Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the County Commission approve proposal
On Jan. 17, the Sarasota County Commission will consider a zoning overlay district for the historically Amish and Mennonite community of Pinecraft, which is bordered largely by Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road, just outside the Sarasota city limits.
On a unanimous vote taken Dec. 7, 2017, the county’s Planning Commission recommended approval of specific zoning changes in that district that Pinecraft residents have proposed to maintain the historic character of the area, which saw its first plats in the 1920s.
One board member took a step beyond that endorsement to offer a related suggestion to the County Commission: “This is how you solve affordable housing,” Planning Commissioner Robert Morris pointed out. Morris talked of 750-square-foot homes with room for one car in Pinecraft. Greater density leads to lower development expenses, Morris continued, and research also has shown that people prefer more tightly populated communities because they get to know their neighbors.
“It’s interesting to see the new movement for tiny homes [in the United States], and they had this going a lot sooner than we ever got involved in it,” Commissioner Ron Cutsinger pointed out of the Amish and Mennonites in Pinecraft.
Before the vote, Commissioners Laura Benson and Jack Bispham did raise concerns about on-street parking on the 30-foot-wide streets that are prevalent in the oldest parts of the community.
“Is it possible for emergency vehicles to traverse a roadway [that narrow]?” Benson asked county Planner Steve Kirk.
He worked with Pinecraft residents for years to create the county staff-initiated zoning overlay district, Kirk told her. “I’ve not recognized or seen a problem, not even during season,” with so many cars parked on both sides of streets in the community that emergency vehicle access would have been hampered.
Benson also pointed out that Pinecraft has no rules about who can live there, as the residents are welcoming of all potential neighbors. “But we’re adding an overlay that meets the needs of a particular community with the assumption that it will be there forever.”
She added, “I understand that it’s been such a long-time community, and there’s no expectation it would change. But there is every expectation that it can.”
What happens, for example, if it becomes an enclave for Millennials who will have far more vehicles than the current residents own?, she asked. “What about a prohibition on on-street parking?”
The county can regulate on-street parking through resolutions approved by the County Commission, Kirk and Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy responded. If a problem arose in the future in Pinecraft, such a measure could be pursued, Kirk noted.
Signs could be posted to designate “No Parking” zones, Roddy added.
After Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper made the motion to recommend the County Commission approve the Pinecraft Neighborhood Overlay District, he said that he understood those parking concerns, but he did not feel the county should address them as part of the new zoning rules.
“This is a community worth preserving,” Cooper said of Pinecraft.
Formerly a Sarasota County Neighborhood Services Community Outreach leader, Commissioner Teresa Mast noted that she worked on issues with Pinecraft residents that led to the proposed overlay district. “This is a huge kudos to the community,” which contributed not only a lot of time but also money to that undertaking, she pointed out.
Mast seconded Cooper’s motion.
During his presentation, Kirk explained that the Pinecraft Overlay District was developed in response to a number of proposals in the 2014 Pinecraft Neighborhood Plan; they deal with four specific areas:
- A provision for bicycle rental businesses on residentially zoned property.
- The prohibition of incompatible and auto-oriented uses in commercial districts.
- Reduced parking requirements.
- Modified development standards for the “Old” Pinecraft subdivision that was platted with substandard streets and lots.
The Amish and Mennonite community “has both full-time and seasonal residents,” he said. “The area was first settled somewhere around the turn of the last century,” he added, and the first plat was recorded in 1925.
In 2004, Kirk continued, the County Commission adopted the first Pinecraft Neighborhood Plan, which called for the widening of the sidewalks from 5 to 8 feet along Bahia Vista Street; mid-block crosswalks on Bahia Vista and Beneva Road; and decorative streetlights.
Then, in 2014, he told the board, Pinecraft residents paid for a consultant, Norm Kauffmann, former dean of students at Goshen College in Indiana, to produce the Pinecraft Neighborhood Master Plan. Kauffmann brought students from the college with him to assist with that endeavor. County staff served as a planning and technical resource for that process, according to the staff report provided to the Planning Commission before the Dec. 7, 2017 meeting.
Facets of the proposed regulations
“Pinecraft, of course, is a walking and biking community,” Kirk explained. “Many residents and visitors there never drive a car.”
As a result, he continued, bicycle rental businesses show up on residential properties during season. “There is a unique need for this use in this community.”
