City’s neighborhood plan to go ‘under the knife’

The handling of neighborhoods in the City of Sarasota’s comprehensive plan will be the focus of an upcoming discussion of the city Planning Board. Photo by Rachel Hackney

The Sarasota City Planning Board in the coming months will take a look at parts of the city’s comprehensive plan. Coming up Wednesday, Sept. 19, the Neighborhood Chapter will be under review.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the City Commission chambers at City Hall.

Staff is recommending a number of sections of the Neighborhood Chapter fall under the budget ax. Roughly one-third of the action strategies are recommended for deletion or are not funded. Two of the 10 overarching objectives are recommended to be continued untouched. The other eight are scheduled for discussion with an eye to modification.

The comprehensive plan sets up general “objectives,” and each one has “action strategies” to meet them. For example, the first objective in the Neighborhood Chapter is “neighborhood identification.” Under that are three action strategies: helping neighbors form associations, fostering a sense of neighborhood in planning and recognizing the boundaries of existing and newly formed associations.

For this “objective,” staff recommends no changes, saying the efforts are ongoing and the strategies are being implemented.

Objective No. 2 – Neighborhood Information System – doesn’t fare as well. Of the seven “action strategies,” staff reports four of them are dead in the water. “City has been unable to implement during the past three years due to budget reductions,” a planning document says.

Objective No. 3, Neighborhood Planning Process, shows seven of eight action strategies in the “stopped” mode. “City is unable to continue the formal neighborhood planning process due to budget and staff reductions,” the document says.

Objective No. 4, Neighborhood Compatibility, has three action strategies; staff reports that three are active: design and compatibility guidelines and neighborhood-friendly land-development regulations.

Objective No. 5, Neighborhood Safety, is also fully up and running. It includes neighborhood and business watches, crime-fighting programs and the city’s volunteer program to support the Police Department. All four strategies are active.

Objective No. 6 is the perennial “third rail” for local politicians, and the No. 1 source of complaints. It is called “Neighborhood Transportation.” Not a single person in the city thinks traffic moves too slowly through their neighborhood. All six action strategies in this “objective” are in full operation, including sidewalk construction, bike paths, mass transit facilitation, traffic-calming measures, crosswalks and studies of troubled areas.

Objective No. 7 is Neighborhood Aesthetics and Identity. Three of the nine strategies are up for discussion and possible modification. The identification and preservation of “unique architecture” would no longer be an action strategy if the staff recommendation to eliminate it is followed. “Historic structures and districts” would remain an action strategy. Another strategy, to preserve “unique features” and to consider the use of signage, is recommended for deletion, as is the strategy to use “urban design” for neighborhood improvements.

Objective No. 8 concerns cooperation with the Sarasota County School Board, and both of its strategies will be continued. They regard the use of school facilities after hours for “civic and recreational groups” and a hope the School Board will use community workshops to keep neighbors involved in changes in their specific areas.

Objective No. 9 would be unchanged. It concerns Neighborhood Infrastructure, and it uses action strategies for stormwater management and special taxing districts.

Objective No. 10 is a grab-bag. There are five action strategies. The one called “Neighborhood Maintenance Program” would establish alternatives to Code Compliance, a rental inspection program and landlord registration. Staff recommends elimination of the entire strategy. Staff notes a landlord training program is no longer offered but does not suggest it be eliminated from the comp plan.

During the Sept. 8 meeting of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, Chairman Bob Easterle said, “Staff is recommending getting rid of lots of components, based on money issues.” He recommended the neighborhood representatives read that portion of the comprehensive plan if they intended to go to the Planning Board meeting.