Residents demand stricter building height policy

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About 20 Longboat Key residents told the Town Commission at its regular meeting last Monday night that they want the 30-foot residential building height limitation strictly adhered to and not to allow the intrusion of elevator shafts and stairwells to distort rooftops in order to access decks.

The residents spoke against an ordinance that was under consideration which would restrict further the size of enclosures or rooftop structures that are currently allowed to accommodate stairs and elevators that access rooftop decks.

Under the current code rooftop decks must stay within the 30-foot limitation, yet elevators and stairs are allowed to be placed in what some residents say amounts to a third story which distorts and disrupts the appearance of the neighborhood. A home under construction in Country Club Shores has served as the impetus for numerous residents to ask the town to enact further restrictions.

At the meeting Monday, the Commission embarked on a debate on whether to adopt the ordinance’s new language that would restrict the size of a rooftop structure to 10 percent of the total roof area in single-family residential zones and 15 percent in multi-family districts.

At the onset of the meeting, Vice Mayor Phill Younger suggested that the multi-family restriction be lowered to 10 percent, but Commissioner George Spoll suggested tabling any motion to change that number without Planning and Zoning Board input.

Resident and Commission Candidate Gene Jaleski said the Planning and Zoning Board, “Took it upon themselves to decide people with handicaps needed access. I don’t know why we are allowing this height when there is a better solution.”

Resident Joan Cook said that the purpose of the Zoning Code is to preserve the character of the town. She said she’d like the additional 10 feet for rooftop structures be taken away.

Planning and Zoning Director Alaina Ray said the Halyard Lane home that spurred the complaints would still be allowed with the proposed ordinance because the home has a structure on the roof less than the 10 percent allowed under the proposed rules.

Lynn Larson, former Commissioner and President of Country Club Shores IV, said Planning and Zoning Board Chair and Commission Candidate Jim Brown told her that if she does not like the rooftop structures, then she should change her Homeowner Association rules and make them illegal.

“I don’t like that answer; I’m interested in all the neighborhoods on Longboat Key, not just Country Club Shores,” said Larson.

Larson added that the current rules date back to 1977 before FEMA regulations and now with flood requirements, the building heights have gone up and up.

“We talk about reducing density on the island and then we are doing this,” said Larson.

Commission Candidate Larry Grossman told the commission that the ordinance should be sent back to the Planning and Zoning Board for further review and he cautioned the commission to not rush into changing the language, “unless you know what you are doing.”

Grossman suggested that the ordinance has no criteria for context in making approvals or allowances.

Mayor Terry Gans said that the issue had already been bounced back to the Planning and Zoning Board.

To that statement, Commissioner Armando Linde who lives in Country Club Shores, said, “Now you know what the neighbors think.”

Resident Emmanuel Charon said he opposed the new rules and implored the commission to limit the height to 30 feet without exceptions.

Resident Bill Cook said it was an issue of “visual dominance” in the neighborhood.

“I wish I could take a wrecking ball and remove this atrocity from the neighborhood,” said Cook.

Resident Robert Lee said the additional 10 foot allowance is “ill-considered.” He suggested that if a property owner must have a stairwell, parapet, or elevator, “then take it out somewhere on the house. I join the many others who oppose this; you don’t have to accept what the P&Z has given you.”

Commissioner Ed Zunz observed that in some instances the additional height looks offensive and yet in his view in other cases, it looked perfectly fine.

“It comes down to architecture. I don’t know how to resolve that,” said Zunz.

Linde rhetorically asked, “Why would you vote in favor of an ordinance that changes the neighborhood?”

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale made it clear that having the rooftop decks and access is a choice and not a mandate of law. She also said that providing an elevator to allow handicap access is also not a legal mandate.

Younger said the trick is to keep it to a minimum, he added that the dialogue between the residents and the commission should have happened in front of the Planning and Zoning Board when it was crafting the ordinance.

“I hope if we send it to P&Z, you will come out,” said Younger.

Commissioner Jack Daly made a motion to send the rules back to P&Z for further consideration and refinement in light of the opposition.

Commissioner George Spoll made a motion to send the entire issue back to the Planning and Zoning Board without suggesting a particular size or percentage of rooftop area that should be allowed to be used for such structures.

The Planning and Zoning Board will reconsider the building height issue and the matter is destined to return to the commission.

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