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County seeks public input on affordable housing incentive plan

Written by on Sunday, August 27, 2023

Last fall, the Sarasota City Commission voted to allow developers to build at higher densities in certain areas if their projects include affordable housing. But will it work?

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: August 25, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: Working people are leaving the city of Sarasota in droves because they can’t afford the mortgages and rents here. So the city of Sarasota Commission voted last fall to allow developers to build at higher density in and near downtown and along major thoroughfares…if the project includes affordable housing. Will it work? As they say, the devil is in the detail.

Planners came up with the specifics for that plan and the city now put these rules before the public in a series of events. Ramon Lopez was at one of the community events yesterday.

Host: Last November, the Sarasota City Commission approved a comprehensive plan amendment to increase the opportunity for attainable housing in downtown Sarasota and along other Sarasota city commercial corridors and centers. As a result, the City Planning Department is holding three open houses in North, East, and South Sarasota to get public input on the move. Some have called it a major step towards ending the housing crisis. Others call it a billion dollar giveaway to developers.

The first open house was held Thursday night in Selby Library with sparse attendance. Rezoning of specific areas are not proposed at this time and will be discussed at a later date, City Planning Department workers said.

The second session will be held September 20 at the VFW on Tuttle Avenue. The third open house will take place on September 27 at the Arlington Park gym on Waldemere Street. Events run from 5:30 to 7pm.

The goal of the amendment is to create affordable rental housing close to established business quarters with public transportation nearby. The amendment will allow a mixed use of both residential and commercial properties for what city planning officials call the “missing middle working class professionals” who can’t afford rental units within city limits. They include teachers, blue collar workers, nurses, police officers and firefighters, among others.

The urban mixed-use amendment provides a density incentive to real estate developers when attainable housing is provided. It allows for three times above the existing base density of 35 housing units per acre, meaning 105 residences, with a minimum of 15% of the bonus units required to be designated as attainable. Steve Cover, Sarasota city’s Planning Department Director said the city needs to get public input as the amendment is implemented.

Steve Cover: So, we’re hoping to get, really, as much public input as we possibly can before we start formulating these zoning text amendments. I know that we had a tremendous amount of input from the public on one of our downtown zoning text amendments.

Host: Briana Dobbs, the city’s Chief Planner, spoke at Selby Library and outlined what happens next.

Briana Dobbs: Then we’re going to be continuing our outreach with neighborhoods, businesses and other organizations. So we are interested to coming to the neighborhood associations for some more personalized interactions and receiving feedback. And then filing the zoning text amendment in the fall/winter of 2023, going to the development review committee in the fall or winter of 2023, and then planning on Planning Board and City Commission in early 2024, and that’s even more opportunity for public involvement in the form of public hearings.

Host: Steve Cover told WSLR News there was initial opposition to the amendment.

SC: There was some opposition when we proposed changes in downtown, but at the very end, there really wasn’t any opposition at all. Once we went through and got everyone’s ideas and put together what we thought was really sound recommendations, we had, really, a tremendous amount of support. What I think people realize, there are a lot of people that work downtown in the service industry and, really, all other areas. And to be able to provide attainable housing downtown, where they’re not driving 30 minutes to get to work, and can actually walk out of their building and walk to work, it really is going to transform the city.

Host: Cover said the situation outside of downtown Sarasota is different, and he believes residents there will favor the city’s move.

SC: This is really pretty different. What we’re proposing or what we’re addressing are properties along the major corridors, and a lot of them are immediately adjacent to single family communities. When we were dealing with downtown, we really didn’t have many single family communities adjacent to what we were proposing. So this will be a very different kind of feedback, I think, because it’s going to be coming from much lower-density areas. So it will be interesting to see [unintelligible].

Host: The regular Sarasota City Commission meeting on Monday, September the 5th will see the second reading for the ordinance to incentivize the development of affordable and attainable housing in the downtown zoning districts. Cover said three undisclosed projects are waiting in the wings once final approval is granted. WSLR News will be there to report on what comes out.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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