Sunday, March 4, 2018

Update: Unprecedented risk: Urban Service Area could effectively be at an end

Update: The hearing has been postponed.  The petitioner has requested an indefinite continuance.

Urban Service Boundary at Risk

On March 14, the Sarasota County Commission will consider a really bad proposed amendment to the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan amendment.

It would allow pockets of urban development beyond the Urban Service Boundary (USB). 

On February 1, the Planning Commission, which is packed with development interests, recommended approval of the amendment by a vote of 8 to 0, with one recusal.

The amendment would set a precedent to allow individual urban developments outside the Urban Service Boundary (and outside of the Sarasota 2050 areas and Overlay Districts), by approving them in individual Comp Plan amendments, making exceptions to the USB. It has never been done before but if it happens now than developers will be clamoring for the same treatment in the rural lands.

This would get around the requirement of the Sarasota County Charter for a unanimous County Commission vote to move the Urban Service Boundary or to expand or create an Overlay District as well as the requirement of voter approval to eliminate the Urban Service Boundary.  The staff analysis specifically acknowledges this “objective,” noting that the Charter requirement for a unanimous County Commission vote has prevented any movement of the Urban Service Boundary since the Charter limits were enacted by voter referendum in 2008.

The present proposed Comp Plan amendment would specifically allow a Light Office development across from Sun N Fun on Fruitville Road, about 1.25 miles east of the Urban Service Boundary, for influential builder Lee Wetherington, and elsewhere that certain criteria are met.  The staff analysis states that could include other parcels in that corridor. 

Although the amendment’s criteria include a requirement that “adequate existing public infrastructure is available to serve the subject property” it would allow the subject office development even though there is no public infrastructure available to provide sewage treatment and a septic tank will be used instead. The staff report does express some concern about this, but the obvious violation of the amendment’s own criteria somehow did not prevent the staff from endorsing it.

If this loophole is allowed by the County Commission, the Urban Service Boundary is effectively gone, as it can be breached any time by a site-specific amendment. This threatens all subdivisions beyond the Urban Service Boundary east of I-75 and in south County, as well as all of us impacted by urban sprawl and its increase in traffic, infrastructure expenses, environmental degradation and other public concerns.

The Charter requires at least four of the five County Commissioners to approve any Comp Plan amendment which increases the density of intensity of development. County staff agrees that this applies to the proposed amendment.

This very bad Comprehensive Plan amendment should be defeated by the County Commission.

What good is an Urban Service Boundary if it can so easily be violated and ignored?

This piece by Dan Lobeck first appeared in the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Group newsletter.

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