Monday, August 21, 2006

School Ave Site Plan Workshop

Observations from the School Ave Site Plan Neighborhood Workshop:

The School Ave site plan shows 4 buildings with a total of 476 units (the maximum allowed under DTC Zoning). Current zoning for the site is primarily RSF-4 which would allow 162 units.

It appeared from the drawings that the three buildings facing Payne Park were close to the sidewalk.

Revisions made from the April submission include storm water changes and some reduction in height.

The fourth building, sited perpendicular to the park, is designated for Habitat for Humanity. The architect (Don Lawson) indicated they were not "current" with the affordable housing definitions. The Attorney (Stephen Rees) indicated that "the goal from day one was affordable housing". He indicated the price range would be $100,000 to $208,000, although no details were given.

At the current time they do not have an agreement with either Habitat or Sarasota Memorial Hospital. They indicated that they have a "verbal understanding" with Habitat - details were not disclosed.

The developer (Ron Burks) indicated that he has $9,000,000 into the project as land cost. At this price he cannot build attainable houses at less than 50 units per acre. The developer said a viable option was to build luxury condos at the current density (18 u/a). He said it is the community’s choice, affordability with density increase or luxury condos.

Rees indicated that they have identified "a local need for workers that must live close to their place of work and they want to supply affordable housing for this group." He also indicated that Habitat is looking at a new model for how they operate - shared appreciation so affordability could be retained within the community (i.e., housing trust).

Apparently the proposal is to supply Habitat with a building shell that includes wiring, plumbing, etc, Habitat would finish the interior. Issues with this concept remain to be solved: the Habitat building would contain 129 units and the time for completing these units and who would do the work has not been figured out. The current Habitat model calls for the home owner to contribute significant "sweat equity" in his/her new home. The "condo model" might require work at a different home site.

When asked if mixed use (retail) was included in the proposal, the answer given was that the design could accommodate retail but it was not planned at the present as they did not see a demand for retail.

There seem to be many incomplete or hazy answers concerning this proposal. There is no agreement concerning how affordable housing would be accomplished. Habitat does not have a path forward - they are discussing at the local and national level - and there is no agreement with the hospital or other employer (city?) concerning housing. Recent budget issues at SMH would indicate they cannot afford to go with this approach: they have reneged on the employee retirement insurance promise and they have increased their tax request significantly as they continue their battle to get expenses under control. They must answer the question "is this the best way to get a few employees to live closer to the hospital?".

Finally, it seems more than a little disingenuous to claim that "the goal from day one was affordable housing." Everyone in the community knows the "affordable housing card" was a last minute ploy to save a failing project. But they got lucky and one commissioner switched saying "this is an idea that deserves a chance."

Next up is the commission hearing on the land use change request - the proposal that staff has indicated must be turned down because the application rules were not followed, and a likely court case awaits an approval, a case that is not likely to favor the city.

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