Neighborhoods, Mobility under Attack Giving It All Away to Developers; After giving the green light to measures to destroy important environmental protections Wednesday, the Sarasota County Commission on Friday will turn to destroying important public protections concerning land use, mobility and other matters, again to serve their patrons in the development industry

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Neighborhoods, Mobility under Attack

Giving It All Away to Developers

** County Commission Public Hearing Friday, June 10, 9 am **

County Administration Building, 1660 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota


After giving the green light to measures to destroy important environmental protections Wednesday, the Sarasota County Commission on Friday will turn to destroying important public protections concerning land use, mobility and other matters, again to serve their patrons in the development industry.

A measure to repeal the neighborhood compatibility requirement for new developments even worked its way into the package at the last minute.

Here are some of the very bad changes in the so-called Comprehensive Plan “Update”.  Citizens will be allowed to speak for up to five minutes on each of these headings at Friday’s hearing.

There will be another public hearing in October, after the “Update comes back from a limited state review.

— Dan Lobeck

Join Control Growth Now

FUTURE LAND USE

The policy which for decades has required the County Commission to reduce the density or intensity of a proposed development if needed to achieve compatibility with a nearby neighborhood would be deleted.  Also deleted would be a provision for increased lot sizes in the new development for compatibility.  All that would be left is basically nothing, that is just a recognition that the Zoning Code already has measures to reduce some incompatibility by measures that include buffers, setbacks, open space and locations of roads, dumpsters and the like.  This change, if approved, will destroy a policy which has been used successfully by neighborhoods for many years to fight incompatible developments nearby.  Developers somehow got this (and some of the other bad changes listed below) added at the last minute, as it was never in any prior draft and was not added by the Planning Commission.  Neighborhood advocates should rise up in verbal arms about this one.

Promotes urban sprawl by deleting the words “within the Urban Service Area” to describe where public facilities and services needed to support development will be provided.

Eliminates the square footage limit on the size of Commercial Centers.   Also, the maximum “floor area ratio”, that is the amount of a lot in a Commercial Center which may be covered by building of various stories, is greatly increased, and limits on that deleted entirely for some developments.  These changes would seriously worsen traffic congestion at some of the most overcrowded intersections and roadways in Sarasota County, to no good end.

Increases allowable densities to up to 100 units per acre in a “mixed use” area, provided that half the units which are granted in excess of 13 units per acre are “affordable” to those making 100% of area median income (that is mortgaged for not more than $243,849 or rent not more than $1,518 per month for a family of four) and one-fifth of those are “affordable” to those making 80% of that income. This does little for truly affordable housing, in return for a huge increase in density, which will create traffic and other problems.  And get this — the changes also remove the requirement that the affordable housing remain affordable after the first sale or rental , that it be “green” construction and that a study shows a good balance of jobs and housing.  Also, outside of mixed use areas, the maximum density for so-called “affordable” housing would increase from 120% to 400% of the existing maximums.  These changes were pushed through the Planning Commission by a developer and a construction company executive on that body who build apartment complexes.  They are opposed by County staff.

Allows development where adequate roads capacity is not available, by tying that policy only to “concurrency-related” facilities, considering that the Transportation Chapter would eliminate transportation concurrency.

Broadly allows developers to exceed maximum densities in the Plan by the establishment of “Residential Enclaves” anywhere in the Urban Service Area except barrier islands, with none of the limits in the current Plan.

Deletes the current prohibition of development in a 100 year floodplain which would adversely affect the function of the floodplains and degrade water body quality, by allowing that development so long as it is “mitigated”, a very loosed and weak standard.

Deletes the policy which states, “Establish a system to measure new developments and determine whether the developments employ smart growth principles to help promote a sustainable community.”

Changes various important “governing” principles instead to only “guiding” principles.

Eliminates the provision that the County’s mobility policy be “neighborhood-based.”

Deletes the important goal of protecting the natural environment, neighborhoods, agriculture and historical resources .

Deletes the provision to “preserve” agricultural lands.

Deletes the requirement that the County will coordinate future land use with environmental characteristics and the availability of facilities.

Deletes the statement that the County ensure that adequate public facilities are available concurrent with (that is, at the same time as) development.  The new wording shifts to accommodation of development.

Deletes the  requirement that the County plan for needed infrastructure improvements, such as roads, schools, parks, utilities and other facilities, for a ten-year period.

Deletes the statement that development will be accommodated “to the extent such growth is financially feasible.”  Stating instead, as proposed, “Encourage development where public facilities are provided or scheduled to be available” is much less restrictive.

Adds “intensity” to what may be increased in “multi-modal overlays”, which would allow increased nonresidential development in addition to the increased residential density allowed at present.  Doing so could be used to allow incompatible commercial and other nonresidential development near neighborhoods where it is not allowed today, and increase traffic congestion.

TRANSPORTATION

Eliminates concurrency, the long-standing requirement that developers must pay for and submit traffic studies and pay their proportionate share of needed road improvements that exceed their impact fees.

