Monday, March 06, 2006

CCNA Asks City To Delay Decision on Density Bonus Proposal

At Saturday's Coalition of City Neighborhood Association (CCNA) meeting, the members voted to ask the city to remove the proposed "attainable housing density bonus" comprehensive plan amendment from the current comp plan change cycle.

There are several related issues at the current time and the feeling of the CCNA members was that this particular proposed amendment was too complicated, not understood by the public, the benefit was unclear and there was considerable question about whether our current infrastructure could support this amount of increased housing.

In addition a comment from the consultants report makes one wonder about this approach: "This analysis leads to the conclusion that under current and foreseeable market conditions, even a significant density bonus is unlikely to result in new development of attainable units downtown."

Concurrently there are proposed downtown zoning district changes for several "downtown edge" areas. These proposals are pushing downtown zoning further into the neighborhoods - downtown creep, if you will. The Comp Plan amendment would allow a 4X density increase in exchange for 10% of units being affordable to residents whose income is 60% - 120% of the area median income.

A proposal for the Scottie's property on the east side of Payne Park is an example. This approximate 9.2 acre site could have about 170 units under its current zoning. If the future land use and zoning is changed, as the developer is asking, the new Downtown Core zone designation would allow 460 units. If the attainable housing density bonus were also allowed this would go to 1840 units. Of these 10%, or 184, would have to be "attainable."

This would result in a major change in the quality of life for the residents of the Alta Vista neighborhood where this is located.

The ERA Report (consultant hired by the city to draft a proposed amendment to the Comp Plan) indicates that if this amendment were enacted, it could result in an additional 28,000+ units downtown. It was estimated by the consultant that a maximum of 230-470 of these would meet the attainable housing cost requirement. This seems to be an inefficient way to achieve more attainable housing units. The comment was made that it would be less costly to the city (when infrastructure is accounted for) to just purchase the land and subsidize a developer to build 200-400 attainable units in or near downtown.

John Susce, from the Park East neighborhood, voted against the request for removing the proposal from this year's cycle. The Park East neighborhood is working with Harvey Vengroff on a large affordable housing project. Susce indicated that he had concern that if this proposal was not enacted, his neighborhood's project might not go forward.


Stan Zimmerman said...

Affordable Ant Hills?

The “increased density for affordable housing” amendments to the City of Sarasota’s Comprehensive Plan – I call it the 4X plan – may be an orphan at birth. The CCNA, with a couple of dissenting votes, weighed in against it. Several neighborhood leaders, myself included, will represent their neighborhood’s view that the encroachment of downtown urban mixed-use directly into single-family areas is not wise or wanted.
While they probably will remain silent in the public debate, at least three developers I’ve spoken with also fear the 4X plan. Their argument – increased density means smaller units that will not support the high square-footage costs of luxury sales.
Every parcel starts with a fixed area – a 50 x 100-foot lot, for example, has only 5,000 square feet. Ten stories would provide a building of 50,000 square feet. However you must subtract space for parking, pervious surface, setbacks etc. So let us assume our building gets 35,000 square feet of usable interior space. For argument, we’ll leave out lobbies, elevators, hallways and other common areas. That’s 14 condos with 2,500-square-feet apiece.
A “4X solution” provides 56 units, each with 600 square feet, on the same lot. Even the vaunted Michael Saunders will be hard-pressed to sell a 600-square-foot condo at the luxury price of $1,000 per square foot. $600,000 for a 20 x 30 studio condo? Maybe in Tokyo, but probably not in Sarasota.
This is why the “in lieu” option is necessary – if not vital – for the success of the 4X plan. It would allow developers to continue business as usual, paying “in lieu” fees (actually just another impact fee passed along to the eventual buyer) instead of actually constructing truly affordable units.
This is where Mr. Souce’s vote opposing the CCNA resolution becomes important. The Park East neighborhood, already in the downtown zone, is eager for affordable housing. The “in lieu” funding system allows developers to proceed as usual elsewhere, but contribute significant monies into a fund dedicated to creation of housing for working families in Park East.
The Alta Vista and Central Coconut neighborhoods are fearful of downtown encroachment. The idea of 1,800+ units thrust into Alta Vista (now 500 homes total) terrifies my neighbors. All three neighborhoods are probably correct in their individual assessments of the various consequences of 4X. Unfortunately those assessments are neither clear nor unanimous. More neighborhoods in the coming days will decide their stance, but only after hasty deliberation, for the Planning Board public hearing is set for March 22nd.
“Rash” may be too strong a term, but I’ll use it. The consultant’s report outlining the scope and territory involved was unveiled January 27th. Less than eight weeks later, the Planning Board is expected to make its final recommendation. This is, after all, the City Comprehensive Plan, the master document guiding our future. In some respects, the 4X plan is more sweeping than the entire 2020 Plan guiding the future of downtown. The 4X plan spills downtown zoning like an ink stain to the north and east. But while 2020 took years, 4X gets mere weeks.
Pitting neighborhood against neighborhood is not a recipe for harmonious success. For that reason alone, the plan deserves to be yanked from the current comprehensive plan cycle for greater refinement. The only champion of this plan – repeat the only champion – is a city commission determined to take action despite glaringly bad consequences.
Haste is necessary in emergencies. Deliberation is needed when making far-reaching decisions. Yes, we have a serious problem with affordable housing. No, it is not an emergency. The 4X plan calls for deliberation, not velocity. The CCNA vote last Saturday was a plea for sanity, not immediate gratification.
When even a few developers and neighborhoods signal caution, responsible public leaders should pay attention. The Law of Unintended Consequences carries a terrible, swift sword. s/Stan Zimmerman

