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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 1 week ago

Palm Avenue residents, owners at odds over zoning

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Can neighbors with opposing perspectives find room for compromise on building rules?
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The residents of South Palm Avenue have been through this before.

On Monday, the city hosted a community workshop regarding the potential changes to the building regulations for the segment of the street between Ringling Boulevard and Mound Street.

The meeting came about after some neighbors in the area voiced concern about the zoning rules, specifically targeting building setback requirements and the right to build commercial projects in a predominantly residential section of downtown.

At the workshop, however, Palm Avenue stakeholders were far from united as they shared their thoughts on the best policies for governing development on the street. Although some pushed for reinstating setbacks and complained about recent projects built out to the property line, others expressed concern about how changing the rules would affect the rights of landowners.

For a few attendees, the meeting brought to mind a conversation from 2010 and 2011. Back then, residents discontent with the zoning code pushed for changes. Others in the area objected to the scope of the proposal. Efforts to find a workable compromise proved fruitless, and the city abandoned the consideration of changing the rules.

Following the meeting, Palm Avenue residents and property owners Sandy and David Gurley felt a sense of deja vu. They opposed the changes in 2011, and they anticipated the process playing out similarly in 2019.

“All this is going to do, the net of this, is cost the city a lot of money,” David Gurley said.

There’s some hope this effort will be more fruitful for residents. Ken Shelin, a member of the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association’s zoning committee, said the group was pursuing a simple solution to the issues residents have raised.

He’s working on a proposal focused on three changes and is intent on avoiding a lengthy and contentious rewriting of the comprehensive plan. One: Eliminate mixed-use zoning. Two: Require wider sidewalks. Three: Require larger setbacks.

“The major problem we have is setbacks,” Shelin said. “We don’t want to bring out the big guns to swat a mosquito.”

Some challenges have already presented themselves. The Gurleys and other property owners on the east side of Palm Avenue have said that introducing setback requirements could render their smaller lots undevelopable.

“The reason that we have to fight is the effect on us would be catastrophic,” David Gurley said.

Attorney Robert Lincoln, speaking on behalf of Seaward Development, said he worried new zoning could render the company’s recent and ongoing projects incompatible with the code.

For now, city staff is leaving the process of working toward an agreeable compromise to residents. Planning General Manager Ryan Chapdelain suggested different stakeholders on Palm Avenue could meet among themselves before potentially bringing a proposal back to the city for further examination.

As the discussion unfolds, Shelin is using a straightforward philosophy in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls of the past.

“Look for the simplest answer to the problem, and beware of unintended consequences,” he said. “Don’t make it overcomplicated.”

The Gurleys, however, see conversations about the potential changes as a waste of time.

“There are better things for the city to be focused on than promoting these types of agendas,” David Gurley said.

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