City staff has crafted new regulations that could rely on more public hearings to approve downtown developments.
Since 2016, a group of resident activists has lobbied the city to change its policies for reviewing proposed developments in the downtown area.
According to material that will be presented at a June 17 City Commission meeting, city staff agrees that change is a good idea.
On Monday, the commission will discuss proposed revisions to the city’s administrative development review policies. Since 2004, the city’s downtown zoning code has given staff the opportunity to review most proposed plans for new projects without holding a public hearing in front of the city’s Planning Board.
Staff’s proposal would establish lower thresholds for triggering a public hearing. In the downtown area, all buildings taller than five stories would require a public hearing. So would any new hotel, any project with a drive-thru and any proposal that includes amplified outdoor music.
The current administrative review policies have drawn criticism from some residents. In 2016, the group STOP formed to advocate for the end of administrative review for most downtown projects. The Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations and the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association have also endorsed policy changes that would provide opportunities for resident input.
Members of the planning and development community have defended administrative review by arguing the quality of developments is best shaped by the regulations in the zoning code rather than input submitted at public hearings.
Representatives for STOP, CCNA and DSCA all said they were encouraged by the direction of city staff’s recommendations, though they had some reservations about specific elements. Generally speaking, they said they would support any change that expanded public input.
“They’ve taken some big steps,” said Kate Lowman, a member of STOP’s steering committee. “It just needs to be smoothed out.”