Amendments to Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan approved, after state review of proposed changes as part of periodic, mandated evaluation and review

Future Urban Area fiscal neutrality analysis focuses solely on South County lands around Englewood

County Planner Elma Felix addresses the commissioners on June 9. News Leader image

In early February, Sarasota County commissioners fretted that a delay in one facet of the state-mandated review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan could result in a “pause” of the intake of proposed amendments to that document.

The crux of that concern was a fiscal neutrality analysis of the county’s Future Urban Area for an amendment that needed to be included in the evaluation and review (EAR) of the Comprehensive Plan, as the state requires every seven years.

On Feb. 9, commission Chair Alan Maio told county Planner Elma Felix, “We can’t have a situation where folks’ Comprehensive Plan amendments are stalled in place because we didn’t get this done.”

The Urban Service Area is that portion of the county where infrastructure exists to serve residential and commercial development.

A county staff memo provided to the board members in advance of the Feb. 9 meeting explained that Section 2.2A of the Sarasota County Charter says that if the county adds lands outside the Urban Service Area boundary to the Urban Service area, “these lands shall be fiscally neutral and shall require the unanimous affirmative vote of the full membership of the County Commission …”

The staff report delivered to the commissioners in advance of their June 9 meeting put it another way: “Per the Sarasota County Charter, removal of the Future Urban Area from the [Comprehensive Plan’s] Future Land Use Map requires such an action to be fiscally neutral.”

Ultimately, Felix told the commissioners during their regular meeting on June 9, staff went ahead and transmitted the proposed Comprehensive Plan revisions to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), as state law mandates. That action followed the board’s unanimous vote on Feb. 9 to approve the amendments staff had recommended.

Staff went ahead and sent the Future Urban Area maps to the DEO, as well, Felix said on June 9. Then, as state officials were reviewing the documents, she continued, staff finally was able to contract with a consultant to undertake the fiscal neutrality analysis for those Future Urban Area lands.

A June 9 staff memo pointed out, “Since much of the [Future Urban Area] had already been entitled for development,” the fiscal neutrality analysis “focused on a relatively small area east of Englewood.” The company that handled the project — Development Planning and Financing Group Inc., which has an office in Orlando — concluded that the 26 parcels were fiscally neutral, the memo added.

This graphic shows the Future Urban Area parcels that were the focus of the fiscal neutrality analysis. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is a Future Land Use Map included in the updated Comprehensive Plan; it does not include Future Urban Service Area parcels in South County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During her June 9 remarks, Felix noted that the DEO had only one objection to staff proposals for amending the Comprehensive Plan, based on its review. That involved a proposed policy in the solid waste chapter, she continued.

In the document that staff sent to the DEO in February, Solid Waste Policy 1.1.5 said that disposal capacity would be provided “to meet the needs of all incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county” and that residential solid waste would be collected at least weekly.

The DEO responded that Section 163.3164(28) of the Florida Statutes “defines level of service as an indicator of the extent or degree of service provided by, or proposed to be provided by, a facility based on and related to the operational characteristics of the facility, and that level of service shall indicate the capacity per unit of demand for each public facility.” The DEO added, “The proposed amendment does not establish a meaningful and predictable level of service standard that states the capacity per unit of demand for solid waste facilities.”

Therefore, Felix told the commissioners on June 9, county staff changed the language of that policy to include the following: “The County shall provide for the disposal of no less than 3.8 pounds of solid waste per permanent resident per day within the County’s landfill.” Additionally, the policy would say, “The County shall provide for the processing of no less than 0.68 pounds of recyclables per permanent unincorporated resident per day.”

None of the other state agencies that reviewed the amendments to the Comprehensive Plan offered objections, Felix pointed out.

Those other agencies were the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Transportation, the June 9 county staff memo noted.

This is an email from the Florida Department of Transportation signing off on the county’s amended Comprehensive Plan. Matt Osterhoudt is director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The state requires the periodic review of comprehensive plans partly to ensure that those plans have policies that comply with changes in state law. The process also is designed to make certain that local governments are updating their plans to reflect changing conditions in their jurisdictions, the June 9 staff memo explained.

The fiscal neutrality analysis

The Development Planning & Financing Group analysis of the Future Urban Areas, which the company provided to county staff on May 28, explained in its introduction, “In 1996, a unique land use category identified as the ‘Future Urban Area’ was designated on the Future Land Use Map to provide an identified placeholder for future urban development in the southern half of Sarasota County …”

The 1996 Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) of the Comprehensive Plan said, “A Future Urban Area is shown to indicate the area where future expansions of the Urban Service Area could occur incrementally as the need arises. Changes to the boundary will be made, as needed, based on the findings of each EAR.”

As noted in policy, the report continued, the Future Urban Area “was meant … to accommodate anticipated population growth-related demand, beyond the typical 20-year planning horizon.”

The 129 parcels at the heart of the latest EAR, the report noted, “are located within the unincorporated portion of Sarasota County, as well as the Englewood Area Fire District and the Englewood Water District.”

Out of the total, the report said, 21 vacant parcels are designated for residential development; four are slated for agricultural use; and two are designated “Vacant Acreage.”

This chart is included in the report on the fiscal neutrality analysis. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“For purposes of this analysis,” the report continued, “it is assumed the 300 acres in the 6 Agricultural and Vacant Acreage parcels could eventually be developed for residential uses” under the existing Open Use Estate-1 zoning district, which allows for one dwelling unit per 5 acres. Those parcels could yield 60 single-family detached homes, the report added. Therefore, the analysis examined the fiscal impact of an extra 81 single-family detached units in the study area.

According to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, the report pointed out, the majority of the 79 existing single-family homes in the study area were constructed between 1970 and 1999. “In comparison,” the report said, “over the last [20 years], only 0.70 single-family detached homes per year were constructed. Assuming that trend continues,” it added, the build-out of the 81 homes “could span many years.”

Development Planning & Financing Group concluded that 163 new permanent residents could occupy the 81 homes at full build-out. Among those individuals, it continued, 18 new public school students would be anticipated.

This chart shows more of the information the company used in arriving at its conclusions for the fiscal neutrality report. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The firm also conducted an assessment of the public facilities that would be necessary to serve the new residents, the report said. The entities providing those services would be the county Fire Department, for emergency medical services; the county’s Public Works Department, which handles transportation; the Sarasota County School District; the Englewood Area Fire District; and the Englewood Water District, the report added.

The overall conclusion, based on the firm’s outreach, the report noted, was that the 81 new dwelling units would be fiscally neutral.

A solitary comment

No commissioners had questions for Felix — or any other members of staff — following her June 9 presentation.

One public speaker, Dr. Wellington Moore, voiced concern about property his family owns in the Future Urban Area delineated by staff. He and his siblings, he said, are fearful that the property could be the focus of an annexation initiative of the City of North Port at some future date.

“I’m not against urbanization,” Moore told the commissioners. However, the family saw the potential of the land’s inclusion in the City of North Port as a matter of placing another layer of government over it, he added.

“The change … has nothing to do with the possibilities of annexation,” Maio told Moore.

Felix then explained that annexation is a voluntary process on the part of a private property owner; the city could not take over the land unless that was the wish of the owner.

With no discussion among the commissioners after Maio closed the public hearing, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the Comprehensive Plan amendments, and Commissioner Nancy Detert seconded it.