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City gives input on downtown affordable housing plan

No action was taken, but Sarasota city commissioners request more research before it comes up for a vote.

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At the onset of Monday’s Sarasota Clty Commission workshop on affordable housing, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch wondered aloud why, if no input from commissioners will alter details in the plan before its formal presentation to the Planning Board, they were meeting at all.

She wasn’t alone.

“Well, I guess it's like having an argument with your wife,” Commissioner Debbie Trice offered as an analogy. “You tell her what you’re complaining about, and she’d say, ‘Yeah, I heard you, but I’m not taking any action.’”

Communication being critical to a successful relationship, City Manager Marlon Brown said a discussion between staff and commissioners that only a workshop can facilitate will make for a more perfect union when the zoning text amendments eventually come before the commission in a formal setting.

The proposed amendments are in part the result of two public workshops and meetings between planning staff and numerous downtown neighborhood groups. The first round of affordable housing incentives contained within them will apply only to the four downtown zoning districts. Plans for commercial corridors will follow later this year.

Chief among the proposed incentives are bonuses of up to four times the base density for new developments that voluntarily include a minimum of 15% of those bonus units priced for renters or buyers in three income tiers — 80% and below Sarasota County’s area median income, 81%-100% AMI and 101%-120% AMI. The formula is intended to yield 11.5% of new development units priced in those ranges.

Along with Planning Director Steven Cover, three planning staff members made the same presentation to commissioners that they made at a March 1 town hall. It will also be the same one they present to the Planning Board, which will make its recommendation on the plan at its May meeting. 

It was not received without pushback, though, led by Ahearn-Koch who said the city isn’t getting enough affordable and attainable units in exchange for the density bonus offered.

She also challenged staff’s insistence that developers say a less generous bonus density and ratio of affordable-to-market rate units will yield no tangible results.

“I've reached out to you all about (Miami Commissioner) Ken Russell,” she said. “They are building right now inclusionary housing in downtown Miami and having a tremendous amount of success, and they are including much higher percentages of attainable housing units. There are affordable housing developers who would be more than happy with those numbers.”

Trice asked staff to include income distribution data to show the percentage of the population at the three target AMI tiers, which may provide guidance on where the city should focus its efforts.

“We don't know if half of our population that's below that median (income) is also below 80%. We don't know that whether half of our population that's over the 120% AMI are the people who want the super luxury,” Trice said. “Let's get the distribution so we can show factually why we are aiming for this distribution for affordable housing.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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