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Date of Issue: January 20, 2010

AM commission to restrict, approve most site plans

The way it used to be in Anna Maria is the way it will be in Anna Maria.

The Anna Maria City Commission will soon be back in its original role of granting final approval for most site plans.

At a joint city commission-planning and zoning board meeting Jan. 14, the majority of commissioners and board members voted informally to have the commission grant final approval for site plans that may change the intensity or use of a property. That’s the way it was when the commission first adopted site-plan review procedures in 2003.

But that changed in 2007 when the commission agreed unanimously to give the P&Z board authority to grant final site-plan approval, including for retail-office-residential developments on Pine Avenue.

Last week’s vote, however, was not unanimous.

P&Z board members Mike Yetter, Bob Barlow and Sandy Mattick voted to keep final approval with P&Z. Randall Stover, Frank Pytel, Margaret Jenkins and Jim Conoly opted for a return to the original site-plan procedure.

Commissioners were not nearly as divided, with John Quam, Dale Woodland and Harry Stoltzfus voting to bring back the old system. Jo Ann Mattick wanted no change and Commissioner Chuck Webb reluctantly voted for amending the site-plan procedures to involve the commission in final approval.

Webb had wanted the commission to study the issue further before making any change.

The issue surfaced during the recent election cycle, said Quam.

He said many voters told him during the campaign that they believed the commission should give final authority for site plans, not the P&Z board.

Stoltzfus, who made it no secret that he wanted the commission to approve site plans, particularly those on Pine Avenue, said the commission should approve any project in the ROR district.

He has publicly opposed three recent site plans submitted by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC for ROR projects on Pine Avenue, and said the city should not have granted PAR its already approved plans.

Under current site-plan procedures, city staff can approve minor site plans, while the P&Z board approves those with an impact on the city, such as developments in the ROR. The city commission approves sub-division site plans.

Woodland also said he heard from many voters during the campaign, and the majority wanted the commission to grant final site-plan approval.

“For me, it’s a concern that we should do what the citizens want us to do. It’s not political. People told me elected officials should be responsible for approving the majority of site plans, and we have to consider the residents,” he said.

Commissioner Mattick opposed any change on the grounds that the procedures were working fine.

Woodland noted also that the site-plan review procedures are relatively new, and when first adopted in 2003, commissioners had foreseen the day when changes would be made.

“It’s all part of the growing process. We knew all along we might have to change the procedures, and we might have to change again in the future,” he said.

Additionally, he said that when the commission transferred approval authority to the P&Z board, there was not as much development activity on Pine Avenue as there is now.

P&Z board member Sandy Mattick said she didn’t understand site-plan reviews became an issue.

“Not one of you has ever said you disagreed with what we did,” she said.

But Pytel presented several reasons to change the system back to its previous method.

P&Z board members are appointed, not elected, he said. If the voters are unhappy with a P&Z decision, board members can’t be voted out of office like commissioners.

In addition, if the board denies a site plan, the applicant can appeal to the city commission. If it approves a site plan opposed by neighbors, those neighbors have to incur the expense of filing a legal action in court.

In his opinion, the P&Z board should remain advisory and the commission should have final authority.

Woodland, Quam and Stoltzfus agreed that elected officials should be the ones who grant final approval.

Yet to be decided, however, is what constitutes a site plan of such impact that it increases intensity and should go to the commission.

Webb argued that the commission should not confine its approval authority to just ROR projects. At the same time, however, many site plans should not go to the commission, he said.

Another problem in amending the site-plan procedures to return approval to the commission is the time and cost to get a site plan approved.

Woodland said he wanted to review options to streamline the process for residents and reduce costs.

Presently, it costs $3,000 for a site plan application and takes several months for approval, including a public hearing before P&Z.

Mike Coleman of PAR said he was pleased with the discussions.

“I’m encouraged that we are clarifying the language and everyone will get equal treatment,” he said.

Quam, as commission chairperson, set another joint meeting for 6 p.m. Feb. 11 to discuss changes to Chapter 90 and hear a preliminary ordinance amendment prepared by staff to return site-plan approval to the commission.