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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 2 months ago

County seeks other proposals for parcel

Following a Miami company's interest in county-owned land, commissioners agree to seek additional ideas.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

A 114-acre county-owned parcel  could potentially be developed as affordable housing, but commissioners will likely hear from other developers first.

Since October, staff has been preparing the land in question, located at 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Way. 

A plan proposed to the county by Woodwater Investments, a Miami-based company, would feature single-family houses, townhouses and a commercial strip center.

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

Woodwater Investments approached the county with an unsolicited proposal in 2018 and commissioners in May directed county staffers to work on the details of the sale. 

In October,

commissioners approved a term sheet to help staff draft a contract for the project.

The only step remaining on the project is for staff to work with Woodwater Investments on a contract to bring before the board for approval.

However, throughout the process, Commissioner Nancy Detert has been a dissenting voice. 

She questioned whether the county should selling the property, across from Emma E. Booker Elementary School, for such a low price. 

If the proposal is approved, Woodwater will purchase the property for $2.5 million after the county purchased the site for $2.2 million in 2013.

She also questioned whether a Miami-based company has the best interests of the county in mind.

Throughout the process, Detert has been unsuccessful in swaying her fellow commissioners who said the project would bring good benefits to the area. 

However, on Nov. 17, she won unanimous support to try a new approach.

Detert made a motion asking County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to create a competitive public process for proposals for an affordable/workforce housing project or other creative housing opportunities on the site.

“It doesn’t limit us to anything. It doesn’t limit us to one proposal by one guy from Miami. It doesn’t limit us to just affordable or just workforce,” Detert said. “ … As long as it’s housing, I’m willing to take a look at it.”

Other opportunities, Detert said, could include a tiny house community — in idea she has suggested in the past — or an artist colony. 

Opening a solicitation process, she said, would allow the county to consider other ideas from community members.

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

Commissioners unanimously supported the motion, which Lewis said will likely result in a formal Invitation to Negotiate for several companies. 

However, Commissioner Alan Maio said he did not want staff to take a year to collect proposals.

Lewis said the ITN or any other form of solicitation the county advertises could have a 30-day window.

Commission Chair Mike Moran said he’d like to include a stipulation in the advertising so that those hoping to submit a proposal know that the parcel does not solely have to be for housing, but it could include some type of mix that includes housing and other potential uses.

“If someone comes with a really creative project that includes housing but also might be a hybrid of something else — sports, some type of multiuse — that would be great,” Moran said. “It doesn’t stop people from bringing creative ideas that are related to affordable housing.”

Maio said he’d also like to see some type of development to address the lack of restaurants and grocery stores in the area  by adding a small grocery store or pharmacy.

Staff will now work to open a solicitation period for the project. The motion does not stop the county from continuing negotiations with Woodwater Investments.

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