Entrepreneur Harvey Vengroff has spent nearly three years and more than $300,000 in pursuit of an affordable housing complex near downtown Sarasota.
Today, a bill for $1,600 was enough to make him walk away from it all.
“It wasn’t a logical decision,” Vengroff said. “It wasn’t a decision that required a lot of time and meetings. It was just — I’ve reached the end.”
At the end of 2017, despite Vengroff’s public frustration with regulations and fees associated with the project, he was optimistic it would finally gain all necessary approvals for construction in the new year. Vengroff intended to build 368 apartments on an 8-acre site at 2211 Fruitville Road.
But the fees tied to a required city meeting were a breaking point, Vengroff said today. It made him think about the hurdles left to clear and the expenses still to come.
And so, in an email Friday morning, Vengroff wrote that rising construction costs and remaining regulatory fees have made the proposal “no longer affordable.’’
“I quit,’’ the email’s first line read.
Vengroff declared he was done with the affordable housing plans once before, upset with proposed city regulations that eventually led to a negotiated compromise in 2016. Throughout 2017, there was a continuing dialogue between Vengroff’s team and the city, in which the developer sought to avoid some rules and standard expenses associated with new projects.
City staff members said they tried to accommodate Vengroff’s requests wherever feasible. City Manager Tom Barwin noted that the city agreed to double the residential density on the site and waive the project’s mobility impact fee.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into trying to facilitate this with Harvey,” Barwin said.
Still, Vengroff said other municipalities have been able to better respond to the challenges of building market-rate affordable housing.
“I don’t think the individuals in the city are doing anything wrong,” Vengroff said. “They’re just working in the framework of what they have. I think they’re all basically good people that are constrained by the rules they have. Other cities work outside of the box a little bit.”
Barwin said he was disappointed to learn about Vengroff’s decision, and agreed that it spoke to a need for increased flexibility to allow for the development of more affordable housing. He hoped the state would pursue legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to waive impact fees for affordable projects.
“We certainly need new tools,” Barwin said. “The market isn’t meeting it — we see the challenges of the market in this project.”
Vengroff said he has no other plans to develop the Fruitville Road property. For now, his focus on building new housing units will be concentrated outside of the city limits.
“We’re doing business in so many other cities now, and they welcome us,” Vengroff said. “Everybody kind of likes what we do, except Sarasota.”