, Bill Merrill, said that with the changes fiscal neutrality would still be “alive and well.”
After the hearing, Merrill said the changes would not take the impact fees off the responsibility of the developer.
Just the process is changing so development can occur, he said.
The change would mean a developer would have to prove the project was fiscally neutral up front, and then the county would monitor the project periodically to make sure it was still following with neutrality.
The change would also clearly identify both on and off-site improvements that the developer would be responsible for, Merrill said.
“It’s still very certain – it provides certainty for the developer, for the government and for the public,” he said.
The proposed changes will now move up to Sarasota County Commission for a vote after two public hearings.
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