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New land codes change course for city growth

BRADENTON — After years of studies, public meetings and input, consultants and committee debates, the City Council on Wednesday approved changes to the land development regulations that set how the city will grow in the future.

Tim Polk, director of the city’s planning and community development department, said the document was necessary to implement the policies, goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan adopted last year.

The regulations were a compilation of the ideas put forth in the Tamiami Tomorrow, Downtown by Design and Realize Bradenton studies the city commissioned over the past five years, along with the Manatee County Joint Compatibility study for the county, Bradenton and Palmetto.

The changes basically simplify the previous code, Polk said, which was adopted at least 30 years ago with some changes throughout that time.

“They were very confusing for people making applications for development,” he said.

As an example, in the old regulations, zoning in residential areas was divided into 10 categories, and are now only four: single-family, two-family, multi-family and mobile home park.

Mayor Wayne Poston said the changes were necessary to meet state standards.

“Also the new codes will set standards that will attract people and business,” Poston said. “We can’t do things the old way anymore.”

The city now has a new way of operating “to compete for jobs and position ourselves so when the economy comes back, we’re prepared.”

Councilman Patrick Roff said he saw these changes as catalysts for attracting the creative class to the urban core.

While speaking in support of the new codes, Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, said a report from the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovations lists four creative-class job titles in the top 10 high-wage industries in Manatee County and Florida, such as independent artists, performing artists, and computer system designers.

“As we move forward together to attract new businesses and new residents to live and work in downtown Bradenton, and also improve the quality of life for our community,” Isham said, “it is important to make regulations that are friendly to arts and culture, while also maintaining the city’s need to prosper in the new economy.”

About five people who live near Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School attended the meeting to make sure the new regulations restrict stadium lighting to commercial fields, such as McKechnie Field, and not schools.

Ruth Seewer, the city development review manager, assured the residents the change was made.

Councilman Bemis Smith said his concern about the changes was that, even though the city advertised the public hearings, residents of various areas were not aware of changes to the zoning in their neighborhoods.

What the new codes do is match up the comprehensive plan zoning designation to the future land use map, Smith said.

For example, if an area had an R-1, or single-family, zoning, but a future land use of 10 units per acre, it now will permit the higher density without having to go through a zoning change.

“Theoretically, someone could put an apartment building in a single-family neighborhood if it meets the density requirements,” Smith said.

Polk said this type of development will not happen once the city adopts a new concept called form-based codes.

He said these new regulations will be added to the land development code, along with public arts and green building components.

Form-based codes are an alternative to conventional zoning, Polk said.

“Euclidean zoning is dominated by land use,” he said, “but form-based code’s dominate feature is design.”

He said the code follows a vision set for a particular neighborhood or area.

These codes will be set for the city’s three community redevelopment areas, Point Pleasant and Manatee Village.

According to the Form-Based Codes Institute Web site, a national organization promoting the new concept, “form-based codes address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks.”

In other words, a giant “McMansion” would not be permitted in a neighborhood of simple bungalows, even though both are single family buildings.

“The vision is going to dictate what the neighborhood wants to see,” Polk said.