PALMETTO -- As city officials continue to develop a downtown corridor development plan, the Palmetto City Commission voted unanimously Monday to propose amending its comprehensive plan.
Monday's public hearing served a dual purpose, according to Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Burton, who said the city comprehensive plan has long been neglected and it is time to update language while ensuring the CRA plan matches it as well.
Significant proposed changes include rezoning the coastal high hazard area, which the city established years ago from Manatee River north to Fourth Street West. Burton said the coastal high hazard area far exceeds the state model, which ends at Riverside Drive, and it could hinder downtown development.
"So we are going to follow what the law says rather than what a former city commission said," Burton. "Otherwise we are hamstringing ourselves."
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Other key issues in the amendment involve rules regarding nonconformity uses, structures and properties for properties or businesses zoned or permitted before stricter codes were written. These properties have been grandfathered into compliance.
The new language would eliminate nonconformity allowances, also known as grandfathered status, if a building or business cannot operate for 180 consecutive days.
Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore questioned whether it is fair to change the status if an act of nature forces a business to close for more than six months.
Public Works Director Allen Tusing summed it up by saying: "Let's say a neighbor builds 5 feet from your property line when it should be 10 feet now. Say it gets blown down by a hurricane. Would you want them to build right back where they were or back to the proper setbacks?"
Ward 1 Commissioner Charles Smith noted it would apply to several city buildings and businesses, including mobile home parks along the river. Smith said some mobile home parks in the city have more density than allowed today and, if a storm took out the whole park, the owner would have to rebuild to today's standards.
Burton agreed a natural disaster could have a big impact on nonconformity rules.
"But there's a difference between property rights and public safety," he said.
Burton said the city downtown map would likely shrink once the process is completed. The commission, he said, will have to redefine the borders of downtown.
"The comp plan gets you started and then you go into details," he said. "You do the comp plan first, and then the zoning changes, so you are taking it from the big picture down to the small picture."
The proposed changes will be sent to the Department of Economic Opportunity and applicable review agencies for approval.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.