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Date of Issue: February 18, 2009

Anna Maria OKs ROR ordinance

/2-18-09/am-city-ror.jpg
Anna Maria city commissioners were greeted by a full house at the Feb. 12 hearing on changes to the city's retail-office-residential ordinance. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

In what was expected to be one of the most controversial decisions since Anna Maria adopted a parking plan several years ago, city commissioners at the Feb. 12 final hearing on amendments to the retail-office-residential ordinance voted 4-1 in favor of the ordinance.

The hearing started with a packed house and public comment.

When all was said and done, following several hours of discussion, Commissioner Dale Woodland voted against the ordinance, while commissioners Chuck Webb, Christine Tollette, Jo Ann Mattick and Commission Chairman John Quam voted to pass it.

The amended ordinance now complies with the comprehensive plan approved in 2007, including the portion that deletes the former provision that ROR structures must be “owner-occupied.”

The regulations now allow a swimming pool at an ROR structure, but only for use by the occupants of the residences. The revised ordinance will prohibit use of a swimming pool by the business entity.

The commission also agreed to remove a suggestion from the planning and zoning board that residential units in the ROR must be rented for a minimum of seven consecutive days.

 The public hearing and second, final reading of the ordinance before an overflow audience was not intended to be about any one particular development or project in the district. The ordinance was drafted to bring the land-development regulation for the district into compliance with the comprehensive plan approved by the city in 2007.

But this is Anna Maria, and the proposed changes to the district, while not new suggestions, had recently become a hot topic for debate.

Members of the public on both sides of the ROR ordinance moved quickly to either criticize ROR projects being developed by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC, or praise the company for its “planned growth” approach.

Most of the opposition was concerned that increased rental activity at PAR’s residential units within mixed-use developments would affect their quality of life, and that allowing different owners for each unit in an ROR structure would lead to the “condo-ization” of Pine Avenue.

Spring Avenue resident Sally Eaton suggested the commission “balance the business community concerns with the concerns of the city’s residents.”

She suggested a one-week minimum rental period in the ROR, establishment of a 6-foot-high fence and landscaping buffer for ROR projects and to limit swimming pools to single-family residences — excluding residential units in an ROR from having a pool.

Eaton said renters in Anna Maria should be given a list of rules and regulations in the city.

Terry Schaefer of Spring Avenue objected to removing language in the current ordinance that required an ROR structure be “owner-occupied.”

In a compromise effort, he suggested that only “one entity” be the owner of an ROR building. The entity would then lease out the various levels and units.

Schaefer said there are “enormous concerns” by a majority of residents about the current PAR project at 315/317 Pine Ave. and the best idea might be to “refer the issue back to planning and zoning” to draft a compromise.

Spring Avenue resident Heather Bayless agreed, saying a “compromise is what we must do.”

She opposed short-term rentals in the ROR, fearing that along with swimming pools, this would lead to additional noise affecting adjacent residents.

Attorney Jeremy Anderson, representing William and Barbara Nally of Spring Avenue, said that allowing pools in the ROR is an “absurd idea” that will increase the chance of a “nuisance” that will affect the “health, safety and welfare” of residents.

Traffic in the ROR will increase, he alleged, creating a safety hazard. He said he could also envision “some young kid” jumping off the second floor of an ROR building into a swimming pool.

Robin Wall said removing the owner-occupied restriction could turn the ROR into “a condo area” with units “run like motels.”

The proposed changes will “not serve the majority of people,” she said, suggesting the commission should not be in a rush to pass anything that night.

Former City Commissioner Carol Ann Magill agreed: “You do not have to rush tonight. There’s a lot of new information.”

Nat Camp claimed that Mike Coleman, a PAR principal, “wants to make that property a condominium. Think before you make a decision.”

Not all Spring Avenue residents, however, were opposed to the amendment or Pine Avenue Restoration.

Jill Morris of Spring Avenue said the process to revitalize the Pine Avenue business district and have the land-development regulations match the comprehensive plan “started a long time ago,” yet there is suddenly a “lot of unfounded concern by just 3 percent of Anna Maria.”

It’s incongruous that some people believe the changes will turn Pine Avenue “into New York City,” she said.

The fear some people have about short-term rentals on Pine Avenue is “unfounded,” Morris said. Every rental unit in the city can be rented on a daily basis, yet there is no widespread problem.

She asked why tenants on Pine Avenue would behave differently than those on other city streets?

