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371 affordable housing units planned for site near Newtown

The project is part of a nearly 1,500-unit multifamily development that will include a grocery store and pharmacy on 114 acres of county land at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Tuttle Avenue.

The master development plan for 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The master development plan for 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Courtesy image
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Sarasota County commissioners have unanimously approved the groundwork for a massive mixed-use development on 113.8 acres of county property near the Sarasota city limit, a partially affordable housing project by the same developer building a nearly adjacent upscale neighborhood in the county’s jurisdiction.

At their Feb. 21 meeting, commissioners adopted a three-part application by its hand-picked developer, Midtown SRQ (formerly known as Gracewater Midtown), for land use changes that would allow it to build as many as 1,479 residential units and up to 20,000 square feet of commercial space on land located at 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, under the condition that at least 25% of the residences must be priced as affordable housing.

If fully built out, that comes to 371 units, half of them priced at 60% or below and half at 80% or below average median income (AMI). Affordability is generally defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of household income, including utilities. The site is bounded on three sides by MLK Jr. Way, Tuttle Avenue and Myrtle Street.

Gracewater SRQ is also the developer of the Gracewater community just north of the site on Tuttle Avenue, where nearly 500 single-family and twin villa homes are planned on the former Rolling Green Golf Club. Prices for those start at $500,000.

The contract between the county and Midtown SRQ also requires that the commercial component include at least a pharmacy and grocery store, which attorney Bill Merrill, who represented the developer in the public hearing, said addresses a critical need in the area.

“I heard this from Jon Thaxton of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation that this is one of the two primary food deserts in the county,” Merrill said of the location just north and east of the Newtown community. “By bringing a grocery store and a pharmacy to the area, that should resolve that issue.”

After putting the vacant property up for bid, the county reached an agreement with Midtown SRQ on March 29, 2022. In the aftermath for Hurricane Ian, the land was used as a staging area and recycling site for vegetative debris.

Nearby residents who addressed commissioners during the public hearing cited concerns about more traffic on underperforming roads as well as displacement and gentrification.

The county-owned site off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way was used for recycling vegetative debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“This property is currently vacant. It's not a recreation area. It’s fenced off so no one can access it. It's not a park,” Merrill said. “It's not proposed to be displacing anyone. We don't see this as being a displacement situation or gentrification, but instead it is a very ideally situated property near schools so kids can walk rather than have to have their parents drive them to school.”

To allow for planning on the development to take the next step, the County Commission approved:

  • A comprehensive plan amendment to change the Future Land Use of the property from Moderate Density Residential to High Density Residential.
  • Defining the project as a Development of Critical Concern.
  • Rezoning the site from two Residential Single-Family districts to Residential Multi-Family Planned Unit Development.

Staff recommended approval of the comprehensive plan amendment because the site is surrounded by existing residential land uses with similar Future Land Use designations, and that it offers the highest and best use of land for its location. It also lies within an urban area of the county where there the demand for affordable housing is acute.

Infrastructure improvement needs

That need notwithstanding, Commissioner Mark Smith’s primary concern was the traffic that nearly 1,500 more housing units would add to the overburdened local road network.

The three access points into the development are at MLK Jr. Way, Myrtle Street and Tuttle Avenue. City questioned staff on whether the county can expedite improvements to the streets, given the extra burden anticipated.

“Myrtle Street, Tuttle Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Way right now are at a level of service at D,” Smith said. “By 2028, Myrtle will stay at D but Tuttle and Martin Luther King are going to (service level F). Then in the long-range 2045 plan, they basically stay the same.”

An aerial map of 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Courtesy image

The Highway Capacity Manual of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the U.S. defines service level D as "Steady Traffic at High Density," which creates a "low level of comfort for drivers, as collisions with other vehicles, must constantly be avoided."

The HCM defines service level F as "Congestion," leading to "unstable speed with the formation of waiting lines at several points." 

Commissioner Joe Neunder mentioned the county’s transportation master plan and asked when improvements on those roads might occur.

“We have a list of projects that, if money was not an obstacle, could be done on our transportation network,” said County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. “You have heard our Public Works Director and County Engineer Spencer Anderson say multiple times how much infrastructure there is beyond that. Even with the money that the voters dedicated to transportation coming out of surtax, there are many roads that that need infrastructure improvement that are not currently funded.”

That could change in May should commissioners provide direction to prioritize the roads around the proposed development as the budget cycle heats up and the county’s capital improvement plan is discussed. 

Midtown SRQ cannot be required to improve the existing deficiencies on those streets. That responsibility falls on the governing jurisdiction rather than the developer, in accordance with the state’s 2011 Community Planning Act.

The developer, though, is required to add sidewalk around the site and has agreed to complete an off-site missing section of sidewalk between the site and the adjacent Newtown Estates Park, which Merrill said will provide safer pedestrian access to Booker Elementary School across MLK Jr. Way and the nearby Booker Middle School.

Neighborhood creation

The nearly 114 acres won’t be completely developed. The site map shows two wetlands and two large ponds among five phases of multifamily structures. The commercial component will be at the corner of Tuttle Avenue and Myrtle Street.

Kelly Klepper of land planner Kimley-Horn said the development will far exceed county buffer requirements,

“Especially along the western boundary, we've actually increased the buffer to not only retain the existing vegetation, but also augment that by about three to four times the minimum width as is required by the county code,” Klepper said.

The unit mix within the project will draw a variety of residents there, according to Merrill. Throughout the development will be apartment buildings, villas and townhomes, with a range of economic diversity from market rate to affordability for the lower end of the income spectrum.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger specified the affordability aspect in his motion to approve the comprehensive plan amendment and associated rezoning requests.

“It's not lost on me that 371 of these units will be affordable, and at the lower levels,” he said. “It could be at 100% or 120% of AMI, and these are 80% and 60%, which is hard to get to that level right now with the cost of construction. I like the fact that the kids are going be able to walk to school, to the library and to the amenities there. I think that creates that internal capture and a sense of community.”

The commission’s actions did not include any site or building plans, which must come before staff and the commission before any construction can begin. No time frame was suggested for those submissions.



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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