Susan Chapman said...

I agree with Stan. I have attended several meetings concerning the density bonus concept. I have heard neighborhood representatives and developers question whether these density bonuses will actually result in affordable housing units. Even the consultant projects only 270 to 450 "attainable" units for bonuses of an additional 27,000 units in the downtown core and downtown edge. When we citizens consider the costs of infrastructure, quality of life, and the numbers of hours of time that will be expended in public-developer variance battles, it would be less expensive for the city to buy 270 units and to give them away to qualified recipients. This density bonus scheme will be an extremely inefficient tool to obtain "attainable" (not affordable)housing.

Anonymous said...

Every major traffic artery in or out of downtown is more or less gridlocked. Fruitville should be 8 lanes wide. Washington should be 6 lanes. 41 should be 8 lanes. Main St. traffic moves along at 5 mph. This is painfully obvious to anyone who lives or works in the city center. So why would anyone consider a 4X density bonus for any reason?

It is nice to have a few downtown amenities sure, but it is better to have critical infrastructure such as roads that up to the task at hand, which is clearly not the case today.

Not long ago Sarasota had plenty of affordable housing. It also had its own style, history and character; a sleepy and slightly quirky place in the sun for all kinds of diverse people including many urban expats.

In the last 10 years or so we have collectively sold the soul out of Sarasota. We have let the realtors, developers and even our city planners/fathers tantalize us with promises of imaginary wealth and amenities. The only promises actually honored were those made to super wealthy, old people who have made this town their own. The rest of us, a clear majority, have been duped into paying more for housing, higher real estate taxes, spending more time working, paying higher costs to live, dealing with daily gridlock and so on. Has our quality of life actually improved? Something to think about when your favorite local fish joint on the water gets torn down and replaced by a Mediterranean style Mc’Mansion.

Anonymous said...

The previous writer would pave paradise for cars. There is no future in building more roads for more cars in downtown Sarasota. You can not build your way out of traffic congestion.

We only have traffic congestion for about two months a year. The rest of the time there is no one here.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the point I was trying to make, since it would be physically impossible to widen any of the roadways mentioned, is that a 4X density bonus anywhere near the downtown area is not a good idea. We don't have the infrastructure to support high density living in Sarasota. I think the song said something about paving over paradise with a parking lot, which in Sarasota's case would be several multi-tiered parking garages.....