ANNA MARIA — Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus again has called for a moratorium on site plan approvals and this time he will at least get his proposal on a meeting agenda.
The freshman commissioner, who has been a vocal critic of the way the Pine Avenue business area is evolving, got his wish last week at the close of a meeting dealing with site plans and parking in the city’s ROR (residential/office/retail) district.
The proposed moratorium will be discussed by city commissioners at a special meeting on March 4, when they will also revisit the issue of parking in the ROR district, which runs the length of Pine Avenue and includes parts of Gulf Drive south of Pine and parts of South and North Bay boulevards adjacent to Pine.
“Legally, you need an immediate threat to health, safety or welfare to impose a moratorium,” Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said after the meeting. “We don’t have that here.”
Stoltzfus objects to the current situation in which cars must cross sidewalks to enter and exit parking places — a situation he believes to be an immediate safety threat.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Turner, the chief law enforcement officer in Anna Maria, said there’s no immediate safety issue with the current parking situation, and there have been no accidents caused by the parking the city has on Pine Avenue today.
A committee formed to study the current parking issue and come up with ways to eliminate the necessity for vehicles to cross the sidewalks voted unanimously that they didn’t believe there was an immediate safety issue.
Stoltzfus has singled out projects of the Pine Avenue Restoration Project (PAR), the most active developer in the district, in his statements about safety.
And PAR, for its part, has hired a court reporter who makes a verbatim transcript of each meeting.
Mike Coleman, PAR’s managing partner, said his group wants to be part of the solution.
“If it’s possible to get to a better result, and if that’s the desire of the city at large, then we want to participate in that. If we can come up with something that’s practical, aesthetically pleasing and protective of people’s property rights, then that’s fine.”
Mayor Fran Barford said she also feels there is no immediate threat.
“Could it be better?” she asked. “Yes. It could be better, and the commission and the p&z board are working their way through the process of tightening up the ordinance to get it where they want it to be. We know that we can’t leave a lot to interpretation.”
Barford also said she believes a lot of the reason the discussions keep bogging down is that the process is being politically driven to a certain extent.
The city has fought round after round in discussions on how the parking in the ROR district — particularly along Pine Avenue — should be handled.
Late last week, Gene Aubry, a resident of the city who is a retired architect with an international reputation, created a drawing of how parking along the entire length of Pine Avenue might be handled in what he called a rational way.
“We have a chance here to make something beautiful and cohesive for our city,” Aubry said. “Years ago, it was decided that we should have a business district along Pine Avenue. The city fathers laid out 29 feet of right of way on one side of the street and 35 feet on the other side. That was great for Model T’s and buggies. You can see that in historic photos. But it doesn’t work today.”
Aubry said the way the city was laid out is what the city has to deal with today.
When all the parking is contained on site, as Stoltzfus and some residents say the code should be interpreted, then the city will end up with strip centers, according to Aubry.
“We can sit in our little box and not get anywhere, or we can take a look at the district as a whole and really work on how we want our street to look,” Aubry said. “As the cities grow up, cities change and we have to deal with automobiles as they are today.”
Aubry said not a lot of people understand how cars work.
“You can’t get a car to do what it can’t do just because you wish it would behave in a certain way.”
Aubry drew two versions of his plan — one’s about the length of two cars and the smaller version is the length of one car. Both are available for viewing at city hall.
“Gene’s drawings solve my only problem,” Commission Chair John Quam said. “My only objection all along has been that I don’t think cars should cross the sidewalk. This takes care of that. It looks like a real street.”
Quam said he also likes the idea of looking at the district as a whole and not as isolated pieces of land.
“Remember, this is a concept — an overall concept,” he said. “The actual details can be worked out.”
The actual details will be addressed at the March 4 meeting at 6 p.m.
Site plan ordinance
At that same meeting last week, commissioners were to hear the second reading of an ordinance that would return the way site plan applications are handled to the way things worked a couple of years ago.
The ordinance was tweaked at that time and some minor site plans were approved by city staff, some got final approval at the planning and zoning board, and some needed to come to the full commission.
Under the new rules that are being proposed, staff would evaluate site plans. Then they would be presented to the p&z board. The p&z board would make a recommendation to the city commission, and the city commission would have the final say.
The second reading of that ordinance will also be heard at that special meeting on March 4.