VENICE – Venice Mayor Ron Feinsod attempted to draw a proverbial line in the sand – actually a line 35 feet in the sky – on Tuesday.
He contended that 35 feet was the maximum building height desired by hundreds of people who have voiced their opinion at public meetings and more than a thousand who have signed a local petition.
“It’s clear what the public wants – 35 foot to the peak of the building, nothing above 35 feet, no height exceptions, period,” Feinsod said. “That’s what the public has asked for, over and over again, thousands of comments, signatures on petitions.
“Hundreds of people showing up to our meetings, that’s what they want, I don’t know what the problem is.”
He added that he believed most people wanted no exceptions, including any decorative elements — “no frou frou stuff, nothing.
“Why we cannot respect that, I fail to understand.”
Related:Issues remain as Venice council schedules Monday workshop on land development regulations
In the debate over the building heights, the city’s land development rules should allow, Venice Planning Commission Vice Chairman Bill Wilson countered that the input Feinsod referenced represented a only small percentage of all Venice residents.
“Mr. Mayor, I think we have 23,000 people, approximately, in this city and you’re saying a thousand or thousands – that means another 20,000 that you haven’t heard from,” Willson said. “So don’t speak for me, because I know as a citizen, a voting citizen how I feel.
“Don’t speak to me and say you’re representing me, because there’s lots of me out there.”
Feinsod countered, “If your people want to speak up, they should.”
Council members Mitzie Fiedler and Helen Moore both said they had heard from people who favored flexibility above 35 feet.
City regulations now allow for developers to ask for 10 additional feet over a 35-foot limit, with unlimited height for features such as stairwells and elevator shafts. Under proposed changes, the code would set 35 feet as the midpoint of a peaked roof and limit those features to 20% above the building height.
Fiedler said that whether the 35 feet should be measured from the top of the roofline or the midpoint amounted to arguing over “six feet of inhabitable space.”
Major points of contention remain
On the biggest points of contention – building height in the downtown core, limiting the square footage of commercial space in a planned-unit development and a merger of the Architectural Review Board and Historic Preservation Board – the council did not change its stance from its previous meeting on May 24.
Regarding the latter issue, Feinsod favored the merger of the two boards, with only Moore voicing opposition.
Because Council Member Joe Neunder resigned earlier Tuesday and Vice Mayor Nick Pachota was traveling and could not get a reliable WIFI connection to attend via Zoom, the council met with only five members.
The board did make some changes to the proposed code, including one regarding density bonuses awarded for developers who build affordable housing with those extra units. The commission created a 10-year window during which the rent of those units could not be increased. That passed 4-1, with Feinsod in dissent because he favored at least a 15-year window.
The new development regulations will also be revised so the amount of open space in a planned-unit development would need to remain in perpetuity, or for at least 99 years.
That change was inspired by two planned-unit development shifts in Northeast Venice – specifically the push to add pickleball courts to the Venetian Golf & River Club – and developer Pat Neal’s stated interest to put a supermarket-anchored shopping center at the corner of Jacaranda Boulevard and Laurel Road, in the Milando development.
Venetian Golf & River Club residents are going to appeal a Planning Commission decision to allow three pickleball courts to be built near the River Club.
Earlier: Neunder resigns Venice council seat
Approval still on track for the summer
If Feinsod could get his wish, the City Council will not approve the new development rules until October, after several more public workshops and multiple board meetings.
While that may still happen, his fellow board members continued to move on a timetable that could have the first reading of the revised regulations on June 28 and a second reading on July 12.
Feinsod has previously said he will not be at the July 12 meeting and considers that deadline rushed.
The board opted to host a public workshop at 5 p.m. June 22 to receive more public comment and then a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. June 24 to discuss the regulations among themselves.
Moore scoffed at the notion that the process had been rushed, saying, “Anyone who thinks this has been fast hasn’t been paying attention for 4 ½ years.”.
In other action
Also on Tuesday, the City Council:
• Directed staff to work with Charles Hines, program director of the Florida Gulf Coast Trail, on efforts to improve access from the Legacy Trail to the part of the trail that accesses North Port via Border Road.
• Heard an update from Public Works Director Charlie Mopps to address speeding concerns on Barcelona Avenue. Mopps said there were plans to stripe a pedestrian crossing of Barcelona Avenue at Park Boulevard North and to place double yellow stripes down the center of Barcelona, to prohibit passing. Mopps noted that the average measured speed on Barcelona is 26 mph – the speed limit is 25 mph – but motorists do speed and pass slower vehicles on that road.
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.