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Date of Issue: May 27, 2009

FAR out in Anna Maria

Anna Maria’s planning and zoning board was in general agreement at its May 19 workshop to discuss city planner Alan Garrett’s proposed floor-area ratio as a means to halt the proliferation of box houses in the city.

“This is way too complicated,” said board member Frank Pytel, and no board member disagreed.

That came after listening to Garrett’s explanation that floor area ratio would be a base starting point for the total livable area of a new house. The FAR is the gross floor area divided by the lot size, he said.

Garrett suggested a starting ratio of .5 or .7.

But a builder could add livable space by meeting as yet unspecified “incentives” that would be established by the city commission, Garrett said.

The issue was first presented at the May 14 city commission meeting. Garrett then noted that some commissioners are concerned that new homes in the city are “boxes” that do not conform to the ambiance of the single-story, older homes that they find more acceptable in Anna Maria.

Commissioners, however, deferred action at that meeting until the P&Z board could review the proposal.

The FAR proposal, however, met with an unenthusiastic response from board members.

“Too complicated,” said Pytel, while board member Jim Conoly said he would prefer not to change anything in the land-development ordinance.

Board chairman Doug Copeland said he sees the problem, but FAR may not be the answer.

He noted that Garrett’s formula does not include the ground-level parking or storage. If enclosed, Copeland said, that counts as gross floor area and would establish a FAR of more than 1.

 Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations require new home construction in Anna Maria to be elevated, allowing two stories over parking/storage at the ground level, which has to be enclosed in most areas of the city, he said.

Complications could also arise if the commission tried to establish what the “incentives” would be, Copeland indicated.

But Garrett suggested the board consider the second-floor area to be a percentage of the first-floor living space.

Not a bad idea, responded Pytel.

Copeland also found the suggestion interesting, but rejected a 50 percent restriction for the second floor of livable space — third floor if the ground level is enclosed — as “draconian.”

But board members were interested in Garrett’s suggestion that the second floor of living space could be built to a maximum of 75 percent of the first floor of living space.

Although there was some concern from the board that the city might be taking away property rights, building official Bob Welch pointed out that the city has established 35 percent as the maximum lot coverage for a new residential structure.

The city can set certain minimum standards for coverage, he said, without infringing on anyone’s rights.

Garrett noted that the 75 percent idea eliminates opinions as to what “incentives” are, or what type of architecture should be constructed.

Board members liked the 75 percent suggestion and asked Garrett to take that idea back to the city commission and see if commissioners will pursue further discussion with that percentage in mind.

Former planning and zoning board chairman Tom Turner agreed with the concept, saying that the FAR proposal is “too complicated for this old country boy.

“Take that FAR and throw it out. Concentrate on livable space,” he told the board.

Non-conforming structures, uses

The board also heard from Garrett that the city ordinance governing non-conforming uses and structures has different rules for each.

Owners of non-conforming structures can perform normal maintenance and re-roof the house, while the ordinance is silent on whether non-conforming uses have the same rights.

The problem is that the city’s ordinance contains wording that the use of any structure is a non-conformity if the use “exists at a density in excess of that allowable for the zoning district in which it is located.”

Garrett said that when the city lowered the density per acre to six in the 2007 comprehensive plan, about 90 percent of the city’s residential properties became non-conforming.

“It’s not the intention of government to create non-conformity,” he said.

Striking that sentence from the ordinance eliminates the non-conforming use of the house, Garrett said.

Board members agreed and recommended Garrett return to the city commission with the board’s recommendation to eliminate those words.

The board also gave consensus to changing the ordinance to allow non-conforming structures to be re-roofed.

Garrett said the land-development regulations allow re-roofing to a non-conforming structure, but are silent on re-roofing a non-conforming use. Both non-conforming uses and structures are allowed “normal maintenance and repair,” and Garrett argued successfully that both should be allowed to re-roof.

Members gave consensus to have Garrett report to the commission that the P&Z board agrees. The commission had asked for a P&Z opinion before it considers any action.