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Date of Issue: December 07, 2006

Anna Maria finally comprehensive after nearly four years

It may have taken just under four years from start to finish, but Anna Maria now has a revised comprehensive plan and accompanying evaluation and appraisal report and future land use map, all approved by the city commission.

Commissioners voted unanimously at the Nov. 30 public hearing to approve the plan, EAR and FLUM and forward them to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for review and approval.

The vote followed more than two hours of sometimes contentious debate on the expected controversial element of the plan: the areas of the future land-use map that are to be designated retail-office-residential and those that remain commercial or residential.

Robin Wall of Palmetto Avenue led a plethora of Palmetto and Palm Avenue residents against allowing two lots at the corner of Palmetto Avenue and Gulf Drive owned by former City Commissioner Linda Cramer to be designated ROR on the FLUM. The proposed map has Cramer's lots designated residential, but the remainder of Gulf Drive on both the east and west sides, north to Pine Avenue, is classified either ROR or commercial on the map. Cramer has long contended that her lots are supposed to be commercial.

Attorney Mike Connolly, representing Cramer, argued that the two lots stick out like a "sore thumb" and produced documentation that the city commission in 1991 intended the property to be commercial.

Unfortunately, the commission never followed the proper legal procedures to make the properties commercial, and the ad hoc committee that prepared the initial comprehensive plan declined to change that land-use designation from anything other than residential.

Other outcries against the plan came from attorney Matt Taylor, representing the property owners at the east end of Pine Avenue on the north side facing Tampa Bay. Taylor argued for an ROR designation for this vacant land, claiming this would "right a wrong" that was done more than 25 years ago.

The proposed FLUM designates the land as commercial, but Taylor claimed that in 1982, the then-owners - the Kilpatrick family - had sued the city successfully to get the land rezoned from residential to commercial. Changing the five lots in question from commercial to ROR would be in keeping with the "residential character" of the city as emphasized in the comp plan, he said.

That request fell on deaf ears, as did a plea from Tara O'Brien of Magnolia Avenue to keep the city's R-2 (residential duplex) zone. She believes that changing the zoning on her property could "adversely effect" the future value of her property and might violate Florida statutes.

"We're a vacation destination with a variety of homes," she said.

Other objections to the plan came from business owners such as Ed Chiles of the Sandbar Restaurant and Mike Eifert of Galati Marine.

The two men were against the section in the comprehensive plan that limits the height of new construction in a commercial area to 27 feet, but allows a 37-foot height in residential areas and the ROR zone. Eifert said Galati has an upcoming construction project at its site that would be adversely affected by the 27-foot restriction.

Faced with a wealth of "new information," Commissioner Christine Tollette was concerned about the legal aspects of voting for the plan as it was written and questioned city attorney Jim Dye.

"Legally," said Dye, "you are just adopting a report. You are not changing ordinances. Tonight, everything is about people trying to persuade you to see their point of view."

"But there's a lot of new information," responded Tollette.

"If that makes you nervous, then you don't have to do anything," Dye replied, "but these are not legal issues. This is a policy document, not a legal document."

The commission will only write legislation when the plan is returned to the city by the DCA with comments and required revisions.

And there's nothing really new tonight, added professional planner Tony Arrant, who has facilitated the comprehensive-plan process since he first appeared before the commission in January 2003 to discuss how a comprehensive plan is changed.

"All these issues have been heard before," Arrant observed, after attending nearly four years of meetings on the plan.

Arrant echoed what Dye said to the commission.

"There is no right or wrong here tonight," he said.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick made three motions for changes to the plan, including one that would have placed Cramer's property as ROR, but all three were defeated by a 4-1 vote.

The other two failed motions concerned the height of new construction in a commercial zone and a motion to change the Pine Avenue property noted by Taylor from commercial to ROR.

After discussion of the other elements of the plan and public comment, including an appearance by attorney Craig Colburn representing the Olesens of South Bay Boulevard, who are suing the city over who owns a beach access, the commission and public were done with comments.

Commissioner Dale Woodland made a motion to adopt by resolution the comprehensive-plan evaluation appraisal report and accompanying future land-use map. The motion passed 5-0, and three years, nine months and 25 days of comprehensive planning were finished.

But the commission's work with the plan isn't.

As noted by Dye and Arrant, the next phase begins when the EAR and plan are returned by the DCA to the city. That's when accompanying legislation must be adopted by the commission.

Woodland praised Arrant for his hard work in guiding the city through the process and thanked the ad hoc comp-plan committee and the planning and zoning board for all their work in preparing and revising the plan.

The meeting adjourned to a round of well-deserved applause, although most attendees had long since left city hall, particularly after the FLUM discussion ended.