County staff report requested on notification procedures involving public hearings

Commissioner Nancy Detert initiates discussion about better means to alert residents about projects that will affect them

Commissioner Nancy Detert. File photo

Just as Sarasota County Commission Chair Charles Hines had suggested on April 24, Commissioner Nancy Detert used her May 7 board report to propose staff research potential changes to the notification process for public hearings, as outlined in county regulations.

All four of her colleagues supported Detert’s motion, which included the direction that the information come back “as quick as possible.”

Hines told County Administrator Jonathan Lewis that he did not care whether staff provided the commission a written report or scheduled a presentation for an upcoming meeting, after completing the assignment.

Detert first brought up her concerns about the notification boundaries for affected parties after a resident of the Winds of St. Armands mobile home park complained about not receiving any information from county staff about the proposal for a 486-home development on the former Rolling Green Golf Course, just west of the Winds of St. Armands, on North Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota.

Glenn Simpson expressed his distress that the notification went to the owner of the mobile home park, which is a company based in Chicago, but not to him and his neighbors, as well.

Noting comments that county Planner Todd Dary made on April 24 in response to her concerns, Detert said on May 7, “You’ve got a lot of people within 750 feet” in New York City. However, that may not be the case in Sarasota County in regard to the distance from the site of proposed new development to the nearest neighbor.

Dary, who had presented the staff report on the Rolling Green Golf Course proposal, explained on April 24 that the existing policy calls for a property owner to be notified of an upcoming public hearing on a project if that person lives within 750 feet of the site inside the county’s Urban Service Boundary. Additionally, any neighborhood association within that radius is to be notified, Dary said. Further, if the project site is near a large community such as Palmer Ranch, for example, Dary told the board that all property owners within 750 feet of the edge of that area of contiguous ownership would be notified.

An aerial map shows part of the Winds of St. Armands just east of the Rolling Green Golf Course. Image from Google Maps

For projects proposed outside the Urban Service Boundary, he continued, the radius is 1,500 feet.

On May 7, Detert suggested the commissioners consider changing the policy to call for the notification boundaries to encompass at least the residence that stands closest to a proposed project, even if it is further away than 750 feet.

When Hines asked County Administrator Lewis whether staff had begun work on a report after Detert raised the issue on April 24, Lewis replied, “We’re waiting for direction from the board.”

Hines then said he supported Detert’s proposal, indicating that he at least wanted a report on the county’s current policies. “Are we able to really reach enough people that are potentially affected?” Hines asked. How do other communities handle the public hearing notification process, he added.

Additional points of concern

In the past, Hines continued, discussion also has arisen about “our little yellow signs.” He was referring to the signs county staff puts at sites that will be the focus of upcoming public hearings.

“Then someone takes a Sharpie and scribbles on [the sign],” Hines pointed out, and its public notification value has been diminished or destroyed. Does that signage “really give the notice that we’re trying to reach [all affected members of the public]?”

As he had on April 24, Commissioner Alan Maio said he also supported the request for a staff report on the pertinent issues. He further advised his colleagues, “The county gives the petitioner the addresses [of the parties to be notified]. The petitioner sends [the materials] out.”

“The fly in the ointment, I believe, is mobile home parks,” Maio continued. As in the Winds of St. Armands case, he said, the notice goes to the owner, which “could be a big national corporation, [and the company] never sends it to its [tenants].” Then those renters come to the commission’s public hearing, “pretty upset …”

Hines suggested perhaps that situation could be remedied by a policy change requiring the posting of the notification in the community clubhouse.

“Where it’s most visible,” Detert added.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Christian Ziegler voiced his support for the staff report, too, adding that he would be interested in knowing about any potential extra expense for an applicant if the board amended its policies.

As for the signs Hines had mentioned: Ziegler said he spots them as he drives around the county. He noted that it is difficult to read them, adding that he pulls over to try to do so. “Maybe we could make them look better so they’re not just lawn pollution.”

“I could easily support [the assignment for staff],” Commissioner Michael Moran said, especially given that in 2019, so many forms of communication are available. He pointed out that the standard means of informing the public about an upcoming hearing is for the county to run an advertisement in the newspaper. “I haven’t touched a newspaper in years,” Moran told his colleagues, referencing digital publications.

Moran did concur with Ziegler that the staff report should include information about the potential extra expense for applicants.

Detert then made her motion. Maio seconded it, and it passed 5-0.

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