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Politics push, pull North-end plan

Deeply invested in the overlay discussion are top left to right, Whitney Beach Plaza owner Richard Juliani, Ed Chiles, Sarasota Attorney Dan Bailey (bottom left) and Longboat resident George Spoll.

 

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

One member in the audience at last Monday night’s Whitney Beach overlay discussion said,“I have a bipolar cousin, but I have yet to see an entire Commission suffer the disease and walk out of the room not medicated.”

And so the tone of the meeting was defined as advocates of an overlay zoning district for the blighted north end plaza and neighboring properties told the Commission that the district is fundamental to rehabilitating that region and creating opportunity for investment and revitalization

To those opposed to the overlay district, the argument went along the lines that an overlay may be a fantastic idea, but not necessarily the one the Commission sought to impose. That group wants the board to slow down, adopt Comprehensive Plan changes minus the overlay and spend more time studying the matter before setting the parameters. In other words, they feel they have to get it right.

Adding to the confusion of the evening is that only two weeks prior, the Commission specifically decided to remove the overlay and any and all references to the overlay district. When the Comprehensive Plan amendments under consideration came back for second reading last Monday, the board, led by Mayor Jim Brown, reversed position and voiced strong support.

In the end, through the pleadings of Sarasota Attorney Dan Bailey who was retained by a concerned north-end resident, and through the advice of Town Attorney Dave Persson, the Commission decided to put the overlay zone back in the amendments, but to hold another meeting to give any and all concerned citizens a chance to voice their opinion.

And opinion sure was in abundance at Monday’s meeting.

In fact, the meeting started with a presentation of a vision of a different approach spearheaded by Craig Walters and Mike Miller.

“Our vision is to create a green envelope wherein you add elements within that envelope,” said Walters.

They seek to recreate Anna Maria Island’s Pine Avenue  — a park-like, environmentally sensitive development wherein residents and visitors would walk through a Durante Park-like setting interspersed with smaller homes and limited commercial.

Local restaurateur and Pine Avenue developer Ed Chiles spoke to the Commission about the positives of Pine Avenue and how the canvas of Whitney Beach Plaza and the vacant properties to the north would allow an even superior development.

“Pine Avenue started as a reaction to the fear that we might lose our ability to have a viable small business district,” said Chiles.

Chiles said the goal was low density, low intensity and high charm. He says that was accomplished after some twists and turns getting the project to fruition.

Chiles described the potential overlay area stretching from Whitney Beach Plaza north to the gas station and east encompassing several residential lots as a “unique linear piece of property.”

Michael Miller designed and installed the Pine Avenue landscaping with the evolved goal of “creating a sense of place.”

At last Monday’s meeting, Miller showed compelling slides of what appeared verdant, beach-side homes with meandering paths of compressed shell surrounded by foliage.

By that he means creating landscaping continuity that blends with the natural native Longboat foliage and beach environment creating a continuity and Longboat island feel throughout the project.

And to that end, supporters of that idea did not want the town to define the overlay district prematurely to what they consider may be an inferior or non-existent plan.

“The overlay being pushed by the Commission does not control growth properly,” said Village resident Gene Jaleski. “Letting that overlay float without any guidance does not do what an overlay is supposed to do. An overlay is meant to achieve a desired end. This overlay is nothing more than giving inappropriate flexibility without adequate controls or an end goal or design. This overlay also encourages tourism,” Jaleski added.

 

Those who feared the Commission’s overlay plan soon got to hear from numerous supporters of the town’s overlay.

Longboater Ann Roth said the proposed overlay is “very necessary for anything to happen.”

Resident Dick Pelton said the proposed town overlay was the single best and only tool available to encourage revitalization.

“If you do what you did, you get what you got, ” Pelton advised.

It became clear to the audience through comments by the Commission that the town board sought to reinsert the overlay. Some in the audience faulted the town for creating confusion for giving the overlay no support two weeks ago and then becoming advocates two weeks later.

Sarasota Attorney Dan Bailey said he was struck by the fact that the Commission voted to withdraw the overlay and all mention of an overlay two weeks ago, only to reintroduce it on final reading two weeks later. Then Bailey made a legal thrust: “I think in a way the manner you have gone about this has created enough confusion that it raises some issues about (public) notice.”

Bailey added that some concerned residents may have stayed home thinking the overlay issue was over after the Commission removed the measure at its previous meeting, only to wholeheartedly support it two weeks later.

Village resident Samir Ragheb said the Commission should not be in the business of granting an overlay to “fish out” a developer or investor in trouble.

Bay Isles resident George Spoll said he had heard rumors that he himself had a financial interest in the overlay or north end. “That is a lie,” said Spoll.

The Bayou Hammock President Jim Gardner said while he supports an overlay, he did not support the overlay the Commission was considering.

“The present overlay allows development intensities too intense and simply reducing the height to 40 feet does not resolve the issue, ” said Gardner.

It was Town Planner Ric Hartman who tried to bring the disparate comments together as he slowly spoke of the overlay concept and plan. He said the proposed overlay bore no relation to the north end task force idea book, which showed a hotel at one point as a possibility.

“An overlay simply allows the moving of uses between the parcels — not an expansion of uses, ” said Hartman.

He added that any submitted plan by an applicant would have to go through the town’s outline development process and would be subject to consideration and a decision by the Commission.

In essence, the overlay gives the right to apply and ask, but the Commission can refuse to grant a project if it feels the net result is not beneficial to the community.

Hartman also said the proposed overly is not lockstep with any sort of hotel plan.

 

Town Attorney Dave Persson reassured Commissioner Phil Younger that the Commission could reinsert the overlay and hold a second and final reading since it was noticed on first reading.

But even though a dozen of residents had spoke on the overlay both in support and against, no motion had been made to place the overlay back in the comprehensive plan amendments.

 

It was Younger who spoke first. He recognized the division in the room and said the consensus is everyone wants revitalization.

He said that at the first meeting all the public spoke against the plan and that tonight, most spoke for the overlay.

“I am glad I do not own the property,” he added.

Younger said he was going to reverse his earlier position and support the proposed overlay.  As for the revitalization, Younger said, “I will see it when he believes it. I think that is true.”

Commissioner Lynn Larson said she previously voted against mixed use at the Whitney Beach Plaza, but times have changed.

“It requires some type of overlay,” Larson said.

Mayor Jim Brown said the overlay was a tool someone could come and request.

Both he and Larson said they supported the overlay with the height limit restricted to the current allowable underlying zoning heights of 30 and 40 feet.

It was Vice Mayor Dave Brenner who suggested the Commission perhaps allow the opposing parties to work together and arrive at a compromise.

Commissioner Younger said, “It is just a never-ending story.”

Then Town Attorney Dave Persson said while the town could pass it on second reading that night, he advised the board to amend the comprehensive plan ordinance and continue the public hearing and re-notice the hearing at a date certain.

“Just because it is legal does not make it right,“ said Persson before adding that in the interest of fairness and avoiding the charge that the Commission “rammed this thing home,” it ought continue the discussion.

That is what the board agreed to do. The overlay was added back to the ordinance and the matter will be brought up and voted on at a public meeting at 2 p.m. on June 21.

Commissioners Jack Duncan, Younger, Larson, Vice Mayor Brenner and Mayor Jim Brown voted to continue the measure and Commissioners Hal Lenobel and Pat Zunz voted to not continue the matter to another public hearing.

 

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