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Vice mayor makes last-ditch effort to stop major zoning change

Written by on Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Jen Ahearn-Koch tries to have more discussion on attainable-corridor incentives.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: May 8, 2024

Host: The vice mayor of Sarasota made a last-gasp effort to stop a major zoning change that changes what can be built along major thoroughfares in the city. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Debbie Trice on Monday moved to reverse a 3-2 vote by the full Sarasota City Commission in a special session last month to expand a major attainable housing incentive for developers.

The vote on Monday turned out to be a replay: A tight 3-2 vote to reject the proposal by the vice mayor and Trice, with City Commissioners Erik Arroyo, Kyle Battie and Mayor Liz Alpert voting to not rescind the measure.

As it stands, the move would change the commercial landscape in the City of Sarasota. Specifically, it affects 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 urban-mixed-use districts, of at least 15% of the total units are “attainable”. The zoning changes also provide 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.

The zoning change has stirred much controversy. Proponents say it helps address the town’s affordable housing issue.
Opponents, such as the vice mayor, fear the extra units and taller buildings will cause over-development, increase traffic and noise, and create “concrete canyons”. She said the 15% threshold was too low.

The move by Ahearn-Koch pretty much revived her failed arguments in April. And the rescission move on the April vote fell on deaf ears of their fellow commissioners, including Erik Arroyo.


Jen Ahearn-Koch: So my request is to support the decision to allow commission discussion on these four items. One, the percentage of affordable housing requirements of total units anything higher than 11%, which is at the very bottom. Number Two, the density bonus offered. These two work together, and it’s often a sliding scale. So that’s the second item for consideration and discussion. Three, decrease the attainable area median income from 80% to something lower, anything lower, than 80% where it starts at. And Four, to remove the commercial corridors from the urban mixed-use corridors, to allow for the potential of mandatory inclusionary zoning. I think it is very important that we get this right. Sometimes doing something is not better than doing nothing, if what we’re doing is not going to address what we’re really trying to do. I don’t think anybody wants to make the situation worse. We all want to try to make it better. What I’m asking is that you rescind your vote to allow for discussion. And that is it. Just discussion. I have no expectations of anything else. I just feel that there’s more discussion to be had about getting these four items right.

Erik Arroyo: I’m not going to be rescinding my vote. We’ve visited these points before. And so I find myself just repeating the arguments that I’ve made in the past, but we’re also repeating the votes that we’ve made in the past. So here we are.

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.


Elsewhere in Sarasota County, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Danielle Brewer denied a request by developer Pat Neal to present additional arguments to her. She is considering a challenge filed by residents opposing a Venice City Council’s decision last August. It favored a proposed shopping center in Venice. This means Judge Brewer will decide on evidence in hand. A ruling is expected in the coming months.

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.