Planning Board, Staff Spar Over Enforcement

Planning

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY JUL 3, 2019

Concerns about code enforcement led to a tense Sarasota City Commission meeting with Planning Board members threatening resignations.

The issue has been boiling for months, thanks to interest among Planning Board members in enforcement of city code, in particular proffers put on project approvals. City staff asserted such enforcement matters don’t fall under the purview of the advisory board.

Planning Board Chair Eileen Normile said that’s not the case, and state law requires the board assess the effectiveness and status of the city’s comprehensive plan. “A question, ‘What is the status?’ is not an attack on anyone,” she stressed.

But Neighborhood and Development Services Director Tim Litchett said compliance with code stretched well beyond what the Planning Board considers. “I have been concerned about the appropriateness of this since December,” he said.

Michael Connolly, legal counsel for the board, said the exploration of enforcement and compliance went beyond its stated powers.

Planning Board members brought questions to Sarasota City Commissioners about ways to better enforcement. “Many Planning Board decisions hinge of the effectiveness of code enforcement,” Normile said. That’s particularly true when conditional use permits are granted.

Sarasota City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, who previously served on the Planning Board, welcomed concerns. But City Commissioner Hagen Brody took issue with the Planning Board tackling code matters against the advice of staff.

Brody suggested Normile and other members too often “bickered” with staff at Planning Board meetings. “The problem I have is when you swerve out of your lane,” he said. He suggested the board had become political in its decisions, and suggested too many proffers get unfairly placed on developments.

Normile said if Commissioners felt the board did not provide fair hearings, she would tender her resignation, something also stated by other board members. But Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw objected and would not accept resignations.

Shaw made a motion the matter be dropped entirely, a motion approved 4-1. Ahearn-Koch cast the dissenting vote, saying she wanted Planning Board suggestions addressed.

Planning Board member Patrick Gannon said he found the tone of the meeting surprising and disappointing. “The Planning Board members who were there were totally taken back and for the most part offended,” he said. “But we serve at the pleasure of the City Commission. If they don’t like what we are doing then we can resign.” Things haven’t reached that level yet, apparently, but he expressed concerns with staff relations moving forward.

Ahearn-Koch said she does not believe there will be further problems. “The Planning Board is appreciative of staff,” she said. “I am appreciative of staff.”

Pictured: Tim Litchett discusses staff concerns as Planning Board members address City Commissioners.

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