Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Flawed Process

If you are a developer and wish to build something in Anna Maria, you work up a site plan and present it to the City. At any point you can ask our City Planner for advice and assistance on bringing your site plan into compliance with City ordinances. The Planner bills the City for the time he's spent on your project, and the City bills you.
You then present your finished plan to the City. If the City has questions about your plan, they refer your presentation to the City Planner, who again reviews it and advises whether or not it's in compliance.

It's a flawed process.

Why? Because no one is perfect. We are all prone to err.

If the City Planner errs while advising the developer, he will likely repeat that error while advising the City.

Anna Maria needs to change the planning/approval protocol now in place. We need to strengthen the system of checks and balances to decrease the likelihood of mistakes made in the planning side being automatically perpetuated on the approval side.

We need to reinstate the adversarial dynamic between developers and the City. We want our Planner concentrating on delivering the highest level of scrutiny to every site plan in his purview. And we need him to notify us immediately when any aspect of a site plan, or ordinances pertaining thereto are able to be interpreted more than one way.

We can achieve all of the above with one simple change.

By requiring developers to hire their own experts, not use ours. They hire their own architects and engineers. Let them hire their own Planner as well.

Our City Planner should not be put in the position of having to advise and consent. He needs to work for the City, and the City alone.

I am not impugning the integrity, the ethics, or the competence of our City Planner in any way. But he's been placed in an untenable position. That needs to change.


  1. Great Blog Harry. Glad to see the standards you have set for open, civil discourse. Our town needs this. As to "flawed process", certainly, you are correct, developers should provide their own site planners. Actually, this is already required. Next time you're in city hall, ask to see the site plans for our projects. You'll see they are produced by a licensed engineer. While I wish the Planner would just draw up a plan and tell us what to do, that is not the case. Just as with building plans, site plans are submitted for review and approval. As to a "second opinion", this is financially difficult in these budget times. I'm sure, however, if there are any examples of plans incorrectly approved the city would love to hear about it.

    Again, great blog !

  2. Micheal,
    The City doesn't have to wait to hear about 'plans incorrectly approved' from me.
    You, I, Bob Welch, and the City know at least four of the homes built canalside on Pine Avenue were built with the wrong setbacks.
    You asked for 'any errors'.
    Four should suffice.
    I stand by my assertion our present system is flawed and that flaw has lead to mistakes.

    I learned the lesson the City is learning the hard way. I work on bridges for a living. Several years ago, I designed a machine and handed the concept to a naval/architect for detail design. He designed it, rechecked his calculations, and we sent it in for fabrication. The manufacturer raised some questions about a certain element, so the engineer reviewed his calculations and reassured me the member was correctly sized for the stresses involved. I was three days into a project on the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, GA when that element failed. Three persons were injured. I was one of them.
    What can we learn from this? I learned the person who does the planning should be separate and apart from the person who does the approval. Two experts at least. Two sets of eyes at least.
    I still contend the City has placed too much responsibility in the hands of one individual.
    Again, thanks for responding.

  3. Actually, you kind of make the case for a professional planner. That "four house" situation was rife with multiple opinion and input. The pattern was set by the first three. It was actually the Planner, with help from the Hunts, who corrected the error. The storyline is way to convoluted to get into here, but, suffice to say, it's a long one. Also, have to confess to a bit of tunnelvision on my response, as I was thinking in terms of our projects only. Sorry.

  4. I'm thinking of your personal projects and your PAR projects and projects by others as well. You're right, it's a long convoluted story. It was the Hunts who first called out the error. The City sorted it out months later.
    At that point the City allowed you (personally) to complete your house on Pine Ave and then changed the language in the LDR to make it all fit. These are the facts. They're a matter of public record.

    Regarding professional planners, I've not suggested the City doesn't need a Planner. I'm insisting you and any other developers in town need to hire your own. You know, checks and balances, redundancy, two sets of eyes, blah, blah, blah.
    That change may increase your costs (PAR's), but should decrease the costs to the City.
    I'm aware you have your own engineer. But you are also aware, I'm sure, the City has been informed PAR's plans to date may have been approved improperly. Here's something to that effect I received yesterday. I cut and pasted it directly from an email forward, and bracketed it so you know where it begins and ends.

    (Tom spoke personally last week to the Building Official Mr. Welch and the Mayor on matters that deeply concern him and public safety & welfare. He provided them with copies of state law, building official guidelines by State of Florida DPBR, (attached) and submitted information that they may have issued improper permits. We would like to offer our services to PAR but cannot confirm who is running that business.)

    I hope you continue this conversation, Micheal. I agree, this public airing of viewpoints is long overdue.

  5. At the end of 2003 a moratorium was placed on all development in the ROR and commercial districts. During that time a Site Plan procedure was bought into effect. Our own plans, along with the plans for the Community Center, Waterfront Restaurant and Roser Cottage went through that site plan procedure. It was an extremely comprehensive site plan process and one of the requirements was that the plans were submitted to two outside consultants at the applicant’s expense in order that they could be checked for compliance.

    We, along with others who had gone through the process, were asked by the current Mayor what we thought of the site plan procedure. Our response was that it was appropriate and that if an applicant had plans that were in accordance with City codes they should pass through the process with no problems.

    The Mayor then instigated changes to the Site Plan procedure. The result is that the process has been simplified and far less is now required from the applicant. (I have even seen site plans go through without some setbacks marked). Site plans no longer go to the City Commission unless they are turned down by P and Z and the applicant wishes to appeal that decision. We now have a City Planner who advises on, and checks, the Site Plan applications. In ‘these budget times’ one has to wonder whether it would be more cost effective for the City if the applicant were to pay for two outside consultants.

  6. Respectfully, the procedures that were in place when your project was up, which took what should have been an objective, by the book, procedure and put it before a subjective, by prefence, commission, resulted in an embarrasing, for the city, and expensive, for all concerned, lawsuit.

    Now, there is a simplified, professional process and no lawsuits. By the rationale above, there should be two architects and two engineers on every building.

    Doesn't make sense, in my opinion.

  7. The lawsuit that we went through would not have been avoided using the current site plan process. Quite the contrary I think the current Site Plan procedure leaves the City far more open to a lawsuit. We have one man making the decisions and he is not infallible.

    Either you did not understand me or I do not understand you but why do my comments imply that there should be two architects and two engineers on every building? The previous procedure required that the work done by an architect and an engineer on a site plan was checked by two outside consultants (not two architects and two engineers) for compliance. In fact if this was still in effect you would not have the situation where our City Planner could be accused of working for the City and PAR which I can understand leads people to believe that there is a conflict of interest.

    Respectfully the current system is obviously not working when you are building without an architect and the City does not seem to be aware of the rules regarding this - I feel very sure that an outside firm of consultants would have picked up on it and saved a lot of embarrassment.