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Steps taken toward adding 200-plus low-income housing units

A site map shows the current and proposed buildings of Lofts on Lemon.
A site map shows the current and proposed buildings of Lofts on Lemon.
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Two providers of affordable housing have taken regulatory steps toward bringing a net gain of more than 200 low-income apartments to Sarasota following approvals by the Planning Board at its June 12 meeting.

The board approved a three-story, 36-unit expansion of Oakridge Apartments by Sarasota-based One Stop Housing. It also recommended to the Sarasota City Commission that it approve the redevelopment of 64 public housing units into the 144-unit next phase of Amaryllis Park Place by the Sarasota Housing Authority, and a utility easement vacation for the SHA's Lofts on Lemon II.

It was a study in contrast as the board reluctantly granted approval of the Oakridge plans, but not without criticism for its motel-like design that matches the existing 120 units, then praising the SHA’s project for the “dignity” it provides its residents. 

The Planning Board has approval authority for Oakridge but can only recommend approval to the City Commission for Amaryllis Park Place and the Lofts on Lemon procedural matter. The latter is still under staff review.

The open corridor design of the Oakridge Apartments expansion is consistent with the existing buildings.
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The Oakridge Apartments expansion at 4900 N. Tamiami Trail was approved by a 4-1 vote with Chairman Michael Halflants opposed, largely because the new units mirror the outside corridor model of the current building. In addition to Oakridge, One Stop Housing has converted similar structures along North Tamiami Trail into low-cost apartments.

Halflants said he was “saddened” by the design because it offers no privacy for residents with neighbors walking past windows in the open outdoor corridors.

“It's clear this is not market rate because if it's a project that was to go to the market, nobody would want to live there,” said Halflants, himself an architect. “To me it's like basic decency to provide privacy to the residents. … The fact that it's an addition to a motel doesn't mean that it has to be designed as a motel again.”

Halflants challenged project architect Leonardo Lunardi — who ironically once worked at the firm of Halflants + Pichette — to choose which of the apartments he would most like to live in. He responded he would select units on one end because of limited resident circulation there.

The site of Oakridge Apartments on North Tamiami Trail is outlined in red. The 36-unit expansion will be located to the rear of the property.
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He also had more to say in response to Halflants’ critique.

“The reason we went with the outside corridor was for two reasons,” he said. “One was to keep in line with existing building that was already there. The other one was because of a comment that came from the (Development Review Committee) for safety and the ability to see people walking around due to specific concerns that were brought up.”

Board member Daniel Clermont, also an architect, said he appreciated Halflants’ comments about the design, but it didn't outweigh the need for more affordable housing or the willingness for One Stop Housing to provide it.

“For me, it’s not enough to deny it," he said.

Amaryllis Park Place III

Sarasota Housing Authority plans to demolish 64 existing public housing residences and replace them with three three-story buildings with 144 units that will all be priced affordable for residents at 60% or below area median income.

In place of the aging current structures will be a mix of 30 one-bedroom, 72 two-bedroom and 42 three-bedroom apartments.

“These are all affordable units, not attainable, so they're for the lower income brackets,” said project consultant Joel Friedman. “That's important, I think, for the community to understand.”

The consensus among the board was praise for the project, describing the design as providing dignity and a sense of identity for its future residents.

Not related to the site plan, alternate board member Douglas Christy, attending the meeting in place of the absent Daniel Deleo, asked SHA Executive Director William Russell about the displacement of the current residents while the new units are built.

“This is probably the seventh relocation we've done so it's something we've done quite a few times already,” Russell said, adding that some will move into other newly built public housing developments nearby. “The others all have Section 8 vouchers so they're in the process of relocating. It's going to be a three- to four-month process, but some have already found places and moved out. They will continue to have affordable housing.”

In addition, the SHA will cover the cost of moving, utility deposits, security deposits and other relocation-related expenses.

Lofts on Lemon II

The board also unanimously recommended approval of a utility easement vacation along Lemon Avenue to allow construction of Lofts on Lemon II, which will include 100 affordable and attainable priced apartments. The project is planned to be built across the parking lot from the first phase of Lofts on Lemon, located along Cohen Way between Boulevard of the Arts and Ninth Street.

The second phase will bring the total number of units at Lofts on Lemon to 220.

In all, the Planning Board considered measures that will eventually bring 226 affordable and attainable rental residences to the city.

“I think our community is doing a pretty good job, and we’re seeing some of it today, of providing affordable and attainable housing and I think the momentum is in the right direction that regard,” Clermont said.



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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