Advocates for protection of floodplains and environmentally sensitive lands seek change in Sarasota County guidelines for new developments east of I-75

Signature drive underway for publicly initiated Comprehensive Plan amendment that would necessitate use of up-to-date maps in planning for growth

This map, created with the county’s Geographical Information System (GIS) software, shows Resource Management Areas in the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A petition drive is underway for a publicly initiated Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan Amendment that supporters say would necessitate the use of accurate, up-to-date maps in the planning for any new Sarasota 2050 developments.

The 2050 communities must be designed under county guidelines crafted to manage growth east of Interstate 75.

A fact sheet advocates are distributing about the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment says that two figures in the county’s Future Land Use Map Series need to be updated, so they will depict “accurate and up-to-date … information.”

Those maps, the fact sheet points out, show the wrong Sarasota 2050 Resource Management Area (RMA) on more than 10,000 acres.

One thousand acres of protected natural floodplains are not shown on the maps,” the fact sheet adds, with emphasis.

Signed copies of the petition are due by July 8, David Anderson, president of the Serenoa Lakes Community Association, told The SarasotaNews Leader this week.

If advocates can get the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment submitted to county staff and ultimately approved by the County Commission, Anderson pointed out, the change “will influence how future development proceeds in areas where there are environmental considerations that are presently being ignored by Sarasota County.”

Anderson has volunteered to collect the petitions, which may be mailed to him at the following address: 7423 Paurotis Court, Sarasota, FL 34241.

This is an example of a petition for the initiative. Contributed image

Section 94-85 of the County Code of Ordinances says, “[N]o fewer than 20 registered voters, each of whom resides, owns real property, or owns or operates a business within the unincorporated area of Sarasota County may request the County to initiate a Comprehensive Plan amendment at any time for processing as a County-initiated amendment,” subject to provisions provided in Section 94-87 of the County Code. The latter section includes details about how the amendments must be considered, including the provision of opportunities for the public to provide written comments to staff and to attend workshops and public hearings.

Anderson was among the plaintiffs in both a 12th Judicial Circuit Court case and a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings challenge to the planned 1,097 Grand Lakes development on 533 acres east of I-75 and South of Clark Road.

In both proceedings, the plaintiffs argued that the County Commission violated Sarasota 2050 tenets when it voted 4-1 last year to approve the Neal Communities project. (Commissioner Charles Hines was in the minority.)

Among their arguments in the Circuit Court case, the plaintiffs alleged that the county did not apply 2050 plan environmental protection regulations to South Creek. “We are displeased that the county chose to submit — and the court based its decision upon — a decades old map, one that does not label any creek, as evidence that South Creek does not exist east of I-75 in spite of the fact that the county’s own Geographical Information System maps, all current [U.S. Geological Survey] USGS topological maps, and the testimony of two of the developer’s expert witnesses that the creek does traverse the property,” Anderson told the News Leader in April, after the Circuit Court ruled in favor of the county.

A March 2018 Sarasota County graphic shows details about Sarasota 2050 Villages and resource management areas east of Interstate 75. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In that case, the petitioners argued that the Grand Lakes application to the county included an outdated map that did not label creeks on the development site. They contended that the latest USGS topographical map for the area showed South Creek traversing the northwest corner of the property and continuing along the western boundary.

“Under the current map,” their amended complaint said, “it is apparent that the proposed [Grand Lakes] Master Land Use Plan seeks to develop within environmentally protected lands.”

Because of the 100-year floodplain and South Creek, the petitioners argued, “large portions of the Grand Lakes site are unsuitable for the proposed development under the [county’s] Land Development Code.”

One goal of the 2050 Plan is to consolidate homes in walkable communities with commercial/retail centers serving the needs of the residents. The developments must have an abundance of open space.

Details about the petition drive

This is Future Land Use Map 8-5. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In offering arguments for the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, supporters are referencing information on the fact sheet. Among its statements, the document says that one of the “Sarasota 2050 goals is to divert population growth away from floodplains and to prohibit development within certain types of floodplains [emphasis again in the document].”

This is Future Land Use Map 8-7. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The fact sheet adds that two maps in the Comprehensive Plan — 8-5, which shows Resource Management Areas, and 8-7, which shows Village/Open Space — do not depict lands that are a priority for preservation for the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program. It also says that areas with significant ecological value are omitted.

Further, “Named Creeks and Flow-ways and Connected Wetlands are not shown [emphasis in the document].”

The fact sheet includes the following statements, as well:

  • “Misinformation misleads the public.
  • “Misinformation costs Applicants time and money.
  • “Faulty maps result in flawed zoning and planning decisions.
  • Mistakes have been made. Development within protected lands has been approved.”