Unified Development Code process explained to county’s Planning Commission

Consultant provides overview of plan to revise land development and zoning regulations into user-friendly document

Matt Osterhoudt. Image courtesy Sarasota County

It took only about 10 minutes during the April 6 Sarasota County Planning Commission meeting for one staff member and one representative of a consulting team to introduce an anticipated 18-month-long process to update the county’s land development regulations and Zoning Code.

The goal is to create an easy-for-everyone-to-use “Unified Development Code,” or UDC, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained to the board members.

Laura Benson was the only planning commissioner to seek a fuller explanation about the process: “Why are we going to do this?”
Did the County Commission propose the update, she asked, or did it result from the identification of a problem?

The County Commission sets goals each year, Osterhoudt replied; some are designed to be completed in one year, and some take longer. The UDC “is a board priority,” he added. “The board recognized that we have outdated information contained with both the land development regulations and the zoning regulations.”

The last time the Zoning Code underwent a comprehensive revision, Osterhoudt said, was in 2003. The land development regulations were updated prior to that, he noted.

Given the fact that the County Commission completed an update of the Comprehensive Plan last year, Osterhoudt pointed out, “it’s a good opportunity” to revise the zoning and land development regulations, essentially to put into practice the policies of the Comprehensive Plan.

Laura Benson. Image from the Michael Saunders & Co. website

Christopher Brimo, project manager with the consulting firm the county has hired — Calvin, Giordano & Associates (CGA) — explained that the inclusion of the item on the Planning Commission’s April 6 agenda was part of Phase I in creating the UDC. The first segment of the initiative entails discovery, he added: He and his team will work to glean as much information as possible from the Planning Commission, county staff and members of the public to make sure they have “an understanding of exactly what it is that the county would like to see with its final product.”

Among questions he posed to the Planning Commission as starting points for discussion were the following:

  • “What do you see as the most significant disconnect between the most recently adopted (October 2016) County Comprehensive Plan and the existing County development regulations?”
  • “What is the single greatest concern (process or standards) you have with the current development regulations?”
  • “In your opinion, what does not work in the current development regulations?”

The consultant and the timeline

A memo provided to the Planning Commission in advance of the April 6 meeting said, “CGA is a well-established, multi-disciplinary firm headquartered in Fort Lauderdale with offices throughout southern Florida. For more than 79 years CGA has worked with numerous municipalities, and [its] planning, redevelopment, engineering and transportation expertise, makes [it] uniquely qualified to deliver a Unified Development Code for Sarasota County. CGA’s Clearwater office is the responsible office for this project.”

CGA has teamed with the law firm of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman and its land use experts, Susan Trevarthen and Chad Friedman, to work on the UDC, the memo noted.

Brimo and team member Luis Serna of CGA have a combined 34 years of experience working with local governments, Brimo told the planning commissioners.

Christopher Brimo. Photo courtesy LinkedIn

Brimo’s schedule calls for Phase I to continue through July 31. It will encompass the “[r]eview and analysis of codes of surrounding communities, and other supporting material”; analysis of zoning practices, administrative policies and interpretations; and the development and discussion of “preliminary concepts and a draft outline [in consultation with] staff and project stakeholders,” as noted in a slide he showed the board.

Phase II — which is set to begin July 31 and end on March 5, 2018 — includes three community workshops and preparation of at least three drafts of the UDC for county review. The goals under Phase III are a presentation of the latest draft of the UDC to the appropriate boards and committees by mid-March 2018; a public hearing on a draft during a Planning Commission meeting: two public hearings before the County Commission during the summer of 2018; and final adoption before Oct. 1, 2018, another slide said.

Public outreach — including discussions with residential and development groups, and owners of large portions of county property, Brimo added — will be part of Phase II.

He acknowledged the “very tight timeline,” just as county commissioners did when they approved the CGA contract on Feb. 28.

Thanks to their years of working with local government bodies, he told the Planning Commission, he and his team members are cognizant of the “pitfalls and the problems that staff has and that boards have as they go through … things with development proposals.”

The county’s Development Service Advisory Committee will hold the next public presentation on the UDC. That is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, in Conference Room 2 at 1001 Sarasota Center Blvd. in Sarasota.

On Feb. 28, county staff showed the County Commission this timeline for the project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Osterhoudt also pointed out that a county webpage has been created for this process. The link is provided through the listing of Unified Development Code Project under Initiatives in the lower left-hand column of the county’s homepage. The public also may access Chapter 74 of the County Code, Land Development Regulations, and the county’s Zoning Code from the project webpage.

Anyone with questions about the process may call the county Call Center at 861-5000 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or a person may email planner@scgov.net.

Monthly progress reports will be provided on the webpage, Osterhoudt told the Planning Commission.

When Chair Jack Bispham asked whether any of his colleagues had questions other than Benson, none did.