City commissioners postponed making a decision on a controversial Laurel Park development buffer zone Monday, Dec. 3, stating they’d like to consider more options.
The neighborhood of Laurel Park was split about the idea of the buffer, which, if approved, would change the development process for projects planned within 100 feet of the downtown neighborhood. The neighborhood association took a vote supporting the measure, but several residents at Monday’s City Commission meeting spoke out against it.
Several variations of the buffer zone have been proposed. It would change the development process for projects near Laurel Park in two major ways. It would require developers to hold public community workshops before submitting or applying for a building permit. Currently, city staff reviews and approves developments that meet the zoning code — without a public hearing. The buffer would also make it easier for residents to appeal nearby developments approved by the city.
The goal is to get developers to build projects “sensitive to the people who live there” and to protect the neighborhood, made up of smaller homes and residential buildings, from development that could bring commercial traffic onto residential streets or shine bright lights over the neighborhood, said Kate Lowman, president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, in an interview after the meeting.
Lowman argued the buffer is needed in Laurel Park because of its unique location. The neighborhood zoned for residential (RSM9 zoning) is adjacent to Downtown Edge zoning that allows larger developments.
But Laurel Park resident Deborah Dart said the buffer zone is unnecessary and will add costs for both developers and the city.
“Owners and developers have worked collaboratively,” Dart said about recent projects in the area.
Deborah Dart’s husband, John, agreed, adding that the proposal would “inhibit” the city’s development process as set in the Downtown Master Plan.
Proponents of the buffer, also called an overlay district, want the plan to broaden the definition of who can file an appeal to include any resident living in Laurel Park or member of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association — instead of having someone prove they are an “affected person.”
“I like this overlay concept,” said Commissioner Terry Turner. “It just needs to be vetted better.”
Residents want to be able to voice concerns during the early stages of the planning process if a project is built near their homes — even if that project meets the zoning code. That right would be a significant shift in the city’s master plan.
Michael Saunders, CEO of Michael Saunders & Co., and Michael Furen, land-use attorney, were two other opponents.
Furen said the buffer zone raises questions of fairness because it would change the Downtown Master Plan and give Laurel Park residents unique rights when it comes to the development approval and appeal process.
“The problem is the development community finally agreed with the Downtown Duany master plan, which offers predictability in the zoning code,” Furen said.
Saunders said the proposal contradicted the Master Plan approved in 2000.
“Are we going backward?” Saunders asked commissioners. “How far are we going to go back? We have all worked so hard as a community to come up with a code.”
Commissioners voted 4-1 to hear more options from city staff. They specifically want to know about ways to ensure that Laurel Park residents can appeal a project if they feel it does not meet the city guidelines set to manage developments in the area.
City staff will present those options to commissioners at a future meeting.
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