The overlay district would allow those businesses to operate in neighborhoods as permitted uses, he said, and it could store bicycles on the property. To win a permit, such a business would have to have frontage on a local street.
The regulations would require owners of bicycle rental businesses to provide safety information to every person to whom they rented a bicycle, Kirk noted.
The second set of regulations in the overlay district would prohibit specific uses on commercially zoned property: package or liquor stores, bars or taverns, drive-through restaurants, drive-through retail sales or service operations, convenience stores, gas pumps, and vehicle sales or service operations.
In response to a question from Commissioner Bispham, Kirk said no businesses of those types exist in the area proposed for the overlay district.
“Can you restrict them? Legally?” Bispham asked.
“Yes,” Kirk replied. “I have talked to the county attorney about this.”
Community residents did want additional restrictions that the Office of the County Attorney said the overlay district could not encompass because of legal issues, Kirk added.
The third set of regulations would cover parking, Kirk said:
- For a dwelling unit, only one space would be required, instead of two, which is the usual stipulation.
- The parking requirements for other uses — such as churches and community buildings — would be reduced by half.
- The reductions would not apply to commercial or office zoning districts.
The last set of regulations involves development standards in the area called “Old” Pinecraft, Kirk told the board. That section of the community, he showed the commissioners, is bound by Bahia Vista Street on the north, Phillippi Creek on the west and Kauffman Avenue on the east.
Old Pinecraft is platted in lots that are 40 feet by 40 feet, with 30-foot-wide streets running north and south, he said. “Almost all of the original 40-foot square lots have been combined into 171 larger parcels, 166 of which are residential and zoned RSF-4 [Residential Single Family-4],” the county staff report explained. That area has no sidewalks, the report added.
Many of the existing structures do not conform to current zoning regulations for RSF-4, Kirk said.
Showing the board a map, he added, “You can see how close the streets are together … So it’s a very, very compact community.”
In standard RSF-4 zoning districts in the county, Kirk noted, the minimum parcel size is 6,000 square feet. In Old Pinecraft, the most common parcel is 3,200 square feet.
The proposed overlay district would include setback standards and requirements for the amount of space a dwelling could take up on a lot pegged to three ranges of parcel size, he pointed out. Those ranges would be less than 4,000 square feet, 4,000 to 6,000 square feet, and greater than 6,000 square feet.
For the smallest range, Kirk said, the front setbacks would range from 5 feet to 10 feet, with 5 feet for both the side and rear setbacks. Only the first house on a street would have the 5-foot front setback, he added.
“They live in there tight,” Bispham said of the 5-foot setbacks. “I really don’t understand [that]. My goodness. … Are there no cars parked in there at all?”
People do have driveways, Kirk responded. “They’ll always have to have a parking space [under the proposed overlay district regulations].”
Additionally, Kirk emphasized, community residents requested those setbacks, and the current standard in RSF-4 zoning is a 6-foot minimum setback on the side and in the rear. The modification to 5 feet would allow homeowners to build small additions, he said.
Building heights would be limited to 24 feet at the highest point of a hip or gable or to 20 feet to the deck of a flat roof. “This was what was specifically requested in the community,” he said. “The idea is to help preserve the character of the community.”
Almost all the homes in Old Pinecraft have one story, Kirk pointed out. Just a few recently constructed would not conform to the new standards, he told the board.
Only three members of the public addressed the Planning Commission during the Dec. 7 hearing. One complained about plans for a new footbridge over Phillippi Creek and about the number of Pinecraft visitors and residents who do not abide by traffic laws.
Evelyn Gray talked of people who “walk right out in front of cars” and those who tow toddlers and older children in wagons or other conveyances behind bicycles without first putting helmets on the youngsters.
A second person, Norm Lambright, commended the board for working with Pinecraft residents to develop the zoning regulations, and he voiced excitement about the planned footbridge.
A third, Johnny Morris, disagreed with the proposed setbacks for Old Pinecraft, saying he believes houses should not be so close to the property lines.
Morris also pointed out that far more people drive in the community than the average person realizes, and he concurred with Gray’s call for the use of bicycle helmets on children.
Kirk reiterated that bicycle safety information must be provided to anyone who rents a bicycle, under the regulations of the proposed overlay district.