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City development standards manual receives first update in 22 years

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Some two years after it directed staff to revamp the city’s Engineering Design Criteria Manual, the Sarasota City Commission on Monday got its first look at the document that hadn’t been updated since 2002.

Much has changed in design and philosophical standards in the past 22 years, with further evolution to come in the two years it will take from now to implement a new EDCM with a target of 2026. That's why City Manager Marlon Brown urged commissioners to consider not what the manual might address today, but how it will adapt to changes in the future.

During Monday’s workshop, commissioners heard from key staff members about the process of assembling the draft document and provided input for further refinement. 

Courtesy image

“I know that you’ve received a number of emails from individuals expressing different comments about the EDCM,” said Brown to commissioners. “This is not a one-and-done. The intent is to come back at a regular City Commission meeting to get your direction and then set this for a public hearing sometime later on. There are many opportunities after today for the public and individuals who have an interest to provide their comments."

The EDCM is a bible of sorts for public and private development throughout the city, covering standards for the benefit of the public realm.

It doesn’t get into development design and land use, but it does set standards for a variety of topics from subdivision regulations to streetscapes within the public right of way. Where it varies from the city’s zoning code and the Florida Greenbook — a manual of uniform minimum standards for design, construction and maintenance for streets and highways — the higher standards will prevail.

Those conflicts can vary from one zone district to another, and also overlay districts atop them such as the Rosemary Residential and North Trail overlay district with regard to contradictory standards such as sidewalk widths, amenity zones and more.

“You would follow the overlay district over what the EDCM contains,” said Chief Transportation Planner Alvimarie Corales. 

Commissioners heaped praise on the staff involved in developing the updated EDCM, calling the new format more digestible to the uninitiated than the current version.

“It is so well done,” said Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch. “It is so well organized and is incredibly approachable for somebody who is not an engineer to read this and understand it.”

A layperson's level of interest in the EDCM notwithstanding, the more absorbable data is intended to elevate the comprehension of the average citizen while specifying modern standards for engineers of both city and private projects. 

The EDCM update was prioritized by the City Commission in the 2022 and 2023 Strategic Plans. The standards shall apply to all forms of development under the jurisdiction of the city engineer. 

The EDCM chapters include:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Subdivision regulations
  • Chapter 3: Street design
  • Chapter 4: Streetscape
  • Chapter 5: Stormwater design
  • Chapter 6: Utility engineering
  • Chapter 7: Erosion and siltation control
  • Chapter 8: Solid waste

Not included in the EDCM are standards for:

  • Building façade and massing requirements
  • Transit service improvements
  • Parks and open space planning
  • Land use and zoning
  • Building structural requirements

Among the significant procedural changes in the EDCM is a shift in the approval of exceptions from the city manager’s office to that of the city engineer. An appeal by a developer of the city engineer’s decision will be under the purview of the city manager.

Brown addressed a frequent criticism from residents regarding the pace of drafting plans and ordinances.

“This started in 2022. We’re in 2024, so I just want a recognition that this is not something that we're rushing, that we've taken our time,” Brown said. “We’ll have another opportunity at a regular City Commission meeting to get more guidance and direction and you can actually take action. 

"This is not for today, but this is for the future. I know there are individuals who like to speak about what we're doing now, but keep an open mind that this is for the future.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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