Study into growth rules coming under fire

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - After initially asking for a revision, Sarasota County Commissioners have accepted a $90,000 report on growth rules. However, some are still saying it's a biased report and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.

Looking for an independent economic review of how to handle growth, commissioners approved $90,000 for a study. In November they got the initial report from Laffer Associates, who are known for a lesser government regulation stance. That report suggested zoning, regulation, and fees for development shouldn't be reduced.

Some commissioners at the time were not impressed.

"Did we waste $90,000? From my perspective, yeah," said Commissioner Nora Patterson in November 2013.

This week commissioners got a revision back. Still, some are critical of the findings.

"This is a radical pro-development report." Dan Lobeck with Control Growth Now says if it's not the developers paying, it will be everyone else. "It starts off saying all developers should not have to pay anything because all development is so wonderful. Then it says if we are going to pretend developers have to pay, we are going to make everything so biased so they end up paying nothing."

"I don't think that our commission looks at this report and says ‘okay, here are our marching orders we are going to follow this’," says Commissioner Charles Hines. He says it was an attempt to figure out why developers are so unhappy with regulations in the county's 2050 plan -- a plan meant to dictate development, mostly east of I-75.

Something he says appears to be hindering growth of any kind. "We have to start questioning if it's a real alternative. If nobody is doing it, then why? That is where this whole review came up. What is the problem with it?"

The report suggests developers should at least get breaks for building affordable housing and keeping more open space. "We know people are going to move to Sarasota County. It's a great place to live. People are coming here. How do we manage that?"

Still, some like Lobeck question the need for change. "There is enough building left available on the books right now to last for the next 10 years two and a half times over."

Commissioners now want county staff to go over the report and come back to them with specifics ways to implement the recommendations.