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Housing ordinance approved, incentivizing affordable units downtown

The Sarasota City Commission approved incentives for public parking and attainable housing, though the lack of public input remains a point of contention.

The first phase of Sarasota Station by One Stop Housing on Fruitville Road is planned for 201 units, at least 20% of them priced at or below the range for 80% of the area median income.
The first phase of Sarasota Station by One Stop Housing on Fruitville Road is planned for 201 units, at least 20% of them priced at or below the range for 80% of the area median income.
Courtesy rendering Osborn Sharp Architects
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Prior to unanimously approving on second reading the city’s new affordable housing ordinance within the four downtown zoning districts, staff addressed a handful of changes made since first reading approval in August

That discussion among commissioners resulted in more clarity to what constitutes a building entrance, public parking and sidewalk incentives for additional density, and whether community workshops should be mandatory or voluntary.

Language was clarified about an extra floor and bonus densities when public parking is provided in association with the new developments and when additional sidewalk widths and pedestrian amenity space are included. 

Two topics that stimulated the most discussion among commissioners, though, surrounded building entrances and community workshops. 

During the first reading, Commissioner Erik Arroyo surfaced the subject of the so-called “poor door,” an entrance separate from that of the building’s market rate apartments for residents of the affordable and attainable units. 

During second reading, staff and City Manager Marlon Brown said the ordinance stipulates that all entrances must be indistinguishable, and if there are separate entrances they would be dedicated for owner-occupied units and rental units, should a development include both. 

Developers most likely won’t intermix for-sale and rental units on the same floors, Planning General Manager Ryan Chapdelain said, so separate — but indistinguishable and functionally equivalent — entrances will be permitted for owners and renters.

“If you’re mixing them, there are financing challenges irrespective of if they’re attainable or not,” Chapdelain said. “If you have rentals interspersed with market-rate owner-occupied units, there are financing challenges for the developer to be able to do that.”

Otherwise, the affordable units — whether for-sale or rentals — must be equally dispersed among like dwellings throughout the project, and all with the same front door. 

Qualifying projects throughout all downtown zones must dedicate at least 15% of the bonus density units for attainable housing, spread equally among what is considered a monthly cost feasible — including utilities — for those earning 80% or below area median income (AMI), 81%-100% AMI and 101%-120% AMI.

The median household income for Sarasota County in 2021 was $69,490.

No public workshops

In addition to a density bonus when a developer includes the requisite number of affordable, attainable or workforce priced units, the ordinance includes incentives for providing public parking spaces and sidewalk designs beyond those required in the zoning districts.

When a development provides a minimum of 25 public parking spaces on-site, the maximum building height may be increased from 10 stories to 11 in the Downtown Core. The gross floor area of the additional story may be up to two times the gross floor area allocated to the city for public parking. The public parking must be in addition to the minimum required parking for the project. On-site public parking must be identified by signage, clearly visible from one or more streets. 

Public parking may not be used for valet purposes and the available hours must be consistent with the hours of operation for city-owned parking facilities.

A development will also be eligible for an additional story above the maximum 10 stories in the Downtown Core when providing at least five public parking spaces (three times the gross floor area of additional public parking) and a sidewalk system with a minimum 8-foot-wide pedestrian zone and six-foot-wide amenity zone (four times the gross floor area of the enhanced sidewalk).

Because any development meeting all the criteria for the density and height bonuses in exchange for including attainable housing will undergo only administrative review and approval, just like luxury residential projects in the downtown zoning districts, they will not require input from the surrounding community. 

That doesn’t sit well with commissioners Jen Ahearn-Koch and Debbie Trice, who agreed that, while project approval will not follow the political process, both the community and the developer benefit from sharing information, and should be required, especially downtown, because of the quadrupling bonus density of 50 units per acre to 200 units.

Their position didn’t set well with Mayor Kyle Battie. “You don't want to use words like 'discriminatory,' but when it's not done presently, then I don't see why we need to try and implement that now,” Battie said of a community workshop mandate.

Arroyo said requiring public workshops would add another layer of disincentive for developments that have proven to be difficult to incentivize in the downtown zones.

“We don't require public workshops for luxury housing. There should be no reason to require it for when they're going to be providing some workforce housing,” Arroyo said. "The same scale of the building applies. This isn't going to be like some mass distortion from what would be presented under a luxury housing model.”

Ahearn-Koch insisted that her point was not the affordable housing element, but rather the matter of density that should require some measure of public input. 

For now, community workshops for developments with attainable housing are voluntary per the ordinance, and both Ahearn-Koch and Trice said they supported approval regardless in deference to the need.

“If this commission changes their mind later and decides to include mandatory community workshops, would that be something that we would be able to change at the commission level?” Ahearn-Koch asked City Attorney Robert Fournier, who confirmed that could be done.

Viability of the ordinance may be tested soon. Staff has told commissioners several developments have been awaiting ordinance approval prior to submitting.



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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