DUNEDIN — Compatibility and balance came up frequently during a spirited zoning discussion April 21, leading city commissioners to give final approval to an ordinance creating the South Dunedin Character Overlay District.

Commissioners heard at length from residents in support and against the proposed district, including a few who called for a referendum on the issue.

Though no commissioner spoke in favor of a referendum, the overlay will be reviewed in a year.

City Manager Jennifer Bramley said that staff’s efforts in the period between the first and second readings of the ordinance have been to continue to strive toward a middle ground.

Though some residents still oppose the ordinance, Bramley said it helps to further the goals, objectives and policies of the comprehensive plan regarding compatibility and preserving neighborhood character.

"And keep in mind, please, as you consider this ordinance this evening, that the compatibility aspect has been our comprehensive plan, we believe, since 1974,” Bramley said. “So it's always been an important part how we govern in the city of Dunedin.”

Neighborhood meetings were held in 2019 and 2020 and a zoning study for south Dunedin were conducted as part of the process that led to the ordinance. The City Commission also had workshop on the issue in 2019.

Dunedin Community Development Director George Kinney said officials "direct mailed" every resident that lives in the character overlay district on several occasions.

"I think our outreach efforts with respect to this were outstanding," Kinney said.

Commissioners spoke at length about their reasons for supporting it.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski reiterated the move toward the district partly stems from visioning sessions and what they were hearing from people. She said she was proud that city officials and commissioners spend a lot of time listening and trying to make the overlay district concept understandable.

She had told a resident the overlay district stems in part from "McMansions and building across two lots, and a giant-sized house on a street that didn't have houses even half that size."

Bujalski said she believes some of the consequences that have been suggested have been exaggerated.

"I don't think a room addition is going to cost somebody $400,000, and if it does, you should fire your contractor," she said.

Noting that commissioners will revisit the issue next April, Commissioner Deborah Kynes said Dunedin residents may disagree on issues strongly but come to a point where they work together.

"There might be something that's not quite right, and that's OK,” she said. “What you're going do to is you are going to build to the middle. And thereby, you're protecting your neighbors from avoiding negative impact as to light, air and view. And I think that's very important.”

Stating that she has lived in the community for 35 years, Commissioner Moe Freaney said residents have always been passionate about Dunedin's charm and finding a way to preserve it.

"Dunedin is a really big success story, and part of it is making the right decisions at the right time and they are not easy," she said. "This not perfection, but it's a step. It avoids big box houses built to all setback lines, which makes it really hard on neighbors. 

The codes provide a lot of flexibility and provide balance such as by having the ability to show an alternative design if somebody is passionate about it, Freaney said.

She said the district was unanimously recommended by the Local Planning Agency, which includes two members who live in the district.

Commissioner John Tornga said the issue was about compatibility.

"This is about our Dunedin," Tornga said. "Yes, some of us might not live in that particular area, but as I considered this, I considered it like I was living in that area and I don't want to do anything that's harmful, but I do want to do something that's respectable to the community."

Commissioner Jeff Gow said, "How do we make the best impact with the smallest gesture?"

"And I think this is what we are trying to do. The last thing I want to do is negatively impact somebody's dream home," Gow said.

Alan Wilcox said the ordinance looks great on paper but spoke against it.

He walked around the parts of the district that he doesn't see on a daily basis, asking himself which of the houses would not be there if the ordinance had been in place at the time they were built.

"And there some really cool houses we wouldn't have today if an ordinance like this were in place," Wilcox said.

He also said he thinks it would be better to let the residents of the area have a referendum rather than have commissioners deciding the issue.

Amy Huber said the overlay conflicts with historic preservation properties as well as the Douglas corridor overlay. Among other issues, she also expressed concerns about procedures for going before the city's architectural review committee.

"I still think there's a lot out there that needs to be thought through and worked through," she said.

Speaking for friends and neighbors who are in favor of the district, Jeffrey Falk said he thinks the commission has done a good job vetting it.

The issue is about mass and scale, he said.‎

"If you want to build a big house, put it on an appropriate-sized lot," Falk said, adding that neighbors have rights, too.

"I don't want to impede on your rights, but don't impede on mine," Falk said.

Former City Commissioner Julie Scales thanked commissioners for listening to citizens, saying a few years ago there were a lot of people concerned about the direction the area under consideration was going.

"I think what you have come up with is very fair and balanced," she said. "I think the city manager used a middle ground approach, respecting the legal property rights of all the property owners down there."