In the end, the Dunedin City Commission found a reasonable way to compromise with developers over how long their approved site plans could lie dormant without construction getting under way.
This issue, which caused an inappropriate uproar at a commission meeting July 24, was resolved quietly earlier this month when the commission decided that two years was long enough for new site plans to languish.
And for the handful of developers who already had approved site plans, an amortization period was created by the commission, giving them extra time to get their projects started.
The commission's solution, reached at the conclusion of blessedly civil conversation, considers the needs of developers in this tough economy as well as advances the city government's interest in economic development.
Commissioners realized that it was inappropriate to allow a would-be developer to tie up property indefinitely, based on having the cover of a city-approved site plan. Commissioners wanted to move aggressively to create an expiration date on all site plans, both current and new.
Richard Gehring and Bill Kimpton, local residents hoping to build a $30-million condo and retail project at Main Street and Victoria Drive, were stunned that the city might pull the rug out from under them. Their site plan was approved in 2005 with no expiration date, and they still have not begun construction. Their strenuous objections to any expiration date at the July meeting led to such overheated debate between them and commissioners that Mayor Bob Hackworth delayed a vote until this month to allow everyone to cool off.
From this point forward, any developer who gets a city-approved site plan in Dunedin will have two years to start construction.
Developers like Kimpton and Gehring who already have approved plans will get a three-year amortization period, followed by the new two-year limit to start construction.
The commissioners' goal was not to make life tougher on developers. Instead, it was to discourage the tying up of property and city staff time by developers who lack the experience and resources to deliver quality projects in a timely manner. A city's goals, circumstances and rules also can change while an approved site plan languishes, and Dunedin had no recourse that allowed it to seek changes in approved plans.
Now, if developers don't start construction by the deadline, they will have to submit a new site plan that abides by new rules, and the city can take into account any new circumstances before voting on the new site plan.
Considering current economic conditions, other cities might be wise to consider time limits, too, if their development rules now lack them.