Others at the hearing also supported the proposed changes as well as PAR and its projects, particularly since Coleman lives on Pine Avenue and partner Ed Chiles lives in Anna Maria and owns the Sandbar Restaurant in the city.

“Better to have one of our own developing than someone we don’t know forcing something down our throats,” said Wayne Seawall.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino said it was “better to have someone you know and you know where they live” developing Pine Avenue than an outsider who could care less about the concerns of residents.

Coleman, the man-in-the-middle, said the whole process has been “difficult but enlightening.” He said discussion has served to bring everyone closer, even if they don’t agree on the issues.

Coleman said PAR only began its Pine Avenue ROR projects after attendees at an August 2008 joint city commission-planning and zoning board work session agreed to remove the language in the regulation that required an ROR structure to be “owner-occupied.”

A majority of commissioners and board members at that meeting agreed then that mixed-use was not developing in the district as envisioned and the city needed a viable business district of small shops and offices consistent with the city’s character.

With the owner-occupied requirement, no ROR structures were developed in the district, but 37-foot-high single-family residences were built, he noted.

Although many residents were concerned that PAR would add more rental units, Coleman pointed out that, if every one of PAR’s proposed projects is built, “we would only add six rental units to Pine Avenue.” There are currently about 400 rental units in the city, he observed.

But Woodland remained unconvinced.

He said that up until the recent planning and zoning board hearing on the ordinance, he had supported removal of the owner-occupied restriction as a member of the ad hoc comprehensive plan committee and as a city commissioner.

Now, however, he sees “problems” on removing the owner-occupied restriction and he wants “compromise.”

Woodland argued that allowing an ROR owner to rent the residential unit and the retail-office unit amounts to “commercial and commercial.”

He said multiple owners could lead to “condominium associations” and the “condo-ization of the ROR district scares me.”

But city attorney Jim Dye pointed out that the city “can’t regulate condominium ownership.” Instead, the city regulates use.

Woodland said he didn’t understand why the city did not have this authority.

In Dye’s opinion, for the city to regulate ownership, it has to show that there is “something about ownership that is harmful enough that the city has to address it.” Instead, the city regulates use.

Quam said he would prefer to have just one entity as the owner of an ROR structure, but, for the present, “our efforts should be land use for the ROR,” not ownership.

After the meeting, Quam said he “reluctantly” voted for the ordinance because it contained some good policies and procedures, but he still wanted retention of the owner-occupied requirement.

Commissioners Webb, Tollette and Mattick favored removal of the owner-occupied restriction.

Regarding a minimum rental period in the ROR, Webb said he has not yet seen a problem in the city with rowdy renters. However, if the commission does find a problem in the future, it could handle that with a licensing program and fee structure.

Tollette agreed. “It’s not important to address now. Let’s wait and see if it’s an issue and we can take care of it.”

Mattick sided with Webb and Tollette, while Quam and Woodland favored some rental limits.

After discussion, commissioners agreed to allow a swimming pool at any ROR structure, but only for the use of the residential portion. They added a restriction to use of the pool by the commercial entity.

Commissioners also agreed that package sales of alcohol in the ROR is an allowed use, but said they would later add a definition for package sales.

The commission also kept light repair businesses and pet shops as allowed ROR uses, approved adding art galleries and studios and prohibited outdoor flea markets except by a special event permit.

Commissioners accepted a proposal from city planner Alan Garrett that, for construction purposes, residential lots in the ROR platted before Feb. 15, 2009, need 5,000 square feet, a retail-office-residential lot platted prior to Feb. 15, 2009, needs 5,000 square feet, a residential lot platted after Feb. 15, 2009, requires 7,500 square feet and an office-retail lot platted after Feb. 15, 2009, needs a minimum of 5,000 square feet.

This portion of the regulation will allow a single-family home on a lot of record to be built on any ROR lot that is 5,000 square feet, said Garrett.

Owners of a lot in the Residential-1 district are required to have 7,500 square feet to build a house.

Commissioners rejected a suggestion by Quam that lot coverage for an ROR structure should be reduced to 35 percent rather than the 40 percent lot coverage allowed.

That would only bring back construction of the 37-foot-high residences, said Mattick.

The commission agreed unanimously to leave the current setback requirements unchanged.

By the end of the meeting, only a few people remained to hear Mattick say she would like to discuss meeting attendance by commissioners at a future commission workshop.

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