Manatee County's Land Development Code on the hot seat

March 4, 2014 

Today marks the first of four consecutive days of public workshops on the Phase 1 rewrite of Manatee County's Land Development Code.

With public interest intense, the Manatee County Commission and Planning Commission will host the four half-day workshops at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

The public uproar over the Christmas holiday season deadline for comments compelled the commission to wisely extend the input period another month.

The county portrays this first phase as a reorganization of certain LDC chapters, replacing and repealing provisions to eliminate inconsistencies, redundancies and outdated regulations, and to simplify a complicated code that deters redevelopment and discourages economic development.

This week's workshops -- beginning at 1:30 p.m. daily -- only cover the first of two phases.

The next round should spark far more intense public interest with its more substantive changes, and sharp criticism has already been leveled. The county will engage residents in a separate discussion at a later date.

John Osborne informed the Herald Editorial Board that the current code is "all over the place. ... That's the problem -- this 1989 code was never maintained consistent with annual legislative changes or other law changes so any change seems massive."

In checking out the changes as outlined on the county website -- mymanatee.org -- Phase 1 changes do look like "housekeeping" edits and updates. Littlejohn Engineering Associates Inc. reviewed the LDC and composed the recommended changes in the tables and rewrites. Those documents should appear back on the county website soon.

The rewrite has been evolving day by day, as evidenced by the county removing several documents from the web as the consultant and officials scrapped many changes and composed a "bare bones" reorganization.

There are some meaningful changes. The consultant recommends a new section titled Future Land Use Categories and Zoning District Compatibility -- to help determine if rezoning applications are aligned with the county's comprehensive plan categories.

Another brings the Development Review Committee, which meets twice a month, into the code. For simplicity, developers will find the rules for signage in one section instead of spread out over a batch.

County staff and a project consultant will sift through the proposed changes during the workshops, and the public will have the opportunity to comment each day.

But the bulk of the changes appear mundane -- consolidation of some standards, name and classification changes, definition revisions and such. The current LDC term "manufacturing" changes to "industrial" with a recast definition.

For convenience, the workshops will be televised and replayed on MGA (Bright House Ch. 622, Verizon Ch. 30 and Comcast Ch. 20) and the county's YouTube channel.

After this week, the next step in Phase 1 is the completion of a final draft, then a legal review and finally presentation to the county and planning commissions for final consideration later this year.

Phase 2 promises to be contentious as the county proposes to incorporate changes to mesh with "How Will We Grow," a strategy for the next two decades that has taken years to produce. Environmental concerns have already been raised with fears that development will be put on the fast track to the detriment of natural resources.

That public debate will come later. This week, the spotlight is on other elements of the Land Development Code. Let county commissioners know your thoughts on these important changes.

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