he amendment would allow the seasonal use of recreational vehicles as an accessory to single-family homes.
Winter in Sarasota typically means more automobiles on the roads, but in one Sarasota neighborhood, it means more bicycle traffic.
Each year, members of northern Amish and Mennonite communities travel south to stay in Sarasota’s Pinecraft district. Thousands annually travel by bus to stay for the winter, a practice that started in the early 1900s.
The problem, some residents say, is where those visitors stay.
To answer that question, county commissioners are considering allowing Pinecraft homeowners to have an occupied recreational vehicle as an accessory to a single-family residence during the winter season.
Members of the Amish and Mennonite community say the amendment would allow family and friends to stay on their property, which would give them a sense of community. Other residents of the district contend it would exacerbate traffic and density in the area.
Currently, the county’s unified development code allows two RVs to be stored on a residential lot as long as neither vehicle is used for living, sleeping or housekeeping purposes. Neither vehicle may be connected to utility services except in preparation for departure.
Some residents worry that seasonal accessory RVs would turn the Pinecraft District into an RV park.
However, Sarasota County planner Steve Kirk said that of the 442 single-family residents within the Pinecraft Overlay, approximately 40%, or 177 homes, are of the size and configuration that would support a 30-foot RV under the proposed amendment limitations.
“Many of the lots are small or have a large building coverage, and a lot of them would not support an RV being parked on the properties,” Kirk said.
Even still, resident Carolyn Fitzpatrick said 177 livable RVs would add density to an already congested area.
“This is an area that is so congested now that it’s almost impossible to traverse without continuous delays, fear of accidents, fear of health and concerns for people’s safety,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Planning Commission unanimously denied the idea Dec. 5, 2019. Planning commissioners said they didn’t think Pinecraft had conditions that made it culturally different from other areas to allow the amendment, but some county commissioners disagreed.
Commissioner Al Maio said Amish and Mennonite visitors travel to Sarasota for several months by bus, and most of them travel by bicycle upon arrival.
“In my estimation, this is a lot like the other things we’ve done for this community in an overlay district that is more cultural than what we’d do in another area,” Maio said.
Pinecraft resident Fred Hershberger said the amendment would allow families from up north to stay in a community that follows the same lifestyle, rather than rent a hotel or condo in another area.
“I just hope the board realizes our community is not trying to develop an RV park,” Hershberger said. “We only want an accessory unit for our existing homes. We have some elderly people or children that visit their families, and it would allow them to have extra beds for people who live the same way we do.”
Although Commissioner Nancy Detert expressed her support for the overlay district at a January County Commission meeting, she showed concerns for the proposed amendment.
“I remember when we passed that overlay; I said, ‘The only thing we ask you to do is be good neighbors,’ and I hope you haven’t pushed the needle too hard on that one,” Detert said. “Hopefully, our staff will tighten up rules, so we’re not creating a mobile home park or a blighted area, frankly, with more traffic and more density than we envisioned with the overlay.”
The board will hear from more residents at a second public hearing scheduled for Feb. 25 before voting on the amendment.