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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 4 years ago

County, city hoping to resolve longstanding tension

If the commissioners have their way, 2018 will be the year they end the downtown CRA dispute, one way or another.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

County Commissioners hope the dispute with the city of Sarasota over the downtown Community Redevelopment Area — at its core, a years-long debate over whether the county owes the city $5 million — can be partially settled in the new year with a series of solutions designed to benefit both governments.

County Commissioner Charles Hines proposed in December a multistep plan to resolve several sticking points between the two governments.

Since the dispute first came to light in 2015, the city has threatened litigation against the county, sent a list of six requests for the county to meet in lieu of the $5 million and sought payment of a lower sum. The county denied each request.

Still, county commissioners are eager to resolve the tension.

“If we stay at odds with the city of Sarasota and potentially even go to litigation, I don’t care if we win 100%,” said Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. “We lose public confidence when we can’t cooperate with our sister or brother cities.”

The solutions in Hines’ plan focus on downtown and Newtown.

First, the county would continue to fund the redevelopment of a 13-acre site on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The hope is that the site of a former dump at Marion Anderson Place could be redeveloped into a residential and commercial area. The funding was set to end in December 2017, but the city sought an extension. The county tabled the discussion until January to give the city time to consider the entire proposal.

Just south of that property, the county owns 115 acres on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way that was originally intended for a sports complex. But considering the tight county budget and the need in the community for affordable housing, Hines suggested abandoning the park plans and rezoning it for affordable housing. Other county commissioners agree.

“I think if we have this giant piece of land, at the rate land is going in this county, it’s time to pull the trigger,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said. 

County commissioners consider affordable housing as a top priority.

More immediately, the other part of Hines’ proposed plan is about parking in downtown and the city’s former police station.

In late November, the County Commission voted to sell the parcel at the corner of Main Street at U.S. 301. Although this is helping replenish the county’s emergency reserves and will add to the city’s tax rolls, its sale will leave some county staffers without parking.

To resolve this, Hines wants the city to transfer the former Sarasota Police Station property on Ringling Boulevard to the county for employee parking.

The rest of the county commissioners offered support for Hines’ plan. They called it “fair,” “lucid” and “comprehensive,” and  Detert called it “an opportunity for a whole new kind of day.”

Although the city has not offered a direct response to the proposal, Sarasota Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie said she’s had positive conversations with Hines about opportunities for collaboration between the governments. She said funding for the Marion Anderson site and support for affordable housing were two priorities she hoped to pursue alongside the county.

The County Commission will again discuss approving the redevelopment funding extension, and the larger proposed solution, at its Jan. 30 meeting.

“My goal is to try to resolve this year the CRA issue in a positive way,” Hines said. “Not in a ‘we win’ or ‘they win’ — we all will. … What I see is this is an opportunity to begin this real conversation of the win-win.”

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