A note from a regular reader of this blog:
They've had several good editorials lately. Referring to the "density bonus" discussion, I am really interested in the "in lieu" of option. At CRA Advisory Board meeting David Smith explained, in response to questions from the committee about "in lieu of" options, that the consultants (ERA) are against them. They do not like having affordable units built in other places in the city and think they are best if successfully integrated into a larger project.
However, Smith said, the planning department wanted the "in lieu of" option and had consultants prepare one as an addendum. At that point there was discussion of "in lieu" and it was nothing like what was in the newspaper. There was no reference to the cost of building downtown being too much for a developer. One developer and two realtors talked about it being too hard to sell a project with affordable units in it.
I was really offended that I might live in a city where there are people who would refuse to live in the same building as the people who vacuum their carpets, wait on them at restaurants, play beautiful music for them at orchestra concerts, dance for them as part of the ballet, choose to be social workers, etc. for idealistic reasons rather than choosing a more lucrative profession. I can handle high buildings and loss of greenspace more easily that the sentiments I heard expressed at that meeting. Say it isn't so!
And, again, am really interested in hearing from those who have thought a lot about this. Another question: If you choose the "in lieu" option...should you really be allowed the huge density bonus?
Today's SHT editorial is about the affordable housing density bonus idea for downtown Sarasota.
The editorial says "take off the rose colored glasses." Some excerpts:
The city is clearly trying to do the right thing by encouraging the construction of lower-cost housing. But the consultants' report suggests that even if the city were to double or quadruple allowable density in downtown zoning districts -- a big boon to developers -- little affordable housing would result unless additional incentives were provided. In essence the report concludes that, because of high costs and other construction hurdles downtown, density bonuses aren't enough to persuade most developers to build affordable units within their projects.
With astronomical real estate prices, the downtown is becoming an enclave for the rich. Mixing in some units that working people can afford has appeal because it would preserve demographic diversity. But in the downtown, "affordable" units would likely be small ones -- which would leave out many families.
An "in lieu of" option, where developers pay for the privilege of the density bonus but don't build the affordable units within their own project, might prove more effective at broadening the supply of work-force housing. As the consultants noted, the in-lieu-of fee would have to be carefully calibrated (in their example it exceeded $330,000). But its use would be flexible, funding anything from nonprofit housing construction to down-payment assistance and rental subsidies on homes outside the downtown.
The editorial points out that this is a complex issue and needs to have public understanding, public input. We would add that a good measure of listening and questioning by the commissioners will be greatly appreciated. This should not be a rushed process.