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Date of Issue: March 17, 2010

Anna Maria approves moratorium

Score a victory for Anna Maria City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus. The city is headed toward a moratorium at his behest.

Stoltzfus said at the special city commission meeting March 11 that his motion for a moratorium on retail-office-residential projects in the city was not directed toward any particular developer.

“I am trying not to target PAR,” Stoltzfus said of Pine Avenue Restoration.

His moratorium motion was about parking and safety on Pine Avenue, he said.

Stoltzfus had argued for a moratorium since his election in November 2009, claiming the city was approving PAR site plans that did not comply with the comprehensive plan or land-development regulations.

This time, Commission Chairman John Quam and Commissioner Dale Woodland agreed with Stoltzfus.

In a 3-1 vote, the commission voted to proceed with the moratorium. Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick voted against the measure, while Commissioner Chuck Webb was absent.

In what may be a costly move for the city, the commission indicated that the moratorium will put a halt to three PAR site plans submitted to the city in November, but not yet ready for the commission review.

The action could prompt PAR to take action against the city if those applications are not exempt from the moratorium or site-plan procedure changes passed by the commission March 4.

City attorney Jim Dye said his recommendation would be to “leave out the projects in the pipeline,” but Stoltzfus argued the city began discussing parking safety on Pine Avenue in November. He wants all ROR site-plan applications “frozen.”

Dye said a key issue for the moratorium to apply to the submitted PAR plans is when did the ordinances affecting PAR projects become “in flux.”

Stoltzfus argued that the commission told him on Nov. 17 to form a parking safety committee, but Dye said that “what might be certain to you” might be uncertain to someone else. He said he would have to go back to the commission minutes to “nail down” when pertinent discussions began.

Mayor Fran Barford had reason for concern about a moratorium.

If the moratorium leads to a lawsuit, the city can’t afford to lose it, she said. It appears to her that all the discussions in recent commission meetings have targeted PAR projects and no others.

Stoltzfus said that’s just because PAR is the only developer submitting site plans for ROR projects.

Barford said she just wanted her concern “on the record.”

Not mentioned at the meeting is the ability of the mayor to veto any ordinance, which would require in order to override the veto a 4-1 commission.

Dye observed that if a lawsuit is for damages only, the city’s liability insurance with the Florida League of Cities should cover the award.

“But you can get sued for other than damages and the FLC would not get involved,” he said.

Woodland said he had to consider the greater good, rather than the cost to the city if a lawsuit follows. Otherwise, he said, he’s not doing his job and neither is the commission. There is no price on safety, he said.

Mattick opposed the moratorium and noted she raised the Pine Avenue parking safety issue with the commission in January 2009, but no action was ever taken, not even a work session.

She noted also that a number of ROR projects have been approved by the P&Z board in recent years and not one person has ever come forward to say there was an issue with parking and safety on Pine Avenue because of the projects. At least, not until Stoltzfus was elected.

PAR principal Mike Coleman, however, eased Barford’s fears when he said a lawsuit “is the last, and very last thing we want to do.”

But Coleman also said his company is only going to take so much.

“Let me be clear. There comes a time when the line gets crossed,” he said at the meeting.

Coleman later told The Islander, “Attorney Dye was clear, stating for the record ‘I recommend that you do not include applications in the pipeline,’ referencing the proposed moratorium language. This is consistent with case law, as advised by our counsel as well, not to mention the common decency of fair play, whereby you don't change the rules in the middle of the game. Hopefully, commissioners will take pause to consider the recommendation of the city attorney, while giving chairman Stover and the P and Z an opportunity to fully evaluate all of the options on the table. We will make every effort to comply, retroactively, with any rational plan that addresses legitimate concerns while respecting property rights.”

Coleman told commissioners at the meeting, “If your objective is to have no more mixed-use on Pine Avenue, pass this moratorium and we won’t build any more,” he said. “We will be done.”

 But it’s possible for any property owner to build a 37-foot-high, single-family home without site-plan approval, similar to those built on the site of the former Island Marine property on Pine Avenue.

Ironically, it was the construction of those houses in 2005 that sparked the city commission to put language in the comprehensive plan to encourage mixed-use development on Pine Avenue.

And the effort to maintain some mix of commercial-residential was instrumental in the formation of PAR in 2007.

 The moratorium must go through a public hearing with the planning and zoning board and two hearings before the city commission before it becomes law.

Dye said the moratorium could be in place in three weeks if “all the switches fall off” properly.

The commission agreed to a 180-day moratorium. During the freeze, it will discuss and enact changes to the land-development regulations and traffic-circulation ordinance that pertain to parking and other development issues. The proposed moratorium would end Sept. 23.

Stoltzfus said that before the moratorium expires, he wants all changes to the LDRs approved by the commission.

“I don’t want any doubt as to what the laws govern,” he said.

Commissioners scheduled a joint work session with the planning and zoning board for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 18, to discuss on-site parking and changes to the traffic circulation ordinance.

 

Par projects

Since it was formed in 2007, Pine Avenue Restoration LLC has had several retail-office-residential projects on Pine Avenue approved by the Anna Maria Planning and Zoning Board.

A PAR project at 315 and 317 Pine Avenue was approved in 2008 and is now operational, while another PAR project at 401 Pine Ave. is nearly complete.

A fourth project at 503 Pine Ave. was approved by the board but was not built. The project has since been sold to another interest and the PAR site plan is no longer valid. And, in February, the P&Z board approved by a 4-3 vote a PAR project for 216 Pine Ave.

In November 2009, PAR submitted three site plans for ROR projects on Pine Avenue:

• 210 Pine Ave.

• 313 Pine Ave.

• 401 Pine Ave.

All three projects call for two-story ROR structures.