Thursday, September 21, 2017

The first UDC workshop: Purpose, Customers, Scope

Matt Osterhoudt, Planning Director, foreground. Chris Brimo, CGA, background

The first of three public workshops on the UDC to be conducted by the Sarasota Planning Dept. was held on Wed., Sept. 20, 2017 in Osprey.

UDC? What is it?
The Unified Development Code aims to bring together about 700 pages of Sarasota County zoning rules and 100 pages + appendices of Land Development Regulations.
The project began in March 2017 and is designed to last about 18 months, through Summer 2018.
$285,000, from Zoning funds.
To clean up conflicts, contradictions, outdated references and other incompatibilities between Sarasota's Zoning Code, last overhauled in 2003, and its Land Development Regs (LDRs), even older than that.
Calvin Giordano & Associates (CGA) - Florida consulting firm.
According to Sarasota County Planning Director Matt Osterhoudt, there is overlap, redundancy, and inconsistencies between the zoning code, which regulates everything from land use to chicken tending, and the LDRs, which are the rules that a few big developers use when they propose new developments.  
Bringing these two codes into harmony will save time and money for those that use the codes. This seems an eminently sensible thing to do.
Main beneficiaries?
The developers, builders, and contractors who need a clear, well ordered set of rules to look to when they are proposing new developments.
And the Public?
The public, the communities that are impacted by new development, is - or should be - a constituency that is addressed here. But it's not clear whether that is the case. (See also this open letter regarding the public's role in planning).
At the UDC workshop there were in fact more members of the public than there were members of the developer and builder communities. People with questions about impacts, with concerns about weakening the Comp Plan, and with strong objections to current rules that fail the public interest. One example: the weak and very narrow notification policies that require developers to let folks within 500, or 750 feet of a target site, know that a rezoning is proposed. 
Another example: antiquated land use designations out of sync with the rapidly changing landscapes of Sarasota County. Recent example: A developer proposed a demolition waste plant in a burgeoning residential, retail, and eco-tourism area because of a land use designation from 37 years ago -- a time when no neighborhoods, schools, businesses, or nature preserve were there. 
What's the problem?
At the workshop, when members of the public noted that certain notification procedures for public lands seem to fail to reach people who will care, and who will be affected if a proposed development (such as a waste plant at the Celery Fields) were to go forward, the response was that surplus lands are "outside the scope" of this UDC code overhaul.
At this point, Sarasota County Planning appears to view as its main customers those developers and builders who must use these codes every day in order to do what they do. Fair enough. And the project seems well organized to accomplish its task. 
Planning views the Board of Commissioners -- its employer -- as another constituency it must please.
But it's not clear whether Planning fully recognizes that the Public who elected the Board, and whose taxes pay both the Board's and the Planning Department's wages, have standing here as well. 
What can be done to give the Public clear relevant standing?
As environmental advocate Jono Miller put it after the hearing, one way to address this is to have the public involved up front, early in the "scoping session" that designs projects like the UDC code, sets project parameters, and decides whose interests will be served.  
More representatives from the Public were at this workshop than developers, builders or contractors.  
Builders and contractors will surely benefit from a cleaned-up, better organized code. But will our communities see any benefit to their concerns about notification, updated land use, and more? Maybe we need to be there as equal participants when future such projects are scoped. Advisory boards could reserve seats for the public interest.
What's next?
The public interest here is entirely distinct from that of the developers, builders and contractors. It needs to be better understood and integrated into the planning process. 
One can hope that the openness of the Planning Dept. to record all comments on the UDC update, and to transmit them to the Board, will register. 
Matt Osterhoudt also stated that he and fellow planners will make themselves available to meet with any individual or group that wishes to do so.
Anyone may get in touch with Planning via any of three ways:
  • Meet directly with Matt Osterhoudt or Bill Spaeth of Sarasota Planning.
Better understanding of the needs of those who use county codes, and those impacted by that use, can come from closer dialog.

Two more public workshops are planned in October and November. The first revised code document is expected to be ready to be seen in December.

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