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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021 1 week ago

County accepts bids on north county affordable project

Developers will have until April 26 to submit bids for the property at 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

After mounting frustrations with a developer that prompted county commissioners to reconsider a bid for a north county affordable housing project, they are now ready to consider new bids for the parcel.

The land, at 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, originally was slated to become a mixed-use community. A proposal from the Miami-based firm Woodwater Investments showed single- and multifamily affordable housing and retail space on the property.

Under the proposal, at least 6 acres would be used for specific needs of the neighborhood, such as the addition of a grocery store or pharmacy.

Woodwater Investments first approached the county with an unsolicited proposal in 2018, and in October 2020 commissioners approved a term sheet to help staff draft a contract for the project. 

However, in November 2020, Commissioner Nancy Detert brought up concerns that the proposal offer was too low.

The county purchased the parcel, which sits across from Emma E. Booker Elementary School, for $2.2 million in 2013. Woodwater is offering $2.5 million.

She also questioned whether a Miami-based company had the best interests of the county in mind and requested the county consider other ideas from local developers.

“We’ve heard from other people who have said: ‘I didn’t know that property was available. I could do better,’” Detert said at the time.

Eventually, Detert was successful in swaying fellow commissioners to create a competitive public process to allow other proposals for affordable, workforce or other creative housing opportunities on the site.

Now staff has opened an invitation to negotiate for the 114-acre parcel. Proposals are due to the county by April 26.

The process does not mean that Woodwater is out of the running. It just means that other proposals now have a chance to be considered.

Detert said it’s a way to “maximize the options” for the land.

The invitation to negotiate lays out specific price guidelines developers must follow. According to the negotiation, the minimum bid is $2.5 million.

Additionally, any proposal must have no fewer than 150 units, or 25% of the total dwelling units — whichever is greater — set aside for affordable housing for a minimum of 10 years.

All affordable units shall be sold or rented for households at or below 80% of the area median income, or $61,200. No less than half the affordable units shall be sold or rented for households at or below 60% AMI, or $46,020.

The property is zoned for single-family housing, but the invitation notes other concept plans will be considered by the board.

An overall timeline for the project has not been laid out, though the invitation includes a due diligence phase of six months where surveys and inspections will be done before any construction can begin.

Commissioners asked that each proposal include a timeline for completion. The bidding process for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way property comes on the heels of the county approving another affordable housing project at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail.

Commissioners opened a bidding process for the Tamiami Trail property and received six proposals. In the end, commissioners in February directed staff to negotiate with the Arts and Cultural Alliance and a developer known as Artspace for an artist community on the property.

Commissioner Mike Moran said that process allowed the county to receive unique proposals and he hopes the negotiation period for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way property will reap the same results.

“We want creative, entrepreneurial-type thought in front of this board to enhance the community,” Moran said.

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