A divided advisory committee for Charlotte Harbor voted against a proposal to eliminate their role in reviewing specific projects — including the planned Sunseeker resort.

The Charlotte Harbor Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Committee voted 4-2 this week against recommending the rule change to the Charlotte County Commission.

Committee members James Herston, Dianne Quilty, Delmar Wooden and Charlotte Ventola voted against the rules change. Members Vanessa Oliver and Garland Wilson voted to move ahead with the rules, although Wilson said he disagrees with the reasoning.

Wilson said lawyers in his family have advised him that his committee is not acting in an improper, quasi-judicial manner, as county lawyers have insisted. Quasi-judicial would mean a board hears and evaluates evidence from an applicant.

The Charlotte Harbor committee, for example, met with Allegiant Travel Company in August about its planned Sunseeker resort project and the architectural elements. The committee offered a point system of evaluation. At that meeting, Herston noticed that Allegiant had not submitted a design for a building on the east side of U.S. 41.

Charlotte County Economic Development Director Lucienne Pears cut debate short at that time, and informed the committee that Allegiant/Sunseeker would not be offering any more information to them.

Other advisory boards in the county are also being asked by the Economic Development Office and the Legal Department to accept these new restrictions and rules, Tom David, a county attorney, said this week. The purpose of the restrictions are to protect the county from legal action by a developer claiming that they were denied due process at an advisory board. Zoning decisions are ultimately made by commissioners. Site plans are approved by professional staff.

“We want to be able to protect ourselves in court,” David said. “Under the old rules, this committee was interposed into the process, and that, we determined, was incorrect.”

Andy Dodd is the chairman of another advisory committee, for agriculture and natural resources. That committee is due to meet in November with a developer. That developer is proposing zoning that would allow a lot more housing in agricultural areas — a zone change the committee did not like. Dodd told the Sun that he now wonders whether the committee can meet with a developer.

“I would like to have a conversation with Ms. (Janette) Knowlton (county attorney) before the developer meeting. Maybe we ought to get a recommendation on the impact of that meeting,” he said.

As a former member of the Murdock Village advisory committee, Dodd said redevelopment committees need to discuss specific proposals.

“If they’re going to make them not talk about stuff, then they might as well make it (the committee) go away,” Dodd said of commissioners.

At the Charlotte Harbor meeting, Herston suggested to David that a better solution is to tell developers that any advice from the committee is not binding. David disagreed.

Some committee members, such as Quilty and Wooden, are OK with losing their ability to review specific projects. Their main objection is to new rules on attendance and meeting frequency. The proposed rules state that committee members who miss two meetings in a 12-month period will be dismissed. And the committee would go from meeting monthly to quarterly.

“You’re going to find it’s going to be very hard to find anyone to sit on this board,” Wilson said, given all the new restrictions.

“We really don’t know what we should be doing,” said committee member Charlotte Ventola. “People who are living in the area (Charlotte Harbor) are upset about this.”

Already, exceptions to the new rules seem to be coming up. For example, David said the committee might still be involved with developers asking for small-scale zone amendments. And Herston asked if the committee could discuss the developer projects that county staff tells them about.

“I don’t want to give a broad answer on something I really don’t know the facts on,” David said.


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