Administrative Review Vital to Ensure Certainty

Argus

BY CHRISTINE ROBINSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUN 15, 2019

On Monday, the City Commission will be considering a staff proposal for altering, or, eliminating administrative review for projects. 

Administrative review was an important part of The Downtown Master Plan 2020, which received input from hundreds and hundreds of people.  It was adopted in January 2001.The concepts of administrative review were contained in this plan. 

The Plan stated, “Future development is accurately envisioned by the Master Plan that, when coded, creates a predictable environment. Within it, developers who follow the rules can be guaranteed time-certain approvals, while residents can live in a city where surprises are minimized. A public discussion and assessment by elected officials need only occur in the event a variance is required.”

After the adoption of the Downtown Master Plan, the city attempted to ignore the community agreed upon premises within the plan and decided to not implement administrative review. 

A coalition of property owners and groups administratively challenged the city’s comprehensive plan. A settlement was reached to implement the administrative review process that came about from the agreed upon Downtown Master Plan.

Today, we have a revitalized downtown that was not present when the Downtown Master Plan was passed. Gone are the vacant storefronts.  Investment in downtown has created wonderful restaurants and retail and a population of residents who can walk to them and sustain them.

The Downtown Master Plan led to the revitalization of the core of Sarasota and gave us the vibrant downtown we have many other cities yearn. We went from a downtown that rolled its streets up at 5:00 to one with vitality day and night.

Now, some of those who have moved into downtown as a result of the plan, want to do away with certainty and create a subjective process that increases the risk in investing in downtown. In essence, they want to STOP! certainty, STOP! downtown investment, and STOP! economic development.

Make no mistake about it, this is an important economic development moment for the city. 

Is Sarasota going to become a city that changes procedures to make building a subjective political process? Or, are we going to change the code to make sure there is clarity?

The current proposal has every single building over five stories going through a subjective public hearing process. That pretty much means every single new building in the downtown core becomes a design nightmare money pit subject to opinion, bureaucracy, and endless redesigns no matter if it meets the rules.

The City Commissioners need to decide if we are going to throw up the gates to block new residents, and businesses, or create a thriving urban environment with defined predictability for everyone. This decision is not about administrative review, it is about the future of investment in downtown and its vibrancy.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation

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