The proposed School Ave land use change from Multi Family Medium Density to Downtown Urban Mixed Use has ignited a heated discussion within the community. The developer's (Ron Burks) proposal asks for the most dense and intense zoning to accompany the land use change. As an inducement to the city commissioners who will decide whether to grant this change, he has offered a significant number of affordable housing units.
The proposal would establish the most dense and highest land use next to the least dense land use. This is the crux of the issue - is the most dense and intense land use compatible with the least dense and intense land use - should these uses abut each other?
All planning principles would say no, these uses should not abut each other. Instead there should be a transition of density and intensity. Our codes and comp plan call for and provide for this transition.
Yet in this case, the developer has offered significant inducements (some call it “playing the affordable housing card”) in an attempt to get 3 commissioners to support his proposal.
The community has divided with the developer/business/real estate groups pressuring the commissioners to accept the plan, saying Sarasota needs this “solution” to our affordable housing problems. The neighborhoods and residents oppose the proposal, saying we do not want such high density abutting single family residential areas and if this can happen (developer offers inducement not based on codes or comp plan requirements) here it can happen in any area of the city. Further, why have a comp plan or zoning codes if they can easily be changed?
Simmering in the background are issues of procedure. Planning staff, a city attorney and a city manager issued a memo indicating the developer had missed significant dates for filing required plans thus putting the city in a position where it would violate city codes if it approved the proposal. The developer's attorney then indicated that under his interpretation of the rules he was OK. Thus a legal battle over technicalities.
The developer has determined that his affordable housing units would be available:
1. 40% to Sarasota Memorial Hospital employees
2. 15% to Sarasota County Fire Department employees
3. 15% to City of Sarasota Police Department employees
4. 15% to teachers employed by the Sarasota County School Board
5. 15% to other (non Police Department) City of Sarasota employees
This raises issues of why this particular selection of careers and percentages. This reserves the units for those working for government, typically people who have good salaries and excellent benefit packages, something that a non-government health or teaching career person may not have. What happens when the person in the family no longer works for the government (i.e., a job change) in one of these positions, does the family get booted out?
Since no specific discussion has been released or discussed/debated how does this particular plan meet city or county affordable housing objectives?
While the developer has indicated that the units would be priced between $100,000 and $200,000, no specific information has been publicized concerning the affordable units, such as size and pricing and numbers within each range. No information has been released concerning taxes, insurance and condo fees. To meet the city and state definition of affordable or attainable, the housing cost must not exceed 30% of the family income. Additionally, the Sarasota tax assessor has stated that the units would be appraised at market value which could well exceed selling price. What happens if the units as built are difficult to sell, because of size or ongoing costs?
The developer is working on a Memorandum of Understanding with Habitat for Humanity to manage and take over the affordable housing portion of the proposal. Apparently the developer would give land and a building shell to Habitat which would then “administer” the program. As of this writing, nothing has been released as to whether an agreement has been reached or signed. Would this MOU be considered a "contract" such that the commissioners and public would feel comfortable in going forward?
Since the concept has been to keep the units affordable in the future by limiting the resale to no more than 10% annualized gain, will this formula assure perpetual affordability? 10% is higher than historical gains and would result in a doubling of price in 7 years - a rate much higher than wages and salaries are increasing.
Because of all the unanswered questions, the failure to follow the process and because of the incompatibility with low density single family land uses next to the proposal, the abutting neighborhoods, nearby neighborhoods and the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations are all opposed to this proposal. Save Our Sarasota also opposes the project for these same reasons.
We recommend that the commission deny the current proposal and ask the developer to work with the neighborhood to find a reasonable compromise that is compatible. The developer should also publish all the information concerning affordable housing aspects of this proposal so the citizens can evaluate the benefit to the public. Then the community can move forward together.
The commission will hold a hearing on this proposal Thursday September 14 at 6PM.