Monday, March 27, 2006

Density Bonus Proposal

During the Planning Board hearing last week concerning the ERA density bonus proposal, Save Our Sarasota made the following statement:

Save Our Sarasota supports CCNA’s request that the city not fast track this ERA amendment. We support this proposal for two reasons---process and product.

First, the process: Last night, at the CCNA-Downtown Partnership meeting, Mr. McNees stated that this amendment was not being fast tracked, because it had been discussed by the Downtown Partnership and the city for two years. However, for the citizens, it HAS been fast tracked, with the plan and some of its surprises presented for the first time on February 14th. You are considering the amendment tonight, and the City Commission next month. However, the citizens at large, and the neighborhoods, were not part of this two year process. They deserve to be part of that process.

Then the product: In the bayfront and downtown zones, this plan offers 150 extra units for 20 units of affordable housing. Yet the consultant estimates that at the end of 10 to 15 years this program may produce only 230 to 470 units that are affordable .To achieve the 470 desired units,we would need 23 and a one half acres of high density building sites. Have we thought this problem out in a thorough manner?

There is no consideration in this study of infrastructure impact. Is 200 units per acre really appropriate on our already cluttered bayfront? In a downtown with a Traffic Concurrency Exemption Area based on 50 units per acre, under both previous and new zoning, what will be the impact on traffic, on parking, of this massive increase in density? We are going to 200 units per acre without a true mass transportation system. What of the impact on sewers, in the case of the bayfront, of runoff into the bay, and, of the downtown, into Hudson Bayou. Where is the Economic Impact Analysis, the Infrastructure Capacity Analysis, the Environmental Assessment?

The consultants recommended affordable housing units be included in the same project as market-priced units.This program was the most successful according to reasearch. Yet, we find a city-requested addendum making provision for the “in lieu” option, whereby affordable units would be segregated elsewhere.

And what of the DROD, to date not a highly successful program? It was our understanding it would be replaced by the ERA program. Now we hear talk of both operating side by side. For what reason?

And what of renters? What of year-round residents, such a necessity for our community? For every 20 units we create for year round residents we build 150 extra condos for, potentially, the second home and speculator market which is not adding to the vibrancy of our downtown.

What of alternatives? Let’s start with two. First, a floating residential overlay where neighborhoods, working with developers, agree on a viable plan for work force housing, such as appears to be happening in Park East. The current plan will not give Park East what the developer and the neighborhood are asking for. The operative phrase here would have to be “neighbors working with developers to reach solutions,” not solutions imposed from above, as lines on a map without consultation with affected citizens. North Trail neighborhoods have offered to work to identify nodes for potential work force housing and to implement live-work districts. To date, they have not been included as full partners in the N Trail Task Force. They must be.

The second suggestion is to use the city’s Palm Avenue property for a combination of parking and work force housing. The city is in control here, and has an incredible opportunity. It must not let go of that opportunity. This option has already been discussed in the CRA Advisory Board and we hope you will discuss and recommend this to the Commission. With a proper RFP asking for mixed use, mixed income project with affordable/attainable work force housing, we could have a magnificent project that would, in one year, produce almost as many units as the ERA amendment will in 10-15 years.

The ERA amendment has been described as only one tool in an affordable housing toolbox. We believe we are not putting the right tool into that box and that, through inclusive community dialogue, we can develop better tools that will offer programs with more potential for success, and with more opportunities for residents at a variety of income levels that are inclusive of lower income level households than those addressed in this amendment.

Slowing down the process is only a one year wait. During that year, together, we can put a more viable and further reaching comprehensive plan amendment in place.


Anonymous said...

It would be a crying shame if we let our city government ruin the downtown core to promote a "affordable housing" scheme that might not actually produce the intended product. A 150 unit per acre density bonus, (yeilding 200 units per acre!)is a developer's wet dream, plain and simple. It makes one wonder who actually runs Sarasota.

Anonymous said...

It is actually less expensive to build one unit than two, so it is not a developers dream to have the density. No developer will intentionally build something that will not sell, so really it is the market that should set density. We are talking about the same building just with different insides. Remember every unit has to have many things that seperate it from the other units, baths, electric, door, insulation and so it is not always affrodable to make more than less. What more units allows is more options to the public and a diverse choice. This should be supported not frowned upon.

Anonymous said...

Developers estimate costs for their projects and then add on a profit margin to establish a base selling price. If demand is high they raise prices above the base. If demand is slack they scale back the profit margin, but of course no one wants to sell below cost. Therefore, lower density projects, with less costs and fewer selling units, have a lot less total profit potential than high density projects. A density bonus of 150 units per acre could put three or four times as much money to the bottom line of a successful project.

It is also a fallacy to suppose "we are talking about the same building just with different insides". Lower density means 6 or 7 stories vs 10 to 18 stories tall for high density. Lower density buildings don't have to be built "lot line to lot line". They can leave room for a few trees, open spaces. They don't steal their neighbours sunlight. They make fewer demands on city infrastructure, are easier to build, cause fewer street closures etc.