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Sarasota Approves higher density along major corridors

Written by on Thursday, April 4, 2024

The idea is to get workforce housing. But critics say the city gives too much, for too little.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Apr. 3, 2024

Host: In a narrow 3-to-2 vote, the Sarasota City Commission passed a change to its comprehensive plan that incentivizes construction of apartments that are supposedly within financial reach of working people.  The dissenters argue we’re giving too much density to commercial developers for too little affordable housing. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: A major affordable housing incentive was approved by the zoning change has the Sarasota City Commission on the second reading at a special meeting Monday night.

It was a tight 3-2 vote with City Commissioners Erik Arroyo, Kyle Battie and Mayor Liz Alpert approving the measure. Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Debbie Trice dissented. The move would change the commercial landscape in Sarasota County. Specifically, affecting 700 properties along Sarasota’s main corridors, including the Tamiami Trail, US 301, and Fruitville Road.

The zoning change gives developers a whopping density bonus—as much as three times the norm. This, if affordable housing units are included in their building projects. It allows developers to build up to 105 units per acre in the three new affected urban-mixed-use districts. Fifteen percent of the bonus units must be attainable housing. The zoning change also provides a height bonus of up to five stories.

Sarasota’s chief city planner Briana Dobbs said the zoning change will provide attainable housing for city residents of varied incomes. Planning Director Steve Cover said the changes to the city will be gradual.

Briana Dobbs: This is something that’s going to happen over a long period of time. It’s not going to be a tidal wave of new projects coming in on the corridors and the commercial sites. 

RL: The zoning change has stirred much controversy. Proponents say it helps address the town’s affordable housing issue. Opponents, such as Commissioner Ahearn-Koch, fear the extra units and taller buildings will cause over development, increased traffic and noise, and create so-called concrete canyons. She said the 15% threshold was too low.

Jen Ahearn-Koch: So I think, that ask of what we can ask for, for affordable units, could be much higher. Then what we’re doing … we have one shot at this to get this right.

RL: Commissioner Kyle Battie said the move to increase attainable housing is long overdue.

Kyle Battie: For years, we’ve been dealing with affordable housing. It wasn’t until the prior commission and this commission that we started to address affordable housing, outside of the housing authority, to address affordable housing, and they gave us condominiums, they gave us high rises and everything that we see out here today. It was not done by the prior commission, nor this commission. So I would take 15% over zero.

RL: Commissioner Erik Arroyo pushed for passage of the zoning change, beating back attempts by Ahern-Koch to raise the affordability mark. Commissioner Trice failed to amend the new zoning text amendment to render the new districts residential-use only.

Erik Arroyo: This ordinance is more than a policy, it’s a strategic measure against the sprawl that threatens the fabric of our urban life. It represents a stand against the silent opposition to affordable housing. The voices that agree in theory but falter in action. Today we have an actionable plan. Density is not our enemy, unchecked expansion is. By concentrating on developing our commercial corridors and centers into vibrant hubs of mixed-use and attainable housing, we promote a sustainable model. Urban growth, walkability, and affordability, and creating a compact, connected, and inclusive cityscape. 

RL: This zoning amendment is the final step in a series of city zoning ordinances aimed at increasing attainable housing. It is tied to a county policy to evolve major commercial centers and corridors into mixed-use developments.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.



WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.