Commissioner Shelin spoke to the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association this past Thursday. The topic was the recent proposed comprehensive plan change and its potential effect on their neighborhood. This is the proposed condo development for the School Ave site bordering the eastern side of Payne Park.
Visitors from CCNA, Laurel Park and Save Our Sarasota also attended to hear what Commissioner Shelin would say about this.
After preliminary comments about the recent city budget and the 4X density comp plan proposal, he was asked to focus more on the School Ave Project as this was the most pressing question for the Alta Vista Neighborhood.
Shelin indicated that there have been some comments received from DCA (Florida Dept of Community Affairs) that will require modification of the original proposals.
Apparently DCA had objections and comments concerning the lack of a transportation plan, coastal evacuation issues and compatibility with some state requirements (like the need to include taxes and insurance in the affordability calculation, as well as keeping the housing at less than 30% of the income). Hopefully the city will provide a link to the DCA comments.
He then reiterated his previous stance that this process has been mis-characterized by many people as being a request for Downtown Core Zoning and that it was not given final approval. He continues to indicate that this was only the first step in the process and that a required step is to ask DCA for comment on whether the proposal meets state requirements. If it does, the process can continue.
Kelly Kirschner, President of AVNA, asked if a comp plan proposal that had been submitted to DCA had ever been shelved - in other words, the submittal is really a decision to proceed assuming the state says OK. The answer had already been researched by Kelly as he indicated that in discussion with the city attorney, the attorney indicated that in his recollection the last 80 or so comp plan amendments that had been submitted to DCA were all passed.
While Shelin did not comment on this, he continued to say that the decision had not been made and that hearings will be scheduled for public input.
Shelin said that he does not support DTC zoning. He thinks Downtown Edge (DTE) may be more appropriate (5 stories max, 25 units per acre density). He said he will support DTE if the other 5 areas proposed for change to DTE in a "companion" comp plan proposal are approved for DTE zoning. He indicated he had discussed this with the developer.
When asked about the proffer the developer had attached to his request for the land use change, Shelin said he did not consider it since that was a "site plan" issue and is appropriate for zoning not land use changes. When questioned about a similar land use and zoning change about 2 years ago (Asian Museum of Art) Shelin said that was different, it was a signed proffer. The Asian Museum land use was changed, but that decision is now being reversed since the museum will not be built.
Shelin also said he was not surprised the evening of the commission decision on this change, when only two hours prior to the meeting the developer brought in a different plan that included affordable housing as a component. Shelin said that he had met a week earlier with the developer (Ron Burks) and the Habitat for Humanity director and they indicated they were working on a change to the plan, a change to include affordable housing. Shelin said that while he liked the affordable housing inclusion it did not necessarily change his decision.
The AVNA group was not happy with the answers and the explanations and there were a lot of grim faces. When asked about supporting the residents of the city, Shelin said it is his job to listen to all "constituents" and make the best decision. This echoes Commissioner Bilyeu’s comments at a past AVNA meeting about listening to business owners instead of residents.
One of the undercurrents was the issue of when do commissioners make up their mind and how can residents make their voice be heard and counted. As Commissioner Shelin recounted various meetings with developer Ron Burks, the residents got the feeling that access to commissioners is a powerful tool that developers use. Residents, especially volunteers that work at jobs, have limited time to talk with commissioners. They do not have the time to take commissioners to breakfast, lunch or dinner; they don’t have time during the day to schedule appointments with commissioners. They all wonder when the decisions are made and how much does this constant access, available only to special interests (that usually profit form it) weigh on the decisions made.
While Commissioner Shelin indicates that his mind is not necessarily made up, his comments that evening left little doubt in most people’s minds. The question then becomes how much more time do residents want to spend banging their heads against the wall.