In less than 90 seconds, County Commission approves County Code change to prevent potential of future delays of hearings on certain types of Comprehensive Plan amendments

In March, Chair Maio expressed frustration over what he called ‘technical situation’ involving Hi Hat Ranch development proposal 

The County Commission sits in session on April 6. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis (foreground, left) and County Attorney Rick Elbrecht face the board members. News Leader image

It took a minute and 20 seconds on May 4 for the Sarasota County Commission to amend a section of the County Code to facilitate more timely considerations of certain types of public hearings.

As The Sarasota News Leader previously reported, during the board’s regular meeting on March 23, Chair Alan Maio voiced vexation that a public hearing scheduled on a county Comprehensive Plan amendment regarding the development of Hi Hat Ranch had to be postponed because of what he termed a “technical situation.”

Section 94-86 of the County Code stipulated that such proceedings — regarding the transmittal of a requested amendment to the county Comprehensive Plan to state officials for review — had to be heard by the County Commission no later than 60 days after the county’s Planning Commission had conducted its own hearing on the issue.

March 23 was the 61st day, Maio explained, so the hearing had to be scrapped, and the owners of the Hi Hat Ranch property would have to go back to the Planning Commission first before another County Commission hearing could be scheduled.

The May 4 hearing on the proposed amendment to the County Code was listed as a “Presentation Upon Request,” but no county commissioner asked for any staff information on it.

Maio also noted that no one had signed up to offer public comments on it.

Therefore, he closed the hearing and asked for a motion. Commissioner Nancy Detert complied, calling for approval of the amendment, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

The motion passed unanimously, with neither Detert nor Moran offering any comments, either, before the vote.

The amendment to Section 94-86(b)(1) of the County Code says, “The Board [the County Commission] shall hold a transmittal stage public hearing for all proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments; except that, as authorized by [Florida Statute] 163.3187(2), no transmittal stage public hearing shall be required for amendments related to proposed Small Scale Development Activities. The transmittal stage public hearing for all other Comprehensive Plan amendments shall be held during a regularly scheduled Board meeting no sooner than 30 days nor later than 60 days following the [Planning Commission’s] recommendation unless the County Administrator, or designee, and the applicant agree to extend the 60-day requirement.”

This is the section of the County Code that was in effect prior to the commission’s approving the amendment. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The amendment was to go into effect after it was filed with the Office of the Florida Secretary of State. That usually takes a few days, staff has told the News Leader.

Provisions in state law require that a local government body submit to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) a copy of any proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, so that department’s staff can analyze it and have the opportunity to call for changes in it, to ensure that it conforms to state law.

In this case, the County Commission on March 23 was scheduled to consider proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment 2019-D, which originated as a privately initiated measure and subsequently was reclassified as a publicly initiated amendment. It seeks to change the Sarasota 2050 Plan designation for part of the Hi Hat Ranch property from Hamlet to Village and move what is known as the “Countryside Line” farther east, according to the county staff report provided to the Planning Commission for its regular meeting on Jan. 21.

Hi Hat Ranch encompasses approximately 9,960 acres east of the county’s Urban Service Area Boundary, which separates the portion of the county with utility services, for example, from the areas without such infrastructure.

The ranch is located between Fruitville Road and Clark Road, the staff report noted.

Proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment 2019-D involves the Future Land Use map designation of about 1,258 acres of the ranch, which is located in the northeastern quadrant of the property, the staff report explained.

This is a section of the Jan. 21 staff report for the Planning Commission public hearing on the proposed amendment involving Hi Hat Ranch. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“The proposed quantities of residential units and non-residential uses [in Hi Hat Ranch] are based on the existing 2050 land use designations, and do not rely on the proposed designation change of the 1,258 acres from Hamlet to Village Land Use,” the staff report pointed out. However, it noted, “Rather than solely having the low residential development in the Hamlet area, the amendment will distribute the total [dwelling] units throughout the proposed larger Village area.”

The developed Hi Hat Ranch would have 13,081 residential units and 450,000 square feet of other space, according to the county staff report. The latter would serve as sites for schools, parks and additional “public/civic uses and services,” the staff report said.

On May 7, the Planning Commission held its second hearing on the proposed amendment and voted 7-0 to recommend that the County Commission approve it.

The new date for the County Commission transmittal hearing is June 8, according to a document the Planning and Development Services Department generates each week, to provide updates on the status of applications and petitions submitted to county staff.