First public meeting set for Sept. 20 in consultant’s efforts to revise and unify Sarasota County’s land development and zoning regulations

Initiative to create Unified Development Code remains on schedule for conclusion in fall of 2018

Three reports from the consultant are available for review on a county webpage. One outlines issues that need to be addressed. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota County’s initiative to update and combine its land development and zoning regulations into one user-friendly document remains on schedule for approval by the fall of 2018, County Administrator Tom Harmer has reported to the County Commission.

Beginning this month, the county’s consultant on the project — Calvin, Giordano & Associates of Clearwater — will start its community engagement phase of the undertaking, including surveys, meetings and public workshops, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, notified Harmer in an Aug. 16 email. That phase will continue through February 2018, according to the updated timeline.

Calvin, Giordano & Associates (CGA) has completed three reports related to the creation of the Unified Development Code (UDC), Osterhoudt noted: a review of similar codes in surrounding counties, an annotated outline of issues and a structural outline of the UDC for Sarasota County.

Staff and the consultant remain on track for completing the first full draft of the document by Dec. 4, according to the updated timeline on the county webpage associated with the UDC, as Osterhoudt pointed out.

The initial public workshop on the process is set from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 20 at the Nokomis Community Center, located at 234 Nippino Trail in Nokomis, the webpage says.

Other public workshops are planned at the same location on Oct. 18 and Nov. 7, also from 6 to 9 p.m., the webpage notes.

The first presentation of the proposed UDC to a county board is not scheduled until March 12, 2018, when the Board of Zoning Appeals will review it.

On Feb. 28, the County Commission unanimously authorized the effort to create the UDC. Referring to Chapter 74 of the County Code — which includes all of the county’s land development regulations — and that chapter’s Appendix A, which encompasses the Zoning Code, Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out, “These two documents have not been touched in a good 10 years. Worse, for the consultant, it is a horrible patch-quilt of hundreds, hundreds of amendments.”

One goal with the creation of the UDC, commissioners have made clear in recent months, is streamlining the development process to foster construction of more affordable-housing units. To that end, one of the consultant’s reports calls for consideration of “the most effective means of enhancing the existing provisions in the [Sarasota County] Code to incentivize housing affordability including density, unit size, parking requirements, expedited processing and pre-determined suitable locations related to mobility and employment opportunities.”

“Understanding that housing affordability is an ongoing policy issue,” the report adds, “CGA will work with the County through the UDC process to identify and recommend development regulations for consideration, consistent with the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan.”

Regarding the UDC in general, the project statement says, “The desired outcome will simplify the ability to find significant regulatory information applicable to any given piece of property, while harmonizing and clarifying the regulations as they are brought together. The new UDC will remove inconsistencies and address those provisions that may now be obsolete; and be a regulatory code that all users can easily read, understand and interpret.”

Putting it all together

Matt Osterhoudt. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After CGA staff members worked with county department representatives on specific issues relative to creating the UDC, one of the consultant’s report says, county staff then “conducted seven roundtable discussions with locally involved consultants and activists to obtain input from the perspective of engineering, planning, environmental protection, development and legal.” Notes from those discussions were provided to the consultant, the document adds.

That same report summarizes the organizational issues.

No. 4, for example, says, “To the fullest extent practical, the principal regulatory features of each zoning district should be found in one location [in the UDC].”

No. 5 points to the fact that the county has a number of “‘overlay’ zoning districts — some of which appear redundant or do not function as true overlay zones. The issue is whether there is a better way to address the objectives of these districts …”

The Siesta Key Overlay District (SKOD) recently has been in the spotlight because of conflicting views on its requirements regarding street setbacks for buildings. (See the related article in this issue.)

Another issue, the report notes, is that the county’s land development regulations and Zoning Code have “incorrect, incomplete references to other statutory or Code of Ordinance provisions that need to be addressed.”

Furthermore, the report continues, definitions are located in separate sections of the land development regulations and the Zoning Code. They “should be consolidated and updated for consistency and clarity. New terms and definitions may also be needed for clarity.”

Summary Issue No. 13 says, “Determine whether any change to the process for consideration of Special Exceptions by the Planning Commission and [County Commission] is desirable and warranted, and whether the staff report [on a proposed project] should include a recommendation.”

Yet another issue is the need to address the site and development plan review process for proposed projects, including submission requirements and review timeframes.

This is one page in the report involving potential issues that need clarity in the UDC. Image courtesy Sarasota County

No. 19 points out that both the land development regulations chapter and the Zoning Code “suffer from a fragmented decision-making process that lacks clear authority and responsibility for staff administration of the Code. The new UDC would benefit from a singular ‘UDC Code Administrator’ designated by the County Administrator.”

The surrounding counties whose codes the consulting team researched were Lee, Manatee, Charlotte and Collier, another report notes. “Sarasota County has one of the highest number of basic zoning districts of the five counties reviewed,” that report adds: 24. That figure does not include the 2050 Plan forms of development for the parts of the county east of Interstate 75, the report notes.

“While each county will have localized conditions that [it is] responsive to,” the report says, “there is a threshold that begins to introduce a degree of confusion due to the number of individualized zoning districts that the community must deal with on a daily basis. This sometimes is the result of a process that introduces new districts to address updates rather than correcting issues that may exist with existing districts.”

If all goes as planned, the project website notes, the UDC will be adopted during a public hearing before the County Commission on Sept. 24, 2018.