Commissioner Maio called for change after issue arose regarding development of Hi Hat Ranch
On the morning of May 4, the Sarasota County Commission will conduct a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan that Chair Alan Maio sought in an effort to prevent future delays of specific types of hearings regarding land-use issues.
On March 23, a scheduled hearing pertaining to the proposed development of new homes on Hi Hat Ranch, in the eastern part of the county, had to be postponed because of what Maio described as “a technical situation.”
As it turned out, the proceeding would have violated a section of the Comprehensive Plan that requires such hearings to be held before the County Commission no less than 30 days after the county’s Planning Commission has considered the issue and no more than 60 days later. March 23 was the 61st day, Maio added.
As a result, he pointed out, the process would have to start all over again for the applicants, including a return appearance before the Planning Commission.
The proposed amendment that will be the focus of the May 4 agenda item pertains to what are known as “transmittal” public hearings. Those involve Comprehensive Plan amendments, too. Before the County Commission can change the Comprehensive Plan, it must vote to send the proposed new language to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for review. Although county staff has characterized that step as a formality necessitated by state law, the DEO reviewers do have the opportunity to suggest modifications of the language if they believe the proposal is not in keeping with the provisions of the Florida Statutes.
In discussing the facets of the amendment for the May 4 hearing, an April 20 county staff memo explains that Chapter 163.3184 of the Florida Statutes “outlines the process for adoption of Comprehensive Plan amendments which dictates the timeline to transmit a petition to reviewing agencies, the 30-day period to receive review agency comments, and the 180-day period to hold the adoption hearing.”
That part of the Florida Statutes says, “The reviewing agencies … may provide comments regarding the amendment or amendments to the local government. State agencies shall only comment on important state resources and facilities that will be adversely impacted by the amendment if adopted. Comments provided by state agencies shall state with specificity how the plan amendment will adversely impact an important state resource or facility and shall identify measures the local government may take to eliminate, reduce, or mitigate the adverse impacts. Such comments, if not resolved, may result in a challenge by the state land planning agency to the plan amendment. Agencies and local governments must transmit their comments to the affected local government such that they are received by the local government not later than 30 days after the date on which the agency or government received the amendment or amendments. Reviewing agencies shall also send a copy of their comments to the state land planning agency.”
The April 20 county staff memo adds, “In addition to statutory regulations, Sarasota County has … timeline regulations at the front end of the public hearing process.” The memo then reprises the information Maio provided on March 23.
However, the memo points out, “If the applicant and/or staff requires additional time to update the staff report, meet with citizens, or address Planning Commission recommendations, this limits flexibility in choosing hearing dates and may create challenges in advertising and agenda process deadlines. The consequence of not meeting the 60-day period will result in the petition being remanded back to the Planning Commission to start the process over, including all the costs associated with advertising, citizen notifications, and posted notices.”
Further, the memo explains, “From a process standpoint, Comprehensive Plan amendments can be complex, cover large acreages of land, or have master development orders that are up to 200 pages in rare cases. Overall, both the County and the petitioners have the same goals to reach the adoption hearing in a timely manner with documentation and procedural accuracy. For the limited instances where a petition would require additional time to address outstanding items post Planning Commission, staff does not find that the 60-day time limit serves as a benefit to the applicants or the Comprehensive Planning process in general and would therefore recommend a mutually agreed upon extension by both the applicant and the County Administrator or Designee.”
The proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment to Section 94-86(b)(1), which the board will consider on May 4, would allow “the County Administrator, or designee, and the applicant [to] agree to extend the 60-day requirement.”
The May 4 County Commission meeting will be held at the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.
The agenda for that session was not available prior to the deadline for this issue of The Sarasota News Leader.
The formal advertisement of the public hearing points out, “Supporting documents will be available the Thursday prior to the public hearing at www.scgov.net, Meetings and Agendas (Meetings on Demand) to view or download. Written comments will be considered and may be sent to the Planning and Development Services Department [at 1660 Ringling Blvd.) prior to the public hearing … or by e-mail to email@example.com.”
“For more information about providing public input,” the notice says, “go to: www.scgov.net/publicinput.”