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City of Sarasota commissioners discuss workforce housing incentives

Written by on Sunday, January 7, 2024

Proposed zoning changes offer developers higher density for attainable housing.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Jan. 5, 2024

Host: Some describe it as a silver bullet to end the affordable housing crisis. Others call it a billion-dollar giveaway to developers. On Monday, the City of Sarasota commission will discuss major zoning changes, and WSLR News reporter Ramon Lopez already got an earful from critics.

Graphic depicting building height and setback in the proposed zoning change.

Ramon Lopez: 2024 has just begun, but it didn’t take long for county and city government bodies to get into controversial topics. Monday night, Jan. 8, a workshop will be held regarding mega-hotels on Siesta Key, an unsettled issue facing the Sarasota County Commission. Earlier in the day, the Sarasota City Commission will hold a workshop at city hall to discuss staff recommendations regarding a proposed change to the comprehensive plan, to incentivize construction of workforce housing along the city’s major thoroughfares.

“Commercial Corridors and Commercial Centers Attainable Housing Zone Text Amendment (24-ZTA-02)”, the zoning lingo name given to the proposed measure, is offering commercial developers to construct taller and denser buildings, in exchange for “attainable” apartments.

Voters won’t be allowed to speak at the workshop, but the ZTA has already drawn fire from concerned citizens. Community activist Kelly Franklin has sounded alarm bells over the ZTA. She says that “the city planning staff has again taken public
policy into their own hands, out of sunshine, and in direct contradiction to what was set forth as policy by the city commission. Something is seriously wrong at city hall.”

Franklin believes the ZTA, as drafted, would raise downtown building height limits, make sidewalks unsafe, and allow for bonus floors for hotel rooms, but produce little, if any, affordable housing for Sarasota’s workforce.

Kelly Franklin: You see, what that does is, it creates a prison. And that’s what this corridor zoning plan would do: A series of prisons, but luxury ones. When you do 14-foot ceilings, you’re talking luxury ceilings. Ten foot is what affordable housing is. This is slash-and-burn and clear-and-cut, and then build a city nobody’s going to be able to live in or want to visit.

Map of the proposed zoning changes in the City of Sarasota. The areas in green will allow higher density.

RL: Franklin believes City Attorney Bob Fournier was left out of the policy formulation, which she says is inconsistent with the legislative intent. For his part, Fournier told Franklin in an email that the planning staff, not the city attorney’s office drafts ZTAs. He said his associates and planning staff have talked about the proposals. Regarding whether the proposed ZTA is consistent with direction given by the city commission, Fournier told Franklin he would not raise objections unless it was unlawful. He sees this as a policy question for the city commission to decide, regarding the best way to address a particular problem or situation.

Ron Kashden, a CPA, civic activist and Laurel Park Neighborhood Association board member — who also happens to be Franklin’s husband — weighed in on the matter at the latest city commission meeting.

Kashden

Ron Kashden: Over the holiday week, the planning department released the corridor attainable housing ZTA text. This ZTA will affect all property along US 41 as well as along Fruitville, 301, 10th Street, 12th Street, and the Beneva corridors. Instead of just being an optional attainable housing density bonus, which is what we expected the planning department to create, they use the downtown zoning as a basis to create a completely new zoning district. Shockingly, the commission’s objectives, directives were not followed. And what was included in this text not only increases the height in the corridor, but multiplies it by a factor of two to three times greater than the current code allows. This ZTA will turn the corridor into a concrete canyon, with 90-foot buildings facing the street. Now I’m not here to ask you to reject the ZTA. Because, after reading the texts, you’ll come to that decision on your own. I’m asking that during next Monday’s scheduled workshop, you focus on how the ZTA process has gotten so far off the rails. Given the wrong direction that the bar and restaurant definitions ZTA took, it is vital for the commission to fix the underlying process, and that you should use the workshop to reset how the planning department operates.

RL: It should be noted that Kashden has filed to run for the City Commission District Two seat.

WSLR News asked Franklin what she expects to come out of the workshop on Monday morning.

KF: I don’t know what to expect. I hope that the commission directs the city manager to have an in-depth conversation with his planning staff about the necessity to follow the rules set forth in our charter and the role that they have in terms of serving the public. If we have a functioning city commission, what they should do at Monday’s workshop is say, ‘We’re going to put these aside, because this has nothing to do with the tasks that you were assigned, or what the comp plan parameters set out. We’re going to put this aside, and we’re going to focus on what the processes and procedures are that are set forth in our charter for developing laws and policies, and how we’re going to make sure our planning staff complies with those’. That’s what should happen.

RL: You can find the proposed ZTA text here: https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/2354274/Final_CC_Workshop_Backup_Material.pdf

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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