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City revisits zoning code overhaul

Three years after abandoning a complete rewrite of city zoning rules, the commission is asking staff to pursue comprehensive changes in commercial and mixed-use districts.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. January 21, 2021
  • Sarasota
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At the dawn of the millennium, the city undertook an effort to produce new building regulations for its downtown, hiring outside experts to craft a modern zoning code for the heart of the city.

The final product, adopted in 2004, was titled the Downtown Master Plan 2020. On Tuesday, Mayor Hagen Brody noted that the city had bypassed the long-term window the downtown master plan was designed to cover. As a result, he suggested the time was ripe to consider substantive updates to downtown zoning regulations — as well as comprehensive changes in other commercial and mixed-use areas.

The City Commission voted 4-1 in favor of Brody’s request to direct staff to pursue a suite of zoning code changes outside of single-family neighborhoods. The vote came two years after the city abandoned an effort to completely rewrite its zoning code, which city leaders initially undertook as a way to modernize and standardize building regulations.

Brody said he believed the form-based code failed in part because it proposed changes to zoning in predominantly residential areas that were too substantial. Still, he noted the city spent years gathering input and producing recommendations. He said that work could be the foundation for considering changes along commercial corridors, such as U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road, and he expressed a desire to prioritize a broad zoning update as opposed to a site-by-site or neighborhood-by-neighborhood rewrite.

“Instead of continuing to do a piecemeal thing, a comprehensive approach to rezoning would be best,” Brody said.

Although Planning Director Steve Cover agreed with Brody’s assertion that the timing was good for a code update, City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch expressed concern that Brody’s proposed timeline of adopting the changes by the end of 2021 was too short and voted against it.

“I’m very confused by what is meant by all of this,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Planning staff indicated it would return to the commission in February with a more detailed plan for identifying potential zoning code proposals.

Also at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting:

  • The board approved a contract for Marlon Brown to become city manager. Brown, previously the deputy city manager, had served as interim manager following Tom Barwin’s retirement.
  • The commission extended a moratorium on water service shutoffs for two weeks, directing the city attorney to research whether the city could maintain the moratorium without violating its bond covenants.


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