ANNA MARIA — Separate ownership of the residential and business portions of buildings on Pine Avenue will be allowed following a vote Feb. 12 by the city commission.
At the packed meeting, commissioners approved the land development regulations that make the separate ownership legal in the city’s small residential/office/retail district (ROR).
"It’s good to encourage business, but you have to control where it’s going to be and that’s (Pine Avenue) a good place for your community to put your businesses," County Commissioner and Holmes Beach resident and former Mayor Carol Whitmore said. "You have to prepare for what’s coming and have controlled growth. This is a good thing for you guys."
Whitmore was one of a majority of people who spoke in favor of including the language in the regulations that allow the separate ownership clause to remain.
The decision was the culmination of a process that began more than five years ago, when the city established a task force to begin a state-mandated revision of its comprehensive plan.
"We saw a mixed-use district that was not working and that was rapidly becoming residential," said Micheal Coleman, the managing partner for Pine Avenue Restoration, which is in the ROR district. "Allowing separate ownership was considered and then included as a way to encourage mixed use. It was discussed in public meetings by the task force as a proposed change to the comp plan, passed by the P&Z (planning and zoning board) and by the commission and ultimately adopted as the comp plan."
"The comp plan is the most important document a city has in land use," City Planner Alan Garrett said. "Once passed, the land development regulations have to be in concert with the comp plan. In cases of conflict between the two documents, the comp plan prevails."
The state gives counties and municipalities a time frame in which they must bring the comp plan and LDRs together. Anna Maria has until April 11 to submit its LDR revisions to the Florida Department of Community Affairs.
Though some of the speakers at the public hearing seemed to believe that the hearing was about the Pine Avenue Project, most spoke about the district as a whole.
"I hope you will balance the concerns of the business community with the concerns of the residents and require a one-week minimum rental," said Sally Eaton, who owns property on Spring Avenue. "Please make sure the six-foot fence and landscape buffers as recommended by the environmental committee are included."
Commissioner Dale Woodland, who had been in favor of separate ownership from the earliest days of the task force, changed his mind at the zero hour.
"I just never considered that the units would be used for short term rentals." He said. "Short term rentals are a commercial use. That makes the upstairs commercial and the downstairs commercial. Where’s the mixed use?"
And it was those short-term rentals that caused most of the dissent. Up until several residents discovered that the residential units of the Pine Avenue Project were being pitched as a good market for short-term rental units, residents seemed comfortable with having non-business owners as their neighbors.
Then there was consideration of requiring a seven-day minimum in the ROR district while allowing the rest of the city to keep no minimum rental restrictions, but most commissioners didn’t want different regulations for different parts of the city.
After more than two hours of public input and commission debate, the LDRs passed as written.
"I’m relieved, of course, but it was a good debate," Coleman said after the meeting. "It’s obvious we have a good process in place. I hope we can all be good neighbors."