Site plan surprise for town leaders

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The Longboat Key Town Commission was surprised at Monday’s workshop when it found that a request to return final site plan approval to the Planning and Zoning Board was not as clear cut and simple as it initially appeared.

At the meeting, the commission was told by staff that any site plan that did not comply with the dictates of town code would go before the commission for approval. The ordinance under consideration would only allow the Planning and Zoning Board to approve site plans that conformed to town code in their entirety.

Commissioner Phill Younger asked rhetorically if the town staff should approve site plans that complied with code instead of using board time.

Former town commissioner Gene Jaleski said that the ordinance under consideration gave the Planning and Zoning Board the ability to grant waivers. Jaleski asked the commission to have a more highly defined definition of what constitutes a hardship. He said that the ordinance under consideration, “Would give the power to Planning and Zoning Board to hop scotch over this and grant a waiver.”

Resident Larry Grossman said there was a real problem in the ordinance in that if the Planning and Zoning Board can grant a waiver for a declared hardship, it would usurp the function of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

“How can you submit a site plan and submit a variance at the same time? Everything is important. In Alexandria, Virginia (where Grossman formerly worked as a City Planner), most things required commission approval. I think we are in a process of flux in land development regulations, and it would not be a good time to do this,” said Grossman.

Mayor Jim Brown said he did not want to allow the Planning and Zoning Board to grant variances and took issue with that measure embedded in the ordinance under consideration.

Town Planning Director Alaina Ray told the commission that a waiver goes with a site plan and allows certain elements of the code to be relinquished if certain conditions are found to exist. She said a variance is different in that it is a vested right based on hardship that goes with the property in perpetuity.

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale addressed Younger’s query as to whether staff could approve compliant site plans by saying that holding a public hearing with the Planning and Zoning Board and/or the commission allows due process, public noticing, and a chance for residents to react.

At the end of the discussion, the commission reached consensus to give site plan approval authority to the Planning and Zoning Board, but not allow the board the ability to grant any waivers or make any dispensations from town code. The ordinance transferring authority will go before the Town Commission at its regular meeting on May 5.


Subcommittee meets

At a Planning and Zoning Board subcommittee meeting held on Thursday, Chairman Jack Daly said that he would like other items in addition to site plans to be the purview of the Planning and Zoning Board.

“We should look for other items that are ripe for the Planning and Zoning Board, even when there is a departure, whether it’s the applicant or those with the affected interest can appeal. It seems to me we want to go farther than where we are,” said Daly.

Ray said that staff had attempted to put waivers in the ordinance, but the town commission said “no.”

Ray added that she is in favor of allowing “de minimus” increases in square footage and parking requirements and other aspects of the code.

Subcommittee member Leonard Garner said that the Planning and Zoning Board will have to address these issues in stride with the commission and be patient.

“We need to walk before we run,” said Garner.

Ray suggested that the board needs to allow the commission to be comfortable with the site plan transference.

Later in the subcommittee meeting, Ray spoke of the need for outside help and consultants as the town undertakes a major re-writing of town code and land use provisions.

Garner also took issue with the town using university students or teachers in its work.

“I have a violent objection to a teacher or professor or their students using us as a class project,” said Garner.

Ray told Garner that the university had provided students who specialize in planning matters, and they were being paid out of $300,000 the commission allocated out of its contingency fund for land use consultants.

Ray then told the subcommittee that she has seen site plan approval be in the hands of commission, planning boards, as well as staff in various jurisdictions. Ray said in Manatee and Sarasota County, the planning boards are purely advisory and final approval is in the hands of the county commissions.

“It’s all a matter of comfort,” said Ray.


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