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Date of Issue: July 28, 2010

DCA: Anna Maria does density right

Score a victory for the city of Anna Maria and city attorney Jim Dye.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs issued a ruling July 20 that determined Anna Maria’s method of computing density “is consistent with its comprehensive plan.”

City residents Robert and Nicky Hunt, through attorney Jeremy Anderson of Lobeck and Hanson PA of Sarasota, filed a complaint to the DCA Feb. 11, alleging that the city’s application of gross-density in the retail-office-residential district conflicted with the comprehensive plan policy adopted in 2007.

The DCA ruling came after a four-month DCA investigation into the Hunt complaint.

The Hunts alleged in the DCA complaint that the city’s formula resulted in a density of 8.7 units per acre in the ROR, well above the comp plan’s maximum stated density of six units per acre.

In its eight-page decision, the DCA noted that the majority of the 5,000-square-foot lots in the ROR were platted and accepted for use by the city before World War II. The city amended its land-development code to grandfather these lots for use, but requires other lots be a minimum of 7,500 square feet.

The DCA said the Hunts’ method of calculating density is “irrelevant in that the density limit does not apply” because the lots, although nonconforming, have been accepted by the city for use and “the size of the lot does not matter.”

Further, said the DCA, “The petitioners have not submitted any information that shows that any of the 5,000-square-foot lots in the ROR were recently platted.”

Mayor Fran Barford said the ruling is confirmation that the city has been approving projects correctly.

“I was thrilled when I read the DCA ruling,” she said. “We always believed that the way the ordinance was being interpreted was correct. Now, it’s documented.”

Barford said the DCA ruling means prior approvals for Pine Avenue projects were done with the correct density and those projects are consistent with the comp plan.

Barford said the ruling also validates the votes of those planning and zoning board members and commissioners who approved ROR projects with the city’s density calculations, despite some opinions to the contrary.

Commissioners Dale Woodland and Jo Ann Mattick were pleased with the ruling.

Woodland said he was glad because there are some property owners in the city with lots less than 3,500 square feet. He was thankful those lots are “buildable.”

Mattick said Dye did “a great job” in defending the city against the complaint.

But Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus had opposed approval of the ROR projects on Pine Avenue and maintained, among other objections, that the density for those projects was inconsistent with the comp plan.

 Stoltzfus told other commissioners in January he agreed with attorney Dan Lobeck, then representing the Hunts, who claimed the city’s density computations in the ROR conflicted with the comprehensive plan.

Lobeck had written to the commission “demanding” the commission change its ROR density requirements or face a complaint to the DCA.

“I think they are right,” Stoltzfus said at the Jan. 28 commission meeting. “If they proceed, we are going to end up with egg on our face,” he said.

The DCA ruling could affect other legal actions against Anna Maria that have challenged the city’s method of calculating ROR density.

William and Barbara Nally, owners of vacation rental property on Spring Avenue, filed a lawsuit March 22 against the city’s approval of an ROR project by PAR at 216 Pine Ave. Lobeck, who filed for the Nallys, claimed the approval was inconsistent with the city’s comp plan and its density calculation.

The Hunts and Nallys have 21 days from the July 20 date to file an appeal of the DCA decision. Any appeal would go to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, according to the DCA.

Efforts to reach the Hunts for comment through their attorneys were unsuccessful prior to The Islander’s deadline for this issue.