Two model home projects that were denied by the Board of Planning & Zoning were approved by City Council Monday night in a quasi judicial resolution hearing. A third P&Z project, an ordinance amendment regulating fences and landscaping on waterfront property was shot down before a public hearing date was set.
A resolution requesting a model home site at 4223-4227 Chiquita Boulevard, near Beach Parkway, sailed through council's hearing process as every aspect of the project met or exceeded city requirements for such a project in a residential zone. A model home is allowed in a residential (R-1B) zone with special exception approval for a period of five years with the option of filing for a second five-year period. At the end of one or both five-year terms the house usually is sold to a single family and the parking lot accompanying the model is removed.
The second model home resolution request was a bit more contentious as more than a dozen area residents were at the meeting to object to the project for 5741-5747 Rose Garden Road.
Residents objected, citing various allegations: an increase in traffic, it being a commercial operation, being unsightly, creating a circus environment, blending in with the surroundings, increased crime and security concerns, among other points.
The builder, Sinclair Custom Homes, argued that all aspects of model home regulations for allowing a model home in a residential (R-1B) zone are being met or exceeded by the project. In fact, the builder went above and beyond by scheduling a meeting with neighbors to hash out concerns. Sinclair then modified its plan to appease the neighbors.
Councilmember Jim Burch met with the builder earlier Monday and brokered an agreement that he believed would salve the objections.
"This is one of those difficult things, to say 'no' to a model home. Believe me, I feel you and I understand," Burch told the objecting neighbors. "It's a beautiful neighborhood, but this is one of those times that I have to make a decision I don't want to make. The impact of traffic is not compelling enough to deny this request. I go to a bank once or twice a week. I go to a model home once and never go back.
"The builder has done everything they can do. Everyone will not get everything they want, but this is the best deal I can get for the people living there," he said.
That deal adds conditions beyond the five recommended by staff. It modifies the allowable hours of operation to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. There will be no feather banners or temporary signs or inflatables on the site, a high-end security system will be used and the model home term is reduced by 20 percent to four years. The driveway to the garage, if one is installed, will be roped off so no vehicles can park there. One monument style sign will be allowed on the site and the parking lot is to be screened from view by the landscaping plan submitted with the request.
The resolution passed 7-1, with Mayor Marni Sawicki dissenting because she believed putting the additional conditions on the project was too restrictive.
"I think this is a win-win for the owner and the residents," Burch added. "I don't think we are setting precedent here with these conditions because every case is different."
P&Z's ordinance amendment was introduced to council in order to set a public hearing date, but council members already had received numerous emails about the proposal to reduce the regulation for fencing and landscaping on waterfront parcels. Council requested highlights of the staff's proposal which reduces the current setback rule from a seawall of 20 feet to just seven feet for fences. Anything within the seven feet would have had to be "mesh" type so as not to block the view for the adjoining properties.
Staff said the main reason for the proposal was to deal with the language of the current ordinance by eliminating the prohibition of landscaping on waterfront properties that "shall unreasonably restrict or block the view of a canal or or other waterway from an adjoining lot." The concern centered on who or what determined what constitutes the meaning of "unreasonably restrict."
Sawicki subsequently withdrew her sponsorship of the ordinance thereby prohibiting it from moving forward in its current form. It could be brought back by P&Z as part of some other proposal in the future.