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Date of Issue: March 03, 2010

Board approves controversial PAR site plan

Ex-parte communication?

Planning and zoning board chair Randall Stover, seated, along with board members Frank Pytel and Margaret Jenkins discussed the PAR project during a five-minute intermission at the board’s Feb. 23 public hearing, despite the fact the public was not present to hear the conversation. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Anna Maria’s planning and zoning board at a Feb. 23 public hearing narrowly approved Pine Avenue Restoration LLC’s site plan for 216 Pine Ave., but the controversial decision may face a legal challenge.

The 4-3 vote came after nearly four hours of testimony and opinions on the plan, and with board members split evenly, the deciding vote came down to that of newly elected P&Z chairman Randall Stover. Stover voted to approve of the plan.

Stover said his decision was difficult because, in his opinion, the city’s comprehensive plan and land-development regulations are unclear on the issue of density in the retail-office-residential district. Additionally, the city’s traffic circulation ordinance needs amending, he said.

Frank Pytel, Jim Conoly and Margaret Jenkins voted against the plan, while Mike Yetter, Sandy Mattick and Bob Barlow voted for the project.

Mattick said the board had to make a decision based on the evidence presented, not personal opinions or a legal challenge.

Indeed, a request for an administrative review of the city’s density computation in the ROR district was filed with the Florida Department of Community Affairs by Anna Maria residents and developers Robert and Nicole Hunt. The Hunts have claimed the city method violates the comp plan.

Risk

Mattick said that PAR assumes all the risk if it builds 216 Pine Ave. and a court later determines that the city’s method of computing density was incorrect.

PAR could be ordered to tear down its project, she said.

Dye agreed, citing a case on Florida’s east coast about

10 years ago in which a developer built a $30 million condo project, despite an ongoing legal objection. The petitioners won their case and the developer was ordered by a state court to tear down the entire complex.

Site-plan particulars

PAR’s site plan calls for one building on two lots. The structures are joined by a covered walkway. Each building will have two floors of occupied space, with retail on the ground level and a residential unit on the second story. Fourteen parking spaces are included in the plan, along with a fence at the rear of the property.

One building will be 1,243 square feet, while the second will encompass 1,765 square feet. Swimming pools are included in the plan.

Compliance, density

City attorney Jim Dye, planner Alan Garrett and building official Bob Welch agreed the 216 Pine Ave. site plan complies with existing codes and the comp plan as they interpret it, but indicated changes to the comp plan and LDRs are needed.

The comp plan indicates density in the residential district is configured on a lot-by-lot basis, but is silent on such calculations in the ROR. The plan does state that mixed-use development should be encouraged in the ROR.

Pytel argued unsuccessfully that density for 216 Pine Ave. should be calculated on a lot-by-lot basis because the project will have residences.

Dye has opined previously that the city’s method of computing density in the ROR by dividing gross acreage by the number of lots with structures complies with the comp plan.

He said the 50-by-100-foot lots at 216 Pine Ave., which were platted around World War I, were grandfathered by the city commission several years ago as buildable.

P&Z’s decision

Pytel wanted the city commission to make the final decision on approval or denial of the plan, not the P&Z board. He said that board members are only appointed, while commissioners are elected. Dye, however, said that under the city charter, the board had to reach a decision at the public hearing, even if it was to deny the applicant.

Four city commissioners, all but Harry Stoltzfus, who has lobbied against the project, attended the hearing.

Dye has said that calculating density in the ROR on gross acreage divided by number of units is legal and the city has approved a number of other plans using that calculation.

Other board members and members of the public expressed concern with density and parking safety.

Resident Larry Albert said the city’s traffic circulation ordinance states that all parking must be on-site and there must be driveways for vehicles to enter and exit the property. The project has none of those, he said, and should be denied.

Mike Coleman of PAR pledged to voluntarily modify the parking at 216 Pine Ave. to comply with a Pine Avenue Corridor master parking plan, if one is adopted.

Prior to the start of the hearing, and after the meeting officially opened, Stover made a brief presentation on a master parking plan for Pine Avenue. The master plan will be given to the city commission for review and input, he said.

Contingencies

The board did make contingencies to go with its approval.

PAR is required to add a sidewalk on the North Shore Drive side of the project and to rearrange parking in that area. PAR must also call its units “residences,” not “apartments,” and build a connecting sidewalk from the parking areas to the retail shops.
The P&Z decision to approve the site plan is not reviewable by the city commission.

Several years ago, the commission agreed to give site-plan approval to the board, although an amendment to the site plan procedures is under way to return approval to the commission.

Board members talk

During a five-minute recess at the Feb. 23 Anna Maria Planning and Zoning Board public hearing on a site plan for 216 Pine Ave., board members Margaret Jenkins, Frank Pytel and Randall Stover discussed the application while on the dais, but out of range of the microphones and the public audience.

City Commission Chairman John Quam approached the trio during recess and cautioned them about discussing the site plan outside of the public hearing.

After the hearing resumed, Jenkins apologized for talking with the other board members while the hearing was in recess. She said she was unclear about parking on the site plan and asked the other two members for an explanation.

“I didn’t think it mattered,” Jenkins said.

Dye later in the meeting questioned each board member if they had ever received information about the 216 Pine Ave. site plan from a member of the public or the applicant. Each board member said they had received no information from anyone, other than what was presented to them that night during the open meeting or by city staff for the meeting.