As part of a continuing citywide conversation about public input and development review, the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association wants to have an opportunity to say more about proposed projects in the downtown area.
The DSCA sent a letter to city commissioners Feb. 5 requesting a series of desired zoning changes. Based on a June 2017 survey of downtown condominium residents, the group determined that its members wanted wider setbacks for developments and a greater emphasis on compatibility with neighboring properties.
The letter said downtown residents also feel like they don’t have a voice in the development process. Downtown zoning regulations allow for administrative approval of proposed site plans if they comply with the code, which means there are no public forums for residents to ask questions about a planned building.
Mel Sykes, chairman of the DSCA’s zoning code committee, thinks the city can address that issue. He knew city staff prefers to preserve the administrative review process. But he also knew that in 2013, the city approved a compromise for Laurel Park that mandates two community workshops ahead of site plan approval for projects on the neighborhood’s boundaries.
“Based on that, we took a look at what was going on in Laurel Park and thought that would work in the downtown area,” Sykes said.
When DSCA representatives first floated the idea to city staff, there was some hesitation. Planning Director Steve Cover said it could be a drain on resources to have city personnel and expenses dedicated to two workshops for every downtown proposal.
The DSCA has refined its proposal based on that feedback, suggesting the creation of a triggering mechanism that would require workshops only if enough public interest existed.
“To lessen the burden on city staff, DSCA suggests this process only be initiated when at least five residents request a community workshop,” the letter states.
Sykes is hopeful the city will consider the request at a March meeting dedicated to public input on development and administrative review.