It’s now up to the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to decide whether the Town Commission’s decision in May to adopt changes to its codes are consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
The Islandside Property Owners Coalition (IPOC) filed July 14 an administrative appeal that challenged code changes approved by the Town Commission May 3.
The seven changes to the code were submitted to the town by the Longboat Key Club and Resort, in an effort to diminish many of the legal challenges presented by IPOC, which opposes the club’s $400 million renovation-and-expansion project.
Because the town chose not to respond to the request by IPOC to amend the changes within 30 days of the request, IPOC attorney Michael Furen filed an administrative appeal with the DCA.
On Tuesday, Aug. 24, DCA assistant general counsel Lynette Norr and DCA planner Scott Rogers heard testimony from IPOC, the town and Key Club officials at the SunTrust bank building on Bay Isles Road.
IPOC attorney Robert Lincoln spent more than two hours Tuesday morning discussing why he believes the code changes are inconsistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which acts as the town’s guide to future development.
Specifically, Lincoln told Norr and Rogers the Comprehensive Plan does not include specific language that allows for commercial uses in a Gulf-planned development.
“This plan wasn’t properly established in the first place and the specific code amendments are not compatible and don’t further the Comprehensive Plan,” Lincoln said.
Town attorney David Persson took less than 15 minutes to make his argument.
“The worse-kept secret on this island is this document can be ambiguous now and then,” Persson said.
“But it was approved by the state and, unfortunately for you, your job is to figure out what was intended for this document at the time it was passed.”
Persson urged Norr and Rogers to take a drive through Islandside before they left for Tallahassee “to get a feel for what’s been created in the development.”
“The Islandside and Harbourside GPDs have always allowed commercial uses, which include a marina, a club and a newly approved and expanded tennis center,” Persson said.
Persson and Key Club attorneys Brenda Patten and Jim Syprett also argued that Lincoln was bringing up issues that will be decided later in Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court, because IPOC has also filed legal challenges contesting the commission’s approval of the project.
“The key issue is whether these changes are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan,” Persson said. “I think the overall argument for the town is a positive one.”
Lincoln disagreed, explaining that the DCA must read all of the code sections that were changed to understand the meaning of the change and shouldn’t just look at the specific words that were changed.
“When you look at the effects of the clarifications as a whole, they are meant to show you the zoning code permits a massive development at the south end of the Key that now includes office space, a large hotel and other uses,” Lincoln said.
Norr said her department would render a consistency conclusion on or before Sept. 13.
If the state agrees that the town’s actions were inconsistent with its Comprehensive Plan, the matter is referred to the governor and his cabinet, which has the ability to impose sanctions on the town, including taking away revenue-sharing funds available for town projects such as beach renourishments.
IPOC also has the right to file an appeal with the District Court of Appeals if DCA disagrees with IPOC’s view.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].