AM commission approves draft LAR ordinance

After nearly two months of discussion on how new homes in Anna Maria should be constructed, commissioners at their April 4 meeting agreed to move forward with an ordinance that uses the living area ratio to the lot size as the basis for a new ordinance on construction of houses in  the city.

The proposed ordinance must now go to the planning and zoning board for a public hearing and a recommendation before returning to the commission for two more public hearings, city planner Alan Garrett said.

The language of the draft ordinance as approved by commissioners states that the owner of any lot of less than 15,000 square feet can have a LAR of 40 percent, with 33 percent of the LAR allowed on the second floor of living space. The maximum lot coverage would be 50 percent to include porches and decks.

The draft ordinance does not prohibit two floors of living space over parking, but a structure can be no higher than 27 feet above the crown of the road, according to a city moratorium currently in force.

As an example of the proposed ordinance, Garrett used a house on a 5,000 square-foot lot. At a 40 percent LAR, the owner could build a 2,000 square foot house, of which 33 percent of the 2,000 square feet, or 666 square feet, could be built on the second floor of living area.

By adding decks and porches, the maximum building coverage could go to 2,500 square feet, or 50 percent of the lot size. That gives the owner 500 square feet for outside decks and porches, Garrett said.

There is a sliding scale for the size of the house based on lot size in the proposed ordinance, he added.

For lots between 15,000 square feet and 21,000 square feet, the LAR would be 35 percent, while lots larger than 21,000 square feet would be allowed a 30 percent LAR. The 33 percent LAR for the second floor of living space applies regardless of lot size, as does the 50 percent maximum lot coverage rule, Garrett said.

City attorney Jim Dye chimed about the legality of the ordinance in relation to the Bert Harris Act, which prohibits governments from taking value from a property through legislation.

Dye said in his opinion the proposed ordinance is legal.

It “protects the character of the city,” which is a function of the commission, he said, and is a “rational response” to the commission’s concern that large houses could gradually squeeze out the city’s smaller, ground-level homes.

“It is not a regulatory taking,” Dye said. “A person still has reasonable use of the property.” He admitted, however, that the new ordinance would restrict the size of the house compared to what could be built under the current city building ordinance.

“Remember,” Dye said, “The Bert Harris Act is not concerned with the legality the ordinance. The only question is did the ordinance remove value from the property.”

There is a regulatory process in the Bert Harris Act for municipalities and property owners to settle any disputes, Dye added.

Dye recommended he write language in the proposed ordinance to allow anyone with a vacant lot to begin design now under the current regulations to avoid any “speculative claims,” in the future. Additionally, he’ll add language that the city will alert all property owners of the coming ordinance, once it’s finally approved by the commission.

Commissioners agreed the ordinance effective date would be 90-120 days after its passage. With that language in the ordinance, “No one can say they didn’t have time to file a site plan,” Garrett said.

.       Dye said the Bert Harris Act is about taking of value and it’s difficult for the owner of a vacant lot to show an expectation of value under the Bert Harris Act because all they have “is a pile of dirt.”

Attorney Scott Rudacille, who said he represented several Anna Maria clients, urged commissioners to take another look at the 33 percent LAR for the second livable floor. In his opinion, that percentage is “too restrictive.”

John Cagnina, who owns five vacant lots in the city, said he’s not being given the opportunity to develop his lots. Dye, however, noted Cagnina would have plenty of time between now and adoption of the ordinance to file a site plan, or five site plans, for his properties if he chooses.

Dye noted that there is no moratorium on construction, only on height. At present, structures that are 27 feet or less above the crown of the road are allowed. The moratorium would disappear with the passage of the proposed ordinance.

Commissioners unanimously approved the draft ordinance and it will be forwarded to P&Z for a public hearing.

Commissioner Chuck Webb received assurance from building official Bob Welch that building permits based on the current ordinance can still be issued to projects, but they must comply with the height moratorium restriction.

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