Attorney argues that county zoning administrator is wrong in contending TST Ventures would need County Commission approval to reconfigure stormwater pond
On Monday, Nov. 18, the Sarasota County Board of Zoning Appeals will consider whether county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson is correct in her interpretation that construction of a Palmer Boulevard waste transfer station cannot proceed if the owner insists on a modification of the stormwater pond for the project.
Thompson has asserted in a letter to the attorney for the property owner — TST Ventures — that the County Commission first would have to approve the redesign of the pond so it could sit partly on a parcel contiguous to the site of the waste transfer station.
Because the Binding Development Concept Plan the County Commission approved for the project on Oct. 14, 2015 shows a stormwater pond on the southern portion of the waste transfer station site, Donna Thompson wrote in a July 2 letter, the relocation of that use “completely out of the boundary of the approved concept plan” would necessitate an amendment to the plan for which the County Commission granted a Special Exception.
The project has been underway on a parcel comprising about 4.28 acres, located east of Interstate 75.
In 2018, representatives of TST Ventures — which is owned by James Gabbert of Sarasota — wrangled with county staff over a different proposed change to the Binding Development Concept Plan.
Finally, Weber Engineering & Surveying Inc. of Sarasota — acting on behalf of TST Ventures — agreed to keep the orientation of the slab for the waste transfer area in the same place as depicted on the Binding Development Concept Plan. On Jan. 31, the county issued the primary permit for the Palmer Transfer Station to Weber Engineering.
The site of the waste transfer facility is a parcel located at 6150 Palmer Blvd. and 1099 Porter Road in Sarasota.
In this latest situation, Thompson in late June notified Gabbert’s attorney, William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota, of her formal interpretation of the relevant portions of the county’s Unified Development Code in regard to the proposed modification of the stormwater pond.
She reiterated her points in another letter, dated July 2, in which she answered follow-up questions from Merrill, county documents show.
Nonetheless, Merrill asserted in an Aug. 13 letter to Thompson that proposed changes regarding the stormwater pond would constitute “a minor modification [his emphasis]” to the Binding Development Concept Plan. He included four exhibits with his letter, showing “how the stormwater areas are proposed to be resized and reconfigured in the context of the site and development plan for the Subject Property.”
Merrill’s letter explained that the new plan called for part of the stormwater pond to be inside the Development Concept Plan and part of it to be outside the boundaries of that plan but on contiguous property under the same ownership.
He added that the main parcel for the waste transfer station is zoned Industrial, Light Manufacturing and Warehousing (ILW). The western portion of the contiguous, strip parcel is zoned ILW; that area is directly below the main parcel. On its eastern end, the parcel is zoned Open Use Rural (OUR), Merrill added.
TST Ventures has owned that contiguous parcel, which comprises approximately 1.6-acres, since July 2016, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. It is located at 1099 Porter Road.
Gabbert bought the property at 6150 Palmer Blvd. in April 2015, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say.
Furthermore, Merrill argued in his Aug. 13 letter that, in her July 2 letter, Thompson determined, “A stormwater facility falls within the definition of a ‘minor utility’ under the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) and is a permitted use by right in both the OUR and ILW zoning districts. The facility would be allowed outside the boundaries of the binding Development Concept Plan for the special exception [granted by the County Commission in 2015] …” However, Merrill continued, Thompson had added that both parcels would have to be under “unified control” — meaning the same ownership — for the “Site and Development permitting process.”
If the pond were to be relocated “completely out of the boundary of the proposed [DCP], then the request would be deemed a substantial modification and would require an amendment to the plan approved by the County Commission,” Merrill wrote of his understanding of another portion of Thompson’s July 2 letter, with his emphasis added.
However, Merrill added, the change in the configuration of the stormwater pond sought by TST Ventures “constitutes a minor modification to the DCP [Development Concept Plan] to be approved by the [zoning] Administrator,” based on language in the UDC.
Moreover, Merrill pointed out, “It is also noteworthy that other minor utilities (existing floodplain compensation) which serve [TST Ventures’ main parcel] have been approved and exist in the same area outside the boundaries of the DCP.”
Merrill’s petition for the Board of Zoning Appeals hearing notes that he originally contacted Thompson on May 14 to seek a writing zoning interpretation on the proposed stormwater pond changes.
Thompson offered her original interpretation on June 24, according to correspondence in the Board of Zoning Appeals packet for the Nov. 18 meeting. Then she responded again in the July 2 letter, answering questions Merrill had posed after receiving her earlier correspondence, another document says.
Taking a different view
In her Aug. 28 response to Merrill, Thompson pointed out that the Unified Development Code does allow her as the zoning administrator — in conjunction with the director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department — to determine whether a proposed development “is in substantial compliance with any approved Special Exception Development Concept Plan.” However, in regard to proposed modifications to Binding Development Concept Plans, she continued, the UDC calls for the zoning administrator to seek comments from “appropriate members” of the Development Review Coordination staff …”
She was referring to county subject matter experts who offer comments to developers planning new projects, so the developers — or the developers’ representatives — will understand how each proposal might need to be adjusted to conform to county regulations.
Thompson further pointed out that a table in Section 124-53(c)(4) of the UDC “outlines those changes that shall be considered minor modifications and those which shall be considered as substantial modifications and limits the authority to those changes specifically listed. Any modification not specifically listed would require an amendment to the Concept Plan approved by the County Commission.”
While the table in that section “does consider changes to stormwater facilities,” Thompson wrote, it does not allow the zoning administrator to consider the relocation of elements of the DCP “to contiguous properties under unified control and ownership.”
Thus, she pointed out to Merrill, the proposal regarding the stormwater pond “would constitute a substantial modification and would require approval from the County Commission, as well as an amendment to the approved Site and Development plan.”
The Nov. 18 meeting
The Board of Zoning Appeals meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Nov. 18. It will be conducted in the Commission Chambers of the county Administration Center, which is located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.
The appeal is the third item on the agenda that night.
Paul Radauskas, chair of the board, served as the county’s Building Official before his retirement. Prior to that, he was executive director of what was then the Development Services Department.
TST Ventures paid $1,000 for the appeal application fee, according to a document it submitted to county staff. Under county regulations, it also had to cover the $453.75 expense of the advertisement of its hearing, based on a Nov. 6 letter from Thompson to Merrill.