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City's Form-Based Code Comes Under Fire

Critics say proposed planning strategy would be too restrictive and may dissuade growth in Bradenton.

The city of Bradenton's proposed form-based code may need to be reworked after several community members — including a former state representative and at least one City Council member — voiced their displeasure Wednesday.

The code, a new urban planning strategy that would replace the city's conventional land-use zoning to ensure that new buildings fit in with the community's "DNA," came under fire during Wednesday's public hearing.

Critics, including attorney and former State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said while they agreed with the basic ideas behind form-based code — which include encouraging development and simplifying the process by creating an easier road map for developers and property owners to follow — the details in the code are too restrictive and could have the opposite effect.

"I think developers may go elsewhere and seek a slow 'yes' instead of a quick 'no,' " Galvano said.

Galvano spoke on behalf of the owners of two properties near Manatee Memorial Hospital who said they were unhappy with the restrictions the code would place on future development. They said they can build up to eight stories high on new construction under the current code but would be limited to just three stories — five if they provided workforce housing or had the building green certified — under the new code.

Galvano also warned that if the current version were adopted, form-based code would remove council members from the appeals process and open the city up to lawsuits under the state's Bert J. Harris Act, which entitles property owners to compensation if a regulation "inordinately burdens" their property.

Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo took issue with the appeals process outlined by the code, in which property owners go to the city's planning department and then take their issues to the circuit court.

The code, however, would create a "special district" for land owned by Tropicana because of the multiple industrial uses for its property and allows the company to bring its appeals before city council.

"Not everybody in this form-based code has that right, and I totally object to that," Gallo said. "Coming from the old school ... the most important thing about codes is consistency. Everybody is treated the same. And that's not the case."

Attorney Alan Prather, who represents Tropicana, said the company's operations deserve special consideration in the code, which would regulate what types of buildings and land uses are allowed in certain areas of the city's three Community Redevelopment Areas and two downtown neighborhoods.

"It is almost impossible for Tropicana to be put into a box with the other transects downtown," Prather said.

Several residents spoke in favor of the new code Wednesday, particularly of its preference for native plants in landscaping guidelines.

"What differentiates Bradenton from Houston or from Naples?" asked Laurel Schiller, co-owner of Florida Native Plants Nursery in Sarasota. "Look around. It's the old oaks, the old atmosphere here. It's the ambience of an old city in the shade of native trees."

Form-based code, based on extensive input from the public, includes guidelines for everything from the look of storefronts to the layout of parking garages, providing visual examples. It also offers incentives for green building and workforce housing and requires public art with some construction projectsin certain geographic zones that exceed $250,000.

Council members unanimously voted to continue the public hearing on form-based code at its May 11 meeting. City planning director Tim Polk said he and his staff would revise some aspects of the code to address the concerns.

For a further explanation of form-based code or to view the entire plan online, visit the city's website.

Shelley Shevchik April 14, 2011 at 11:55 AM
I am not sure if this is related to the form based code or not, but in talking about improving downtown, please consider removing the orange barrels! We have suffered enough with them during our highest traffic season. If the reason they are there is to do a traffic study.. for future development.. please consider that we still need to get into the city. With the barrels there we reroute ourselves to avoid sitting in traffic. That takes away from driving past the downtown area, where, I am assuming that you want people to drive through, stop in and be aware of. I cant believe that shrinking the driving path through our city is going to improve revenue, or attract visitors to downtown businesses. And, do the people who live in Bradenton get a say in whether they have to hobble through downtown every day?

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