New property rights chapter for Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan sent to state officials for formal review, with County Commission adoption hearing tentatively set for Dec. 7

Amendment necessary because of state law that went into effect on July 1

Elma Felix, Sarasota County’s long-range planning manager, addresses the County Commission on Oct. 26. News Leader image

On a unanimous vote, with no discussion beforehand, the Sarasota County Commission approved the transmittal to state officials of a proposed new chapter of its Comprehensive Plan regarding property rights.

During an Oct. 26 presentation, Elma Felix, manager of long-range planning and neighborhood services for the county, explained that the “element” of the Comprehensive Plan was made necessary by the Florida Legislature’s passage of House Bill 59, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on June 29. The measure went into effect on July 1.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) “has determined that the language in HB 59 requires local governments to adopt the Property Rights Element prior to moving forward with any other proposed comprehensive plan amendments submitted after July 2,” an Oct. 26 county staff memo pointed out.

On Oct. 7, in addressing the county Planning Commission about the proposed Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan amendment, Felix stressed, “We don’t want to hinder any … amendments in the … pipeline.” Thus, staff had been working with alacrity to update the Comprehensive Plan, she indicated.

The “adopted Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan already contains a private property rights statement” in the introduction to Volume 1 of that plan, the Oct. 26 staff memo continued. However, “DEO staff stated that a new element is required. For these reasons, and to minimize the impact on the timing of future proposed comprehensive plan amendments,” the memo said, “staff desires to begin the process for developing this amendment as soon as possible.”

During her presentation to the Planning Commission, Felix elaborated on that: “We thought that this might have been enough to cover us,” but the DEO staff said the statement “was not sufficient.”

This is the property rights statement included in the Comprehensive Plan when it was updated in 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

She added that the statement would be included in the new section of the plan.

During the Sept. 23 public workshop staff conducted via Zoom on the proposed amendment, Felix explained that when the county’s Comprehensive Plan was updated in 2016, “There were some rumblings about property rights, sort of at a state level.” Therefore, she continued, “To cover all bases,” staff proposed the statement that is in the plan.

The Oct. 26 staff memo also noted, “Although limited guidance is provided to local governments about goal, objective, and policy requirements, [HB 59] does provide a model statement of property rights a local government may adopt to satisfy [the] requirement. Included in the model [is] a set of four property rights that shall be considered in the local decision-making process when regulating land. These four required statements of rights will make up the bulk of this new element.”

These are the four statements in the proposed Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan chapter:

  • “1. The right of a property owner to physically possess and control his or her interests in the property, including easements, leases, or mineral rights.
  • “2. The right of a property owner to use, maintain, develop, and improve his or her property for personal use or for the use of any other person, subject to state law and local ordinances.
  • “3. The right of the property owner to privacy and to exclude others from the property to protect the owner’s possessions and property.
  • “4. The right of a property owner to dispose of his or her property through sale or gift.”

Additionally, the new element would encompass Property Rights Policy 1.2, which says, “Consistent with the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan and County Code, the public is encouraged to participate in decisions that affect their lives and property.”

A Florida Association of Counties analysis of HB 59, published prior to the governor’s signing of the bill, noted that the language in the law also “[s]pecifies that a party, or its successor in interest, may amend or cancel a development agreement without securing the consent of other parcel owners whose property was originally subject to the development agreement, as long as the amendment or cancellation does not directly modify the allowable uses or entitlements of such parcel owner’s property.”

The Association further noted that HB 59 “passed unanimously in the Senate and passed (82-32) in the House.”

Paul Owens. Image from the 1000 Friends of Florida website

In a July 23 guest column for the Orlando Sentinel, Paul Owens, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, which is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocate for growth management, wrote that, in becoming law, “HB 59 presents local governments with a golden opportunity. They can go beyond simply adopting the property rights language included in the law. They can acknowledge that property rights in land-use matters do not stop with the owners who are involved, but extend to neighbors who might also be impacted. They can do so by affirming their support for the rights of all people to participate in planning decisions that affect their lives and property.”

To that end, the nonprofit organization created its own model element, which is accessible on its website.

Owens added in the guest column that since 1000 Friends of Florida’s founding in 1986, “[W]e have been advocating for the rights of all people to participate in local government planning. … Because an open and transparent planning process that invites and values the input of well-informed, diverse stakeholders best reflects the will of communities.”

Next steps

During the Oct. 26 County Commission meeting, Long-Range Planning Manager Felix noted, “Typically, the state has 30 days” to review any proposed new Comprehensive Plan amendment. However, in this case, she said, DEO staff has appeared to be working faster in processing proposed new elements resulting from HB 59’s passage. Therefore, Felix continued, staff is hopeful that the County Commission will be able to hold its adoption public hearing for the element on Dec. 7.

Chair Alan Maio explained to the public that, with any proposed amendment to the plan, the commissioners first have to conduct a “transmittal” public hearing and then decide whether to send the document to the DEO for review. If they agree on the review, then the DEO has the opportunity to offer any recommendations on changes in the amendment. After staff receives the DEO responses, Maio added, the adoption public hearing takes place.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the transmittal of the proposed new element to the DEO, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded it.