Lowers the level of service on County roads within the Urban Service Area from C to D.  While it has been stated that the current standards are unrealistic and that we must accept more traffic congestion than we do today, that would at least partially be resolved if the County abandoned its 47.5% cut in impact fees throughout most of the urban area, and other impact fee cuts. This revision is part of the move to embrace traffic congestion in order to allow developers to overcrowd our roads, a move which is strongly at odds with public opinion and the public interest.

Promotes a “Complete Streets” program which staff clearly states includes  the crazy concept of “road diets” to shrink existing roads — such as turning a four lane road into two lanes —  in order to make driving more difficult and force people out of cars onto walking, biking and riding buses that get caught in traffic too.

Requires that a new major (arterial) road be built within the next three years east of the Interstate between University Parkway and Clark Road to include the Bee Ridge Extension, to serve new urban sprawl planned in that area.  This would take priority over other needed road projects where people live today, including improvements to River Road required to eliminate deaths.

The support materials for the Transportation Chapter should be revised to include the Introduction to that Chapter in the Comprehensive Plan at present, in particular the following paragraph, which at present is proposed to be deleted:  “Periods of rapid population growth and seasonal fluctuations in population, with the resulting increase in the number of automobiles, have combined in Sarasota to produce traffic congestion. This has been manifested not only in the conditions found on thoroughfares but also in the spillover of heavy traffic into residential neighborhoods as drivers sought to bypass the thoroughfares. In addition to congestion, traffic circulation issues include the need for adequate hurricane evacuation routes, and provision for police and fire emergency services.”

HOUSING

Provides for increased densities in the Zoning Code by allowing more “accessory dwellings”, that is second homes on a one-home lot, than are allowed today.  This was added by a Planning Commissioner who is a building contractor and complained that he was limited by the current code.

Weakens a policy by deleting the word “most” from the requirement that housing density be effectively balanced with neighborhood compatibility, environmental sensitivity and housing diversity.

Replaces the call for more affordable housing for persons of “extremely low, very low, low and moderate income” with housing merely for “households with an income of 120 percent or less of the AMI” (Adjusted Median Income).

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

At present, the Economic Development Chapter presents a balanced approach to the economy in Sarasota County, not only calling for new business but also serving existing businesses and recognizing the value and importance to our economy of tourism, adequate infrastructure, the natural environment, neighborhoods, education and arts and culture to the County’s economic development, as well as its quality of life.  The replacement Chapter strips all but a bare remnant of that away and leaves in its place a small handful of policies which promote workforce development, diversification of the economic base and agriculture, while imprudently advocating the repeal of regulations which may be beneficial to the public interest.

The staff explanations for these deletions show the contempt for these deleted values, such as “Neighborhood revitalization is not economic development” and “Tourism does not diversify the economic base.”

Proposed new Policies 2.2.2 and 3.1.3 should be eliminated.  It is reckless, for example, to call for the elimination of regulations that have the effect of prohibiting the attraction or expansion of a business.  That is because those regulations may serve an overriding public interest such as protection of important natural resources, neighborhood compatibility or transportation mobility.

The revision should not eliminate the current “Intent” which precedes the Goals, Objectives and Policies, in particular the statement, “The County has the responsibility to support and accommodate projected economic development activities while serving the public interest and not compromising the quality of life.”

Most certainly, the “Guiding Principles for Determining Desirable Business and Industry” should not be deleted from the Chapter, with factors that include whether a business  “can meet or exceed Sarasota County environmental quality standards”, “promote long term, year round employment stability and promote long term, year-round employment opportunities”, “ will attract employees having a high degree of technical skill and education while at the same time of fer career opportunities for those having lesser skills or education”,  “will not consume large volumes of water and energy resources”,  “will not emit noxious fumes, odors, or waste products into the atmosphere, ground, or water”, “will share an interest in the well being of Sarasota County”, “will help Sarasota County maintain its superior quality of life”, “will vigorously work for better employment, education, medical, and cultural facilities for all Sarasota County’s citizens”, “will work in harmony with and will support by doing business with existing business and industry in the area as feasible”, “will incorporate sustainability principles and practices into their operations and services” and “will be certified as a Sarasota County ‘Green Business’.”  The “Examples of desirable business and industries” also included in those Guiding Principles should also not be deleted.

Objective 1.4 should not be deleted.  It states, “Ensure County policies and regulations are consistent with and promote economic goals, develop public understanding and support for the economy and its connection to a sustained quality of life, and align community development issues, such as affordable housing, with economic efforts.”

Objective 1.5 should not be deleted.  It states, “Ensure the enhancement of business development opportunities by maintaining a “Quality of Life” component of those desirable community elements consisting of the preservation of the natural environment, enjoyment of arts, culture and recreation, educational excellence, and promoting social wellbeing, a healthy community, and keeping the community safe.”

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