County Code revision puts into effect standards for transportation analyses related to new construction, as detailed in 2016 Comprehensive Plan policy

Only proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and Critical Area Plans can be subjected to more intensive traffic reviews, staff says

Florida’s historic and new capitols. Courtesy State of Florida

In 2011, the Florida Legislature amended Chapter 163 of the Statutes to allow local governments to either continue analyzing proposed developments for their impact on transportation systems or to use an alternate approach, which focuses not just on traffic but on upgrades to bicycle and pedestrian accesses related to the new construction.

As part of its 2016 update of the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, the County Commission approved a new transportation policy that reflected the Florida Statute changes. That policy, 1.3.12, says, “Sarasota County shall continue to review individual applications for rezoning, special exceptions, and approvals under the Land Development Regulations for safety, adequate ingress and egress, compatibility, operational issues at impacted intersections and circulation, as provided in the County Code, but shall not apply traffic concurrency standards to them. The county will review proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendments and Critical Area Plans, and take into consideration their effects on the multi-modal transportation system and the adopted levels of service, and any need for facility improvements they cause or exacerbate.”

However, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planningand Development Services Department, explained to the board on May 21, the commission never actually approved changes to the applicable county ordinance to reflect the Comprehensive Plan modifications.

As a result, following endorsements from eight speakers, the commission did just that, on a 4-0 vote. (Commissioner Michael Moran was absent from the meeting.)

Included among the changes is language that establishes traffic impact analysis and site access assessment requirements for specific types of projects.

Osterhoudt emphasized that “more of a robust analysis” of traffic impacts is warranted with proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and Critical Area Plans (CAPs). Those reviews would include the adopted levels of service for the roads that would be affected, he said.

“Level of Service” refers to a driver’s assessment of how well traffic flows on a road, with “A” being the best level and “F” the worst.

Former Commissioner Christine Robinson of Venice — who had to step down from the board in November 2016 because of term limits — was among those eight people who applauded staff’s efforts to take the steps necessary to amending the County Code.

Former County Commissioner Christine Robinson. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Representing the Argus Foundation of Sarasota, which she serves as executive director, Robinson also pointed out that the County Commission adopted the use of mobility fees, “as a result of a technical report that was brought to [the board].” Those fees replaced the previously used transportation impact fees, she noted, which could be used just for the road network. Conversely, Robinson pointed out, mobility fees paid by developers can be used for sidewalks, for example.

“It’s up to you to decide how to use those [mobility] fees,” she told the commissioners.

Earlier on May 21, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, pointed out that mobility fees would not produce enough revenue to cover the implementation of the county’s 2040 Thoroughfare Plan. However, Wiggins noted, staff has plans for a mobility fee update in 2020.

Another speaker during the later public hearing on May 21, Dave Langhout, vice president of Kolter Homes and past president of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, offered the latter organization’s full support of the changes in the Code of Ordinances. “I can’t help but just use one word,” he added: “Finally.”

The lone person who did not endorse the revision of the county regulations was Pine Shores Estates resident Sura Kochman. Her neighborhood borders the site of the planned Siesta Promenade mixed-use development on the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

A table in a county staff report in August 2018 offers these details about anticipated traffic generation related to Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During her public hearing remarks, she quoted from a June 10, 2015 memorandum from then-County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh to the commission: “If a local government adopts a mobility fee system as an alternative to concurrency, the alternative mobility funding system adopted may not be used to deny, time, or phase an application for site plan approval, plat approval, final subdivision approval, building permits, or the functional equivalent of such approvals. Notably missing from this list are rezones, special exceptions, [developments of regional impact] and similar board-level discretionary approvals. As the statue is currently written, if the Board repeals concurrency and adopts a mobility fee system, it may not only deny Comprehensive Plan amendments because of traffic impacts, but also may deny or condition rezones and similar development approvals because of adverse traffic impacts so long as any conditions imposed do not constitute a concurrency system.”

Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy. File photo

If the ordinance changes proposed that day were approved, Kochman asked on May 21, “Does this opinion still apply?”

(Opponents of Siesta Promenade have pointed to the thousands of extra vehicles it will add to one of the county’s most congested intersections.)

Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy, who said he believed he actually wrote the 2015 memorandum, explained that it applied to the situation prior to the 2016 update of the Comprehensive Plan. Therefore, the opinion Kochman read would not apply if the proposed amendment to the County Code were approved.

In making the motions necessary to put the changes in effect in Chapter 94, Article 7, of the County Code of Ordinances, Commissioner Alan Maio said, “I was here in 2015. It’s exactly as Mr. Roddy said. … This is not a policy change. It’s just enacting what we did in 2016.”