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BB P&Z, commission hash out shortcomings

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” is a line made famous from the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke,” starring Paul Newman, but it also suits the ongoing issues between the Bradenton Beach city commission and planning and zoning board.

At a May 1 joint meeting between city commissioners and P&Z board members to discuss revisions to the land-development code, those issues surfaced with pledges from both sides to work closer together to ensure the citizens of Bradenton Beach are fairly represented in procedural matters.

During the LDC discussion, P&Z chair Rick Bisio questioned the board’s purpose when commissioners repeatedly approve projects that were recommended for denial by P&Z.

“I don’t believe planning and zoning is actually giving a recommendation,” said Bisio. “(A project) comes before us and we do a lot of work on it, and disapprove it. Then it comes back to staff and it’s repackaged before it’s given to the city.”

It was suggested that some cities use a percentage gauge, meaning if a project is changed by a certain percentage then it should automatically return to P&Z for further review before it reaches the city commission.

“I respectfully disagree,” said Bisio. “They might make a 5 percent change, but that 5 percent might be a significant change.”

Bisio said something must be done because, “It consistently looks like P&Z recommendations are not being followed by the city. It’s not good for morale and it looks like all the work (we) did was for naught.”

The discussion was sparked by a LDC revision recommendation from Tom McCollum of ZNS Engineering, a consultant for the city, who presented a chart flow of responsibilities outlining each board’s responsibility in various procedures.

McCollum said a different way to approach the issue would be to allow the applicant to table the request and bring it back after P&Z concerns have been addressed.

Bisio didn’t necessarily disagree with the proposal, but said most applicants don’t care what the P&Z recommends because they know how to slip it by the commissioners.

“They say, ‘Please, deny me,’” said Bisio. “Then they change it completely and get it passed (through the commission). It’s not healthy the way it works now.”

Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioners Gay Brueler and Ric Gatehouse attended the May 1 meeting and expressed interest in resolving the communication issues.

“Are we being fair?” asked Breuler. “Are we being smart about this?”

Bisio said there are a lot of issues, but ignoring P&Z recommendations “is the biggest thing brought up. It’s a constant issue … over the past three or four years.”

P&Z board member Bill Shearon suggested the city empower P&Z as a quasi-judicial entity again, “with the appeal process being the commission.”

P&Z members also cited cases where commissioners were not provided information discovered by P&Z, and why a request was denied.

Gatehouse concurred that the commission approves or disapproves without all of the information available for review.

“When P&Z makes a denial or approval with stipulations, a lot of times we don’t get that information,” he said. “We should be furnished with that decision and why the decision was made.”

Some members of the P&Z assumed the information was reaching the commissioners and expressed surprise that it had not been reviewed.

Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert said what the commissioners most often receive is a memo and a basic staff assessment of what happened at the P&Z meeting.

“But, in most cases, you don’t get the context of it,” Gilbert told the commissioners.

Suggestions were for the P&Z to try and have its minutes completed sooner, flag important items in its recommendation by using different color paper, and for members of the commission and P&Z to be more proactive in attending one another’s meetings.

“This is why I’m glad we had this joint meeting,” said city attorney Ricinda Perry. “The problem we’ve been having is not hearing the problem. We do value (P&Z). I know the commission values you. We are sorry you have felt slighted.”

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