When city commissioners take up the volatile topic of the development review process, they should probe deeply the likely effects of adding more regulation.
When Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert takes up agenda item VI.3. Monday at the City Commission meeting, watch for citizens in the audience to sit up a little higher and the apprehension levels in the chambers to rise.
Once again, the City Commission is on the precipice of taking up an issue whose outcome will have economic effects for years to come that either will be disastrous or delightful.
The issue: administrative review of development projects and site plan public hearings.
If you follow City Hall machinations at all, no doubt you’re aware of the organization aptly named “STOP.” Its members don’t like a lot of the new downtown development projects, in particular those that are developed with little setback.
Those projects, by the way, are all within the requirements of the city code. STOP members just don’t like them.
The organization’s advocates especially don’t like the city’s zoning codes, in particular the part that allows the city’s planning staff to approve some development projects through the administrative review process. If a developer submits plans that fall within certain thresholds and meet code, the city staff can approve the project without a public hearing.
STOP members want to tighten the thresholds to include more projects, and they want more public hearings. In essence, they want more opportunities to be able to stop projects they don’t like.
Case in point: the $110 million Epoch development, discussed in the adjoining editorial. Neighbors say the project doesn’t fit in, and its setbacks are not far enough. They want to force changes via more public hearings with the city’s planning commission — even though the project met all existing city codes.
Predictably, this is a volatile issue — the no-growthers and strongly controlled growthers versus the pro-growthers and capitalists.
As city commissioners listen Monday to the voices from both sides passionately arguing one way or another, we urge commissioners to keep the following top of mind:
Actions have consequences, and most actions have unintended consequences.
Before taking definitive action, commissioners should probe deeply for answers to these questions: What will be the consequences — good and ill — if the city staff’s recommendations or STOP’s recommendations are adopted? What will be the consequences if they are not?
It should not take much analysis to know that any time more layers of government are added, costs go up. It’s a disastrous domino.
If you reduce the amount of developable land, the cost of land goes up. If you increase the cost of a developer obtaining permits, the cost of development goes up. If you increase the cost of development, the cost of housing goes up. If you increase the cost and process to obtain permits, you lessen the attractiveness of your community to future development. You stifle growth, wealth, jobs and economic opportunity. You end up with a community of a few haves and a lot of have-nots.
Understand the consequences before you act.