The city will consider waiving fees associated with certain sidewalk closures, but staff says some residents have lobbied for tougher regulations.
There are a few reasons Church of the Redeemer leaders believe they merit special consideration regarding city fees associated with construction on the church’s campus.
The church is focused on fees tied to sidewalk and street closures as a new ministry center was built on the Palm Avenue property. Appearing in front of the City Commission on Monday, the Rev. Frederick Robinson and church fundraising committee Chairman Robert Morris outlined their case against paying the charges tied to construction that closes public rights of way.
They said the church is a nonprofit open to the public, one that has to work hard to remain in its long-time home near Sarasota’s bayfront. They argued the closures did not inconvenience Sarasota residents because it closed segments of south Gulfstream Avenue near a dead end on the road. And they said the church project is distinct from a type of higher-intensity construction with which downtown residents take greater issue.
“We are the only bayfront area in that entire Gulfstream area there that is not a high-rise condominium at this point,” Morris said. “We are a garden spot, and we intend to stay that way.”
The commission found the church’s argument compelling and unanimously directed staff to prepare a proposal for a system that would allow the city to waive certain sidewalk closure fees. The board instructed staff to prepare criteria that would allow the city to evaluate waiver requests on a case-by-case basis, with the city manager having administrative authority to grant a waiver that met the necessary standards.
The city had such a system in place prior to 2007. City attorney Robert Fournier said the prolonged closure of Palm Avenue associated with the 1350 Main project inspired the commission to eliminate the waiver process. As a result, Fournier recommended establishing a fixed time limit associated with any sidewalk closure not subject to regular fees.
Although the commission’s discussion focused on Church of the Redeemer’s request, City engineer Alex DavisShaw noted some downtown residents have lobbied for more expensive sidewalk closure fees, expressing a belief developers are closing public rights of way for longer than is necessary during construction. DavisShaw said staff was in the process of preparing some updates to the city code in response to that citizen input, but the commission did not offer any direction on that topic.