Monday, September 19, 2016

Pat Neal takes request for special treatment to county commission Oct. 25

The County Commission public hearing on Pat Neal's amendment to exempt his Sarasota 2050 development from affordable housing, off-site environmental protection, mixed use, open space and Greenbelt buffers, has been set for:
Wednesday October 26
After 9 a.m.
1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota


7 – 0
Planning Commission Rejects Neal Bid for Exemptions 
On September 15, around 1 am at the end of a long agenda, the Sarasota County Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the County Commission deny a request by influential developer Pat Neal to be exempt from requirements of the Sarasota 2050 Plan. 
It was a shock from a Planning Commission which in recent years has become stacked by the County Commission with developers, construction company executives and others who make their living in development and who almost always side with development interests.  And it was doubly surprising for those who are used to Pat Neal getting whatever he wants from a County in which he has become very powerful by his major role in County Commission elections. 
Neal asked for a Comprehensive Plan amendment for a 522-acre development east of I-75 and south of Clark Road to be known as Grand Lake.  The amendment would completely waive requirements for some homes to be built as affordable housing, for mixed residential and non-residential use and for preserving off-site environmentally sensitive land by purchase and transfer of development rights for some of the requested density.  The amendment also would reduce the required open space from 50% of the property to 33% and the Greenbelt buffer around the site from 500 feet to 50 feet. 
Neal told the Planning Commission that he needed the affordable housing waiver so that he could realistically meet the “fiscal neutrality” requirement of the Sarasota 2050 Plan and County Charter.  He stated that affordable housing is not fiscally neutral, unlike the homes he plans to build, all in the range of $400,000 to a million dollars.   However, it was revealed by public testimony, County staff and a Planning Commissioner that Neal’s claim, under oath, was completely false, because the County Commission changed the Sarasota 2050 Plan to deem affordable housing to be fiscally neutral.
Neal also stated that the amendment would allow 788 homes on the 522 acres, even though the text actually would allow 1,044 homes, as confirmed at the hearing by County staff. 
County staff strongly opposed Neal’s amendment, arguing that it would violate the “core principles” of Sarasota 2050.

Several Planning Commissioners also spoke firmly against the proposal.

Chairman John Ask agreed with Neal that a TDR (Transfer of Development Right) bought from the County from its public Greenway land (and reinvested in new protected land purchases) costs $23,000 a unit but added, “I’m hearing that they can be bought for less than that on the free open market” from owners of private Greenway lands.

Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper noted that affordable housing has not only has been removed from the fiscal neutrality calculation but also that it now provides TDR credits.  Cooper also said, “One of the central tenets of (Sarasota) 2050 was affordable housing … you wipe out TDR’s, you wipe out affordable housing, you’re almost left with how far do you go before 2050 isn’t 2050 anymore? … My biggest trouble is with affordable housing, removing something the community is asking for and is ready to fall or the sword for.”

Planning Commissioner Laura Benson said Sarasota 2050 “was to provide different styles of housing for different members of our community to take advantage of” and that requirement should be kept.

Neal pointed out that the County Commission had waived the TDR requirement for other Sarasota 2050 developers to save them the cost, but Planning Commissioner Ron Cutsinger said he was not then on the Planning Commission and questioned whether that should have been done.
The Planning Commission rejected Neal’s proposal even though its Vice-Chairman, Jack Bispham, and his family own the subject property which would be sold to Neal for his development. Bispham abstained from the vote, as did (for unstated reason) Planning Commissioner Rob Morris. 
Environmentalist Jono Miller spoke against Neal’s proposal, as did I and several residents of the Serenoa Lakes Subdivision, located between the site and Clark Road.  
No members of the public spoke for it. 
During a break in the Planning Commission meeting, just before they took up the proposal, Pat Neal jokingly offered to get his opponents Uber rides home before the hearing began.  He also walked around asking, “Who wants affordable housing?” 
The Comprehensive Plan amendment now goes to the County Commission for public hearing and a vote, on a date, time and place not yet announced.     
If the hearing is after the November 8 County Commission election and Mike Moran prevails over Fredd Atkins, Moran’s vote may be expected to go for Neal.  Moran told a Tiger Bay audience on September 15 that he opposes requiring developers to build affordable housing in return for density increases, as is done in Sarasota 2050.

[Eds. note: Pat Neal has larger ambitions in this area -- see Pat Neal Grabs Land.]

  -- Dan Lobeck
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