Dense development, concrete and pavement, and overgrown lots. In the name of flexibility the Charlotte Board of Commissioners is about to turn its zoning powers over to developers by allowing them to obtain project approvals under a vastly weakened Planned Development (PD) approach and avoid most zoning restrictions.

In the past, PDs, which allow you to skip some land development requirements,have been limited to properties where developers promised mixed uses (e.g. residential and commercial) and extra amenities. A PD was good for a limited time, so if the development didn’t go forward after county approvals there was incentive to sell it to a developer who would do a better job.

In the past the County Board had public input at major approval stages as the project became more defined. And the board approved the final design as well. Now the Board is considering a change to its PD rules that would give that all away. In the proposal, standards for PDs are essentially dropped. Today a PD has to have two or more uses (that’s a key element) and is asked to provide as many additional enhancements as possible, such as preservation, more open space,adaptation to natural features, etc.. In the proposal it would be enough to promise any one item. Since one of those items is simply compliance with the law, something which the developer has to do anyway, mere minimal legal compliance will be enough to get the benefit of a PD.

Under the proposal, features which were formerly required now actually get you extra density: if you have two types of uses-you get a 10% density bonus; three types of uses — a 20% bonus; a so-called “trail” system for users including motorists (is this a road?) -10%.

Extension of reclaimed water gets you a 20% density bonus, even though the sewage treatment plants in the County west of the Myakka don’t remove nitrogen from their sewage so their reclaimed water runoff actually contributes to water pollution and red tide.

It will be OK for open space to be impervious concrete. Do you wonder why we have floods after rains? It’s partially due to the expansion of impervious areas. And staff, on its own, decrease, the open space requirement.

So, consider this: the empty lot next door will be able to call itself a PD, add up to 30% more density, pave its open space, and get approval without any more than minimal public discussion.

One commissioner has complained that all he gets now for approval is a drawing of four squares and a parking lot. This proposal will enshrine that result. And by dropping standards on which to hang a decision the proposal may make it difficult for the commissioners to defend denial of a bad proposal no matter how much the public protests.

Finally, approvals under these new rules will never expire. Ever. If conditions change, or standards change, the developer still has his obsolete approval and can pass on the property, with PD approval in place for “four squares and a parking lot”, to someone else who can also sit on it, waiting for a windfall. Properties that might have been revenue earning will sit idle. A zombie property. Don’t we already have enough of those?

Addressing a related proposal last December one of the local attorneys who usually represents developers is quoted as saying, “I think it goes too far in someways.” He’s right.

The commissioners are being asked to give away their authority and responsibility for zoning … forever. The Commission hearings are June 22 and July 27. Let them know how you feel.

Angelo is conservation chair of the Friends of Cape Haze and a former environmental and land use attorney.


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