SARASOTA -- While Sarasota County continues to grow, the Comprehensive Plan that has been used to guide planning decisions has not been updated since 2006.
Some of the data in the current 1,300-page plan is from as early as 2000.
So much has changed since then, particularly with growth in the eastern reaches, that county staff will begin updating the document over a 18-month period, from start to first draft.
County staff presented the time line and update process of the Comprehensive Plan to the Sarasota County Commission at its Wednesday meeting. The Comprehensive Plan, including the Sarasota 2050 Plan, serves as a guide for the growth in unincorporated portions of the county.
"We are looking at preparing an update to a document that brings in a lot of community elements that we see on a daily basis and includes parks and recreation, libraries, transportation and the environmental levels as well," Thomas Polk, county's director of planning and development services, said. "We are going to be exploring opportunities to really see where we want to be headed as a county, moreover as a community, going forward, what is important to us, what we should be focusing on and not forgetting how we got there."
The update process, which is slated to begin in March, will focus on five areas: updating the appropriate baseline date and information; improving the plan's clarity, purpose and intent; strengthening connections between chapter and topic areas; concentrating focus on lands inside the Urban Service Boundary; and improving implementation where opportunities exist.
County staff is scheduled to evaluate the plan through a series of cycles, which will each last about two to four months and will include different steps, such as public workshops and a web site for the educational materials and surveys.
To complete the update of the plan's 12 chapters, each cycle will be organized around one of seven Central Planning Themes: environmental systems, mobility, economic development, public utilities, land use and urban design, quality of life, capital improvements and completion cycle.
The project kick-off is set for around March 1, which is the tentative start date of the update process. The first draft of the update will be completed in September 2016, with county commissioners' workshops to be held in October 2015 and May 2016. The public hearing and plan adoption is tentatively scheduled for December 2016.
"I never thought I would say that I am excited about getting us a more user-friendly comp plan document," Commissioner Carolyn Mason, who will be the board's chair in 2015. "This is exciting stuff. It is ground-breaking."
County administrator Thomas Harmer applauded the county's efforts during the meeting for completing the update internally as "a lot of counties and cities will hire an outside consultant."
"There was a lot learned in 2050 and I think that they've built upon that and put together a pretty good process with a lot of public discussion at the cycle stage with board members, and they are doing that internally," Harmer said.
Chairman Charles Hines echoed Harmer.
"I am glad it is our staff doing it because no one knows our stuff more than our staff," Hines said.
Also Wednesday, the commission unanimously approved a rezoning of a development in eastern Sarasota County, making it the first Hamlet-Planned District filed and reviewed under the Sarasota 2050 Plan, according to Mark Loveridge, project manager in the county's planning and development services department. Commissioner Alan Maio recused himself from the discussion and the vote. He has a business relationship with the property owner.
In the hamlet, there will be 400 dwelling units in the 1,000-acre subdivision, or about one dwelling unit for every 2.5 acres. Sixty percent of the development will be open space, which Loveridge said "reflects an effort to meet the constraints of 2050."
"I am hoping that we will see immense success with this," Commissioner Christine Robinson said of the development's .4 density. "This is a great example of what we want."
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.