The city will share a draft version of the proposed form-based zoning code Oct. 1 for staff and residents to review.
The city did the same thing in March, when a complete draft version of the code was made public for the first time. That document was met with concern from officials and residents who said it was difficult to digest the proposed changes to the city’s development regulations. They also expressed fear that it would be challenging to track revisions to the draft if it were repeatedly revised during an initial review.
The city originally commissioned the production of a new zoning code in June 2013 because it hoped to craft simpler regulations that created more predictability for both developers and neighborhoods. As written, however, officials felt uncomfortable grasping how a new code might reshape development in Sarasota.
In April, the City Commission directed staff to produce material that more clearly explained how the new form-based zoning code would change existing regulations. They sought a more complete draft and hoped to get it back by July.
The process has proved more time-consuming. For the past five months, Urban Design Studio Director Karin Murphy has been working to flesh out an updated draft version of the code. The document now includes revised guidelines outlining different building types, updated maps showcasing what can be built in which areas of the city and other changes that represent a more complete version of the zoning code.
Murphy, the principal author of the document, is preparing to hand her final draft of the code to city staff for review. Murphy’s contract with the city ends this month, which means permanent city staff will be responsible for guiding the form-based code through potential adoption. Planning technician Briana Dobbs, who has worked with Murphy on producing the code, will remain with the city.
Murphy said she’s comfortable with city planning and zoning staff overseeing that process. Although the proposed changes in the code have already been the target of some criticism, she believes the document reflects a high volume of public input gathered during more than five years of work.
“I feel good,” Murphy said. “For two people doing all of this, it has been a labor of love for the community. Now, it switches over to getting it out there, letting people live with it.”
City Planning Director Steve Cover said it’s uncertain how, exactly, the review of the code will proceed. Beginning Oct. 1, staff intends to take two to three months to fully review Murphy’s final draft of the code, with all departments working to make sure the provisions are satisfactory.
Cover said staff would likely prioritize its focus on pressing issues affecting development in the city. That means topics residents have devoted significant attention to, including review procedures, sidewalk regulations and more. Cover said more immediate attention would likely be given to downtown, the Rosemary District and commercial corridors rather than solely residential neighborhoods.
He said staff would talk to the commission about the best way to proceed to potentially adopt the code — or at least elements of it. Although the process of writing and reviewing the code has been repeatedly delayed, the city still wants to proceed with caution to ensure the public supports any changes made to zoning regulations.
“This is not something that can move quickly,” Cover said. “There’s a lot of information and a lot of impact from changes like this, so it’s going to take quite a while.”