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Sarasota seeks to decode new zoning rules

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 11, 2013
This rendering of the downtown area affected by Bradenton's form-based code accompanied its zoning guidelines.
This rendering of the downtown area affected by Bradenton's form-based code accompanied its zoning guidelines.
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In the wake of the City Commission unanimously approving the development of a new form-based zoning code, it’s clear that many city officials are excited about a potential switch from the current regulations.
What’s less clear is what exactly that switch might mean.

One point of reference sits to the north; downtown Bradenton has just begun its second year under a form-based code. Tim Polk, Bradenton’s director of planning and community development, says it’s still too early to clearly see the effects of the change, but said he is satisfied with the city of Bradenton’s decision.
“I think, overall, it’s been a success because we’ve been able to maintain our DNA in terms of architectural character,” Polk said.

Karin Murphy, a consultant Sarasota hired to assist with writing the new code, also helped write Bradenton’s form-based code. At a City Commission meeting June 17, she echoed a common refrain of Polk’s — that form-based code’s value rests largely in providing predictability for both developers and for residents.

“There’s a lot of unpredictability about what the built form would look like,” Murphy said about developments under the current code. “Under a form-based code, working with the community, we get a more holistic look at what those features would be.”

Unlike Sarasota, which is considering rewriting its entire code, Bradenton’s form-based code applies only to an area around its downtown. It is centered primarily around three downtown redevelopment districts. One reason Bradenton avoided rewriting its entire code was the cost, Polk said.

Under form-based code, Sarasota could establish a series of transects that would allow urban, suburban and transitional neighborhoods in between to be managed differently.

City Manager Tom Barwin said while a citywide revision is under consideration, priority areas would be addressed first rather than waiting to pass a comprehensive code.

“We’re not going to wait for two-and-a-half years to drop a document onto a city council,” Barwin said. “We’ll look at areas where there seems to be a lot of economic interest and activity first.”

Barwin mentioned the North Trail, the Rosemary District, north Sarasota and edge neighborhoods around downtown as areas that could be targeted first.

Polk says Bradenton was able to write its code to preserve the current state of individual areas. In an area consisting of mostly single-family detached housing the code didn’t interfere with that neighborhood.

And, Bradenton was also able to include incentives for redevelopment to better accomplish the city’s goals in the area the code affected.

Still, the final product wasn’t perfect. Bradenton’s code has been amended twice since being passed, most recently to change setback and parking regulations, a move necessary to attract national retailers.

Bradenton’s transition to form-based code was relatively mild. The main change the city was interested in was creating predictability for developers, a stated interest of Sarasota, as well.

In Sarasota, the changes could be more drastic. Murphy called the city of Sarasota’s current zoning regulations old and unpredictable, and many city officials believe form-based code is a game-changer.

An Urban Design Studio, located in the Federal Building, will offer residents an opportunity to check in on the work planners are doing and offer opinions on form-based code.

City Manager Tom Barwin says staff has begun work on setting up the studio this week. The first step, once that is completed, he said, is internal scoping — referencing all the city’s prior planning documents to ensure the new code will be a natural evolution. By August, they hope to hold a series of open houses.

“We want to get the community to be familiar and comfortable with the studio and their role in designing our future,” Barwin said.

Contact David Conway at [email protected].


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