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Sarasota Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 1 week ago

County selects preferred developer for North Trail housing

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The County Commission intends to sell a U.S. 41 site to facilitate private construction of up to 95 affordable units, foregoing a previously favored proposal for artist housing.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The County Commission is moving toward selling a North Trail property to a Tampa affordable housing developer, voting unanimously Tuesday to direct staff to advance negotiations on the sale of the site.

Since late 2019, the county has identified 6.2 acres at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail as land that could be sold to facilitate an affordable housing project. On Tuesday, the commission selected Blue Sky Communities as its favored buyer from a group of three finalists. The developer plans to build between 92 and 95 units affordable to residents making between 30% and 80% of the area’s median income.

Conceptual rendering of proposed affordable housing development at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail.
Blue Sky Communities provided two different conceptual renderings showing their plans for an affordable housing project at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail. Rendering via Sarasota County

Tuesday’s vote represented a reversal for the commission, which identified the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County as its preferred partner for an affordable housing project on the site in February. The Arts Alliance partnered with Minneapolis-based nonprofit Artspace on a proposal for up to 64 live-work artist housing units.

In June, county staff reported that negotiations with the Arts Alliance had failed to produce an agreement that met the commission's preferred terms, which included a $1.95 million sale price with a $195,000 deposit and plans to build at least 96 affordable units with no park on the site. On Tuesday, staff said the Arts Alliance initially did not meet the desired asking price, but the group revised its offer to $1.95 million once negotiations expanded to include two other parties.

Although the Arts Alliance's final proposal met most of the commission’s guidelines, the board expressed concern that negotiations did not go smoothly.

“​​To me, it’s too little, too late,” Commissioner Ron Cutsinger said. “You had the opportunity, then went through those gyrations. That’s very problematic to me.”

Board members also raised questions about the level of detail in the Arts Alliance proposal. The commission indicated it was more comfortable with the proposal from Blue Sky Communities, which is partnering with Sarasota-based affordable and supportive housing nonprofit CASL on the project. Blue Sky Communities and CASL previously collaborated on the Arbor Village housing development on Fruitville Road.

Commissioner Nancy Detert said she felt the experience of Blue Sky Communities was an asset in ensuring an affordable housing project ultimately comes to fruition.

“​​What I’m looking for is: Who would have the biggest opportunity for success?” Detert said.

Blue Sky Communities indicated it hoped to complete the permitting process by summer 2023 and finish construction on a project by September 2024.

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