County staff presented tweaks to the longterm planning document, which guides growth east of I-75, intended to make it more attractive to developers. Most of the proposed changes target environmental regulations on the development of villages.
Planning commissioners were eager to vet the changes, but declined to outline specific modifications to staff recommendations before the Sarasota County Commission sees the second phase of 2050 changes in March. Critics of 2050 claim the plan, which aims to allow several compact, mixed-use walkable communities in East County, say the regulations are too stringent.
"It's a big hairy thing that we're dealing with here," Commissioner Robert Morris said. "I don't want to get too bogged down with the minutae of this." The Planning Commission voted 7-1 to recommend the changes with some guidelines about open space requirements for villages.
Staff recommended lifting the 4,000 dwelling-unit cap on village developments, and allowing more flexibility in the retail/residential/office space within village centers — which after the first phase of 2050 changes are allowed to be developed at the fringe of village settlements.
If the County Commission approves the changes, developers will also have more flexibility in the width of greenbelt (the improved pasture areas completely surrounding a village settlement) and greenway (natural areas surrounding waterways).
Staff recommended reducing the minimum width of required greenbelt from 500 feet to 50 feet with the right density of landscaping to obscure "undesireable" views of the village, and reducing the greenway requirement from 550 feet to 300 feet.
Jono Miller, director of environmental studies at New College of Florida, criticized the option for developers to reduce the greenbelt between village centers and their nearby roads. He also criticized the process of implementing changes in phases that may affect each other.
"It seems like they're basically painting themselves into a corner," Miller said.
Planning commissioners also wanted more flexibility for developers to meet the requirement that 50% of a village be designated as open space. Commissioners asked staff to consider allowing lakes or ponds smaller than 50-acres to be counted toward the open space requirement.
Kevin Cooper, representing the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, asked for stronger incentives to promote affordable housing within villages, while others, such as land-use attorney Bill Merrill, thought staff changes didn't go far enough to promote development.
"It looks like you're trying to regulate development out of there by being so picky and so fussy," said former Sarasota County Charter Review Board candidate Paul Cajka.