The rumors about Sarasota County’s plans to cut 1,200 pages from the 2050 Comprehensive Plan were partially true.
The 1,300-page document, adopted in 2002 to guide future development, might slim down, but it would be to fit on the screen of mobile technology, explained County Administrator Randall Reid during a County Commission growth workshop Sept. 18.
Although Reid said staff recommends cutting 80% of the document, that portion would be moved into a separate volume. The goal is to create an application or electronic document with hyperlinks that can recall parts of the 1,000 pages taken from the plan when a pertinent sentence in the reduced Comp Plan is clicked.
The meeting was meant to start a dialogue with commissioners about making the plan easier to understand, in compliance with new state requirements and shift focus toward implementation of its policies.
What followed was a free-form discourse that highlighted some new ways to focus on redevelopment. The discussion ended with updating the base of development fees that have remained untouched for five years.
Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously to update the data used to calculate impact fees, which are currently levied based on statistics from 2006 or before, during a run-up in building prices before the market crash.
County commissioners, toward the end of three hours of questions and presentations, voted unanimously for staff to meet with Pat Neal, president of Neal Communities, and Rex Jensen, president of Schroeder-Manatee, to figure out how the Comprehensive Plan complicated planned developments in Lakewood Ranch. Neal Communities, a Lakewood Ranch homebuilder, created a development using the Comp Plan.
“I think we have needed to have this discussion for a long time,” County Commissioner Nora Patterson said.
But, there were concerns from county stakeholders about digging too deep into the lengthy document.
Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations President Lourdes Ramirez, who is a Siesta Key resident, said the Comp Plan is the last line of defense against development that neighborhoods may find undesirable.
“We need a vision; the problem is whose vision are we going to go with,” Ramirez said.
“The philosophy behind (the 2050 Comprehensive Plan) was part of a very hotly debated community discussion,” she said. The only public comment during the workshop was about an unrelated sewer system proposal.
The second half of the growth workshop moved quicker than discussions about the Comp Plan and ended with more deliberate direction from county commissioners.
According to Sarasota County Public Works Planning General Manager Clarke Davis, the problem with the amount of building fees assessed is that they were based on data collected from 2006 or before. The most recent construction cost data comes from 2005, during the real-estate expansion, which could mean that current builders are being overcharged, Barbetta said. (See chart.)
County Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson asked for specific dates when new impact fee amounts would be ready for a public hearing.
But, because commissioners voted to avoid using an outside consultant, Davis said he would need to meet with several directors before a timeframe was established. He estimated it would take between four and six months before the new impact fees could be calculated.
Municipalities assess impact fees to raise revenue for public facilities and infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, which would be required to support residential and commercial development. They can also be used as disincentives to avoid economically undesirable activity, such as taxes for building without environmentally friendly features.
There are eight types of impact fees collected in Sarasota County, seven of which were most recently amended in 2007, according to the growth presentation. One of the seven, for education, has been suspended since 2010 and will expire at the end of 2012. Road impact fees have been reduced by 50% since several months after the education-fee suspension went into effect. They will expire in 2013.
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