Manatee County Commissioners may be in for a surprise if and when they read the proposed changes to our Land Development Code (LDC). It is not just a simple reorganization of the code, as the county administrator suggests, but rather a wholesale obliteration of it.
Land Development Codes are the rules that protect our community. As with any document, it may not be perfect and needs to be tweaked, as ours has been for well over 20 years. In what can only be seen as an effort to be more friendly to development, the county administrator instructed his staff to change the current codes. Except the public was told it was just a reorganization of the Code, that amounted to little more than light housekeeping.
No one really wants to have to read the code; they just want it to provide reasonable rules so that the community they live and work in remains the place they want it to be. In fact, I almost did not read the changes figuring, okay, I should be able to trust them at their word – just a reorganization. I was very wrong.
I have spent more than 22 years reading the LDC and applying the rules as a county commissioner. I have even read other city's LDC's. I can provide confirmation that our codes have served our community well, and the rules have protected our environment, while preserving our community's character and other quality of life factors.
In my opinion, the proposed changes would destroy the protections we currently enjoy, while eliminating any predictability of what development or redevelopment might take place next to your home or business.
The changes would remove specific rules on maximum density and intensity, while seeking to use the comprehensive plan to place such limits. That may sound like a good idea, but the comp plan was never intended to deal with specific zoning codes. For example, if changed, the code would allow all planned developments to be lumped together, and the comp plan would set the limits of what would happen. This offers no predictability to our community. We might be talking a concrete plant or a warehouse.
Residential zoning would not have limits in the LDC, but rely on the comp plan. So you live in a community that is zoned for 1 unit per acre; the comp plan allows 3 units per acre, but if you do affordable housing it triggers the next Future Land Use category of Res 6. The neighborhood character that you love now can change from one to six homes per acre, just like that.
The county would also change the height limits that the community fought hard to have in the code. If you want to go over 35 feet, you can, just articulate the roof lines and get creative. The community did not want these walled communities with these tall-box structures. Even cities use this protection concept in form based codes. The proposed codes remove this important provision.
The pages of red ink go on and on with each chapter. The question is: why? What proof has there been that the codes have not worked? Of course you can just hire a consultant who works under the direction of the county administrator, and you can get a seal of approval endorsing your proposal, but that's not the same as thoughtful and thorough community dialog and engagement – not by a long shot.
Another concern is a major change in what the commissioners will see when they approve planned developments. No more details; the commissioners will just approve a conceptual plan and let staff approve the details. What a totally disrespectful way to treat our citizens. Have we not heard the pleas from the members of our community to protect their way of life? There is no way a conceptual plan can provide adequate protection of those values.
The comment period for the changes ends on January 31. Then the county will start the process of implementing these wholesale changes. I would not be surprised if the final approval is in the middle of the summer while most people are out of town. After all, they tried this with the controversial Long Bar Pointe approval. Had it not been for severe storms, the skids were greased for approval.
I would encourage anyone reading this to take the time to look for themselves at all the changes proposed. It is not too late to comment, even after the deadline. And if you do not understand the changes, ask yourself this question: should I risk changing the rules which have protected my community by taking a gamble on what I do not understand and hoping it's better. My recommendation is to scrap these changes now!