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First affordable housing project approved in East County

The proposed apartment complex between Interstate 75 and Lena Road, Amara, will offer 25% of its units at an affordable rate.

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Manatee County commissioners unanimously approved the first affordable housing project in East County. 

“Isn’t this exciting? Affordable housing coming to District 5 showing that it’s possible,” Commissioner Ray Turner said during the Jan. 18 land use meeting.

The future apartment complex is called Amara. Developer WB Companies LLC is planning 606 units within seven buildings, no more than five stories tall.

The site of the future apartment complex, Amara, is outlined in yellow.
Courtesy image

The 20.2-acre property is located about a mile south of State Road 64 between Interstate 75 and Lena Road. It was rezoned from Suburban Agricultural to Planned Development Residential.

Out of the 606 proposed units, 152 or 25% will be set aside for “moderate income” affordable housing, and the rents must stay within the affordable range for 20 years. 

“Those are in the higher income brackets, so a single person can earn around $70,000 a year,” Housing Coordinator Rowena Young-Gopie said. “Most of these are 1-bedroom apartments.” 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development sets the rates. In Manatee County, single renters can earn between a maximum of $51,200 to qualify for the lower end of the rent benefit to $76,800 to be eligible for the higher end of the rent benefit. For two people, the income can reach a maximum of $58,500 to qualify for the lower end of the benefit to $87,840 to qualify for the higher end. 

The rental rates for the affordable units are capped by HUD, but depend on income of the renter and are ultimately left up to the landlord as long as the rent stays under the cap. A couple moving into a 2-bedroom apartment in the lowest eligible income bracket would pay no more than the cap of $1,645 a month.

Because Amara is offering affordable housing, the application was given an expedited review and certain accommodations were made within the development plan. However, WB Companies is not being offered financial incentives since its housing will serve those above the 80% median income bracket as well.  

A general development plan for the Amara project.
Courtesy image

Flexibility within the design is an incentive in this case. Amara will have less parking, buffers and trees than required under the Land Development Code. For example, the code specifies that "75% of all trees exceeding a 24-inch diameter at breast height are to be preserved around the entryway."

“That’s not going to happen on this project,” said Scott Rudacille, the attorney representing WB Companies. “Trees will be preserved where they can be, which will likely be along the perimeter of the site.” 

A 22% reduction in parking is allowed under the Affordable Housing Program, too. Instead of a ratio of 1.8 per dwelling unit, Amara will offer a ratio of 1.4, some of which will be within the building's understory garages. 

Tandem parking will be allowed in front of the detached garages as another incentive — it’s not allowed under the LDC. Tandem parking uses elongated spaces to park one car behind the other. The county stipulated that signs have to be posted to ensure cars don’t get blocked in. 

The standard 15-foot greenbelt buffer, which runs the perimeter of a property and requires a shade tree to be planted every 30 feet, was reduced to 8 feet. And the roadway buffer along Lena Road was reduced from 20 feet down to 10 feet. 

The complex will be set back about 90 feet from I-75. Due to the apartments’ close proximity to the interstate, noise was the biggest concern for staff and commissioners. 

“At the time of the final site plan, we will require a noise analysis to ensure the sound levels are less than 65 dBA,” county planner Chris Klepek said. “That could include a wall or additional screening, additional insulation in the buildings or thicker windows to bring down that noise level.” 

The site is in an industrial area; the Lena Road Landfill is directly to the east. Amara will be the first high-density project, but with Lena Road being extended to meet 44th Avenue East, Rudacille said the area is going to see a “major change.”



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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