Airport Authority pursuing conflict resolution process against City of Sarasota over commission’s approval of 372-apartment complex near runway

Initial meeting set for Nov. 1

In the wake of the Sarasota City Commission’s formal approval of a 372-unit apartment complex near the end of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) runway, the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority has voted to pursue a conflict resolution process against the city as provided for in Chapter 164 of state law.

The Authority is taking that step “prior to initiating court proceedings,” its formal, Sept. 26 resolution says. Nonetheless, the resolution points out, “Nothing herein shall preclude the Authority from concurrently pursuing other legal remedies to resolve the conflict, recognizing, however, that any court proceedings must be abated, upon order of the court, until the procedural options of Chapter 164 [of the Florida Statutes] have been exhausted.”

Airport President and CEO Frederick J. “Rick” Piccolo informed City Manager Marlon Brown of the decision in a Sept. 27 letter, a copy of which City Attorney Robert Fournier provided to The Sarasota News Leader at its request.

Piccolo referenced the commission’s votes on Aug. 15 and Sept. 6 to change the land classification of the property near the airport — and the first of two required votes to rezone the site to the new classification.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch was the only board member to oppose the plans for the property, citing an agreement with the Airport Authority dating to May 2018 that was designed to prevent new construction on the land unless it was necessary.

The property is the former home of the Sarasota Kennel Club. Aventon Companies, which is based in Raleigh, N.C., is the developer proposing the apartment complex.

Among its clauses, that agreement references “activities and uses of land in the immediate vicinity of airports as enumerated in [Section 333.03(2) of the Florida Statutes that] are not compatible with normal airport operations, and may, if not regulated, also endanger the lives of the participants, adversely affect their health, or otherwise limit the accomplishment of normal activities …”

The agreement adds that the city and the Airport Authority “acknowledge their obligation … to adopt, administer, and enforce updated airport zoning regulations applicable to the airport hazard areas, and restricting the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of SRQ to activities and purposes compatible with the continuation of normal airport operations including landing and takeoff of aircraft in order to promote public health, safety, and general welfare.”

During the Sept. 6 City Commission meeting, SRQ CEO Piccolo and other representatives of the Airport Authority warned that legal action would result if the board majority voted in favor of Aventon’s plans. The property’s location is 5400 Old Bradenton Road.

Yet, commissioners cited their belief that more dwelling units will lead to lower rents in the city, with so many workers having difficulty affording homes.

During remarks at the end of the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 17, City Attorney Fournier referred to the Airport Authority action before explaining that he had received a letter from a representative of Aventon Companies, seeking inclusion of the firm in the conflict resolution process.

Fournier added that he felt that it would be appropriate to allow the company to participate in the discussions. The commissioners agreed with him, though no formal vote was taken.

In the Sept. 27 letter, Piccolo suggested an initial meeting on Oct. 27 at the airport. However, Fournier told the News Leader in an Oct. 24 email that City Manager Marlon Brown would be out of town on that date, so the meeting had been rescheduled to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 1 at the same location.

Along with Brown, Fournier and himself, Piccolo proposed that Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly; Dan Bailey Jr. of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, who serves as general counsel for the airport; and attorney Robert Lincoln of Sarasota, serving as special counsel for the airport, attend the initial session. Piccolo indicated that “other officials” whom Brown and he might designate, also could be present.

The meeting will be open to the public, Piccolo also pointed out.

The members of the Airport Authority Board of Directors are developer Carlos M. Beruff, chair; Jeff Jackson, president and CEO of PGT Innovations in Venice, vice chair; entrepreneur Jesse Biter of Sarasota, secretary; Robert Spencer of Bradenton, owner of West Coast Tomato LLC; former state Rep. Doug Holder of Venice; and Kristin Incrocci, owner and pilot of SRQ Aviation.

Airport Authority resolution details

The formal resolution that the Airport Authority approved on Sept. 26 explains that, in 1996, the Authority conducted a study “to establish noise contours which extend into areas adjacent to the Airport under the land jurisdiction of Manatee County, Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.”

Then, on April 15, 1997, the resolution continues, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had determined that the noise exposure map for SRQ was in compliance with the applicable section of federal aviation regulations.

Next, on July 19, 2010, the resolution points out, the City Commission amended the Future Land Use Chapter of its Comprehensive Plan to include Action Strategy 10.2, “which states that residential dwelling units are ‘discouraged’ from being located” within what is called the “noise contour” of the airport. The latter area is where noise emanating from aircraft taking off and landing day and night would be an average of 65 decibels.

Testimony during the Aventon hearings said that eight of the 13 proposed apartment buildings on the 25-acre site would be within the noise contour.

Then, on May 31, 2018, the resolution continues, the City Commission entered into the interlocal agreement that restricted uses for the land “adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of airport activities …”

The resolution further notes that the majority of the city’s Planning Board members voted against the change of the land classification in early June and recommended that the City Commission do the same.

Moreover, the resolution points out, evidence and testimony presented during the August and September public hearings related to the Aventon plans “demonstrated that the proposed development would not produce any ‘affordable’ or ‘attainable’ units, and the market rate units that would be produced would be insufficient in number to reduce the region’s affordable housing shortage to any measurable degree …”

Additionally, the resolution refers to the fact that Piccolo and other SRQ representatives stressed to the commissioners during the hearings “that, statistically speaking, about half of all aircraft accidents occur either on takeoff or landing,” and that the apartment complex “would be located within a mere 1,500 feet south of the Airport’s main runway; and that the proposed stormwater retention ponds depicted on the site plan would be of such depth to attract wading birds which pose a threat to aircraft …”

The provisions of Chapter 164

Chapter 164 of the Florida Statues says, “The purpose and intent of this act is to promote, protect, and improve the public health, safety, and welfare and to enhance intergovernmental coordination efforts by the creation of a governmental conflict resolution procedure that can provide an equitable, expeditious, effective, and inexpensive method for resolution of conflicts between and among local and regional governmental entities. It is the intent of the Legislature that conflicts between governmental entities be resolved to the greatest extent possible without litigation.”

The Nov. 1 session that City Attorney Fournier noted in his email to the News Leader is called a “conflict assessment meeting,” which is the next step after one governmental entity provides formal notice to another that it is launching the conflict resolution process, the state statute explains.

If no tentative resolution comes out of that meeting, the statute makes clear, the Airport Authority and the City Commission would conduct a joint meeting.

In 2017, the Sarasota City and County commissions initially engaged in a conflict resolution process under the provisions of Chapter 164. The issue then was the city’s assertion that the county owed one more payment into the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund.

The Office of the County Attorney steadfastly maintained that no such additional payment was necessary, given how the tax-increment financing process used for the CRA functioned.

Ultimately, the members of the two boards agreed to waive the provisions of Chapter 164.

Negotiations between representatives of the two local governments finally resulted in the County Commission’s agreement to provide funds for various city initiatives in lieu of another CRA trust fund payment.