Wednesday, September 30, 2015

SAB Developments to Get Automatic Commission Review Under Proposed Ordinance

Beach commission looks at getting final approval for major impact developments
Posted: September 29, 2015 - 10:13pm
St. Augustine Beach commissioners are making steps to ensure they get the last word on requests for major development in the city.
The commission unanimously voted Monday night to approve an ordinance that would bring all major impact development to them for final approval.
The rule was drafted by City Attorney Doug Burnett at the request of St. Augustine Beach Mayor Andrea Samuels in an effort to give commission responsibility over decisions on major impact development such as the Embassy Suites and other similar requests.
In June, the Planning and Zoning Board approved a request to build an Embassy Suites on A1A Beach Boulevard, even though the hotel exceeded the voted-upon 35-foot height limit.
Officials said that for flood insurance purposes, the hotel has to be raised, and the 35-foot limit doesn’t start being measured until the first floor of habitable space — which is where people will live and work.
Since a variance wasn’t needed for the hotel, approval from the commission was not needed. But Samuels said she and other members of the commission have been blamed for something they weren’t responsible for.
The new ordinance will give them that responsibility, she said.
“My impetus for this was because fingers are being pointed at me and some of my colleagues for a decision we had no way to interfere with,” Samuels said Monday night. “It is not up to us to make that decision, and I can only do what I’m allowed to do. So, since the rest of us are going to be blamed for decisions, I asked Max (Royle) and Mr. Burnett to draw this up.”
The ordinance defines major impact as any plan that:
■ Involves combined land and water area that exceeded five acres
■ Is a residential project of 10 or more dwelling units per acre of land or of 50 or more dwelling units
■ Involves more than 10,000 square feet of non-residential floor space
Currently, advisories from the Planning and Zoning Board only come to the commission on “matters relating to use designations of land, amendments to the code, conditional use permits, review developments for approval, grant or deny applications for variances and appeals of determination of the building official,” according to the land development regulations.
“If the building proposed is totally within the building code, it won’t come to you (the commission),” said Royle on Monday.
Those regulations also give the PZB authority over decisions like variances, conditional use permits for home occupations, mixed use applications, overlay district applications and appeals of decisions by the building official, which can also be appealed to the commission.
“We acknowledge that our advisory boards should be advisory and the final decision should come to us,” Samuels said.
While the ordinance presented to the commission addressed only major impact developments, Building Director Gary Larson asked the commission to recommend that all development plans go to them for review.
Commissioners also made some changes to the ordinance, which include smaller acreage for commercial properties, a decrease in square footage for commercial properties and a smaller number of dwelling units for residential projects.
“This is a good start at least,” said Commissioner Undine George. “These thresholds aren’t relevant to the city anymore because it’s so built out.”
Beach resident Tom Reynolds said the ordinance is a step in eliminating confusion.
“This is a great thing because I thought you were the bosses of everything already,” he said.
Even though the ordinance was approved, O’Brien said it isn’t a reflection on the competency of the members of the Planning and Zoning Board.
“It’s important to note Planning and Zoning has good, qualified residents who want to do a good job,” he said. “But this is what the people want.”
Royle said the ordinance will be reviewed at the PZB’s October meeting before being finalized.

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