Friday, July 10, 2015

Developer Seeks Removal of Affordable Housing

Developer Seeks Removal of Affordable Housing

From Affordable Housing Overlay, Far East of I-75

Just one more urban sprawl outrage after another, and this one at the expense of affordable housing.

On Tuesday, July 14, the Sarasota County Commission will hold the first of two public hearings on a developer's proposal, supported by County staff and the developer-packed Planning Commission, to slash the affordable housing required in the Affordable Housing Overlay far east of I-75 from 50% to 60% of all homes on the 412 acres, to a mere 15%.

The amendment to the Comprehensive Plan would also reduce the required time for the housing to remain affordable from forever (the current requirement if it is 50% affordable) or ten years (if it is 60%) to just five years.

"Affordable" under current data is defined as sold to a family (if four people) earning not more than $60,700 for a certain portion of the homes and $48,560 for others.

The hearing is scheduled as the final item, number 8, in the morning session that begins at 9 am at the north county administration center, 1660 Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.  A second public hearing is scheduled for September 22.

The Affordable Housing Overlay was approved in 2006 to allow urban density in this 412 acre parcel, at the eastern end of Palmer Boulevard where it connects to Iona Road, east of the Bee Ridge Extension.  The affordable housing requirement was the trade-off accepted by the developer for the urban density, in what was designated the Affordable Housing Overlay.  With that, the property was rezoned from one unit per ten acres to 2.5 units per acre.

This followed an unsuccessful attempt by the developer to extend the Urban Service Area boundary to include the property, in 2002.

Amazingly, County staff agrees with the developer that the affordable housing requirement should be essentially abandoned on the basis that "it has been ineffective in producing the desired results since its adoption in 2007."

Has anyone told staff that was when a housing recession hit the county and the nation and almost nothing was being built in Sarasota County, affordable or otherwise, until very recent years?  Of course they know this, but they just want to allow the developer the excuse, the same one that was used to gut the Sarasota 2050 Plan that was finalized around the same time.

Another reason for the delay in developing this property is that the developer tried previously to gut the affordable housing requirement with a proposal to instead make a large payment for affordable housing elsewhere.  That was rejected by the County Commission on a 5 to 0 vote on November 20, 2013, on the basis that the affordable housing requirement was too important to weaken or abandon.  Certainly, that argument remains more viable than ever.

Now however, the developer has hopes that this County Commission, which is more decidedly pro-developer than ever before, will say yes.

Concerned citizens will be watching closely, to see if there is anything that will prevent these Commissioners from advancing urban sprawl, even their expressed commitment to affordable housing.

  -- Dan Lobeck
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