Board members amend staff proposal to call for one parking space for a unit up to 900 square feet
Sarasota County commissioners this week applauded staff for helping them take the first in a series of steps they have pressed for as they seek to increase the number of affordable housing units in the community.
On a unanimous vote, the board approved new parking regulations designed to reduce developers’ expenses and spur the construction of less expensive condominiums and apartments. However, after the urging of two members of a nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable housing, the commissioners modified one segment of the zoning text amendment to allow for one vehicle for both single-family and multi-family dwelling units up to 900 square feet.
Although no presentation on the proposed amendment was scheduled for the board’s regular meeting on Jan. 17 in Sarasota, Chair Nancy Detert announced that two people had signed Request to Speak cards for the public hearing.
Andrea Reiter and Robert Kirkpatrick, representing Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE), both told the commissioners they believe thousands of people would lose the opportunity for affordable housing if the board approved the amendment as proposed, which called for one parking space for each unit up to 750 square feet.
Families need more than  or 700 square feet, Reiter and Kirkpatrick both said.
Both also suggested the board change the amendment to allow the one-vehicle requirement for units up to 950 square feet.
“With almost 1,500 families [of four] in the county earning under $37,000 [a year],” Reiter told the board, “that would suggest that many of those families are a paycheck away from homelessness.”
Moreover, Reiter continued, the Sarasota County School District has reported that about half of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. “That suggests a high level of economic instability for families.”
Sarasota County School District statistics show that the percentage of those students rose from 41% in 2007 to 51% in 2016. For a child to qualify for free meals in 2016, the child’s family of four could not earn more than $31,525, the School Board’s 2016-17 Budget Executive Summary says.
Commissioner Alan Maio addressed the SURE members’ comments, saying that he thought he had mentioned the 900-square-foot dwelling unit size in earlier board discussions about spurring affordable housing development. County staff members “have to be complimented because, with the speed of light, they’ve got a new ordinance ready for us to work on,” he added. However, they chose the 750 square foot figure, Maio continued, and he did not want to derail the ordinance’s adoption during the Jan. 17 meeting by arguing for a change if he was the only commissioner who thought a higher figure would be better.
Still, Maio continued, “I would have preferred the 900 square feet, because I think it captures a bigger body of housing stock.”
Then Commissioner Paul Caragiulo added that he was not sure how the 750 figure ended up in the proposed zoning amendment, either. “It doesn’t seem like a very big jump, 750 to 900, and if it does provide more opportunities, then I’m totally agreeable to it.”
Commissioner Charles Hines said his general understanding is that a unit with 650 to 750 square feet would allow for one bedroom, one bathroom, a seating area and perhaps a small kitchen. If the board changed the zoning amendment to increase the square footage up to 900, that potentially would enable the inclusion of a second bedroom.
“I’ve got a single mom daughter,” Maio responded. “That’s exactly where I was going,” he told Hines. “I could design her, at 900 square feet, a very adequate apartment for her and my grandson,” and one car would be all she needed. “That’s exactly the class of citizens that could most use the help.”
An ongoing process
Maio also pointed out that the board last year asked staff to work on reducing impact fees, as well as mobility and capacity fees — such as those for water hook-ups — to make development of affordable housing more attractive to builders. The parking amendment, he noted, was just the first one to come to the board for action. “It’s progress; it’s an incremental step.”
After Chair Detert closed the public hearing, Caragiulo made the motion to change the language in the zoning amendment to allow for one parking space up to 900 square feet.
Then Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy asked for clarification about whether Caragiulo wanted that to apply to multi-family units, as well.
Much of the new affordable housing stock the board envisions likely would be in multi-family zoning districts, Maio pointed out.
Caragiulo changed his motion to call for the single parking space to apply to single-family and multi-family dwellings up to 900 square feet.
However, Detert questioned whether that would defeat the purpose of the board’s intent with the amendment, because builders have told staff and the board members that it costs more to construct larger units, and builders pass their costs along to renters and buyers.
Just because he was proposing the change to 900 square feet, Caragiulo replied, that did not mean a developer had to include units that large. “You could build less than 900 square feet and still have the same [parking] requirement.”
Detert said she would prefer having staff comment on the issue, “just so we get it right.”
“Parking spots are a huge determining factor” in the cost of any project,” Caragiulo said. The more parking spaces required, the more asphalt is needed, and that leads to less permeability for the area in question and more stormwater problems, he continued. “We are looking to utilize space on a property more for people and less for cars, is the way that I’m understanding it.”
Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, said of Caragiulo’s characterization, “That’s an accurate account. … The intent of this regulatory change is to provide flexibility.”
If a developer wants to work on a project with yet a different approach to parking, Osterhoudt added, county regulations allow the submission of an alternative parking plan. The developer can work with staff to try to implement that, Osterhoudt said.
“I think we all want the same thing here,” Detert replied.
“More usable space for people,” Caragiulo said.
Maio then seconded Caragiulo’s motion. “I am hopeful and pretty darn sure that [staff members] are working on the other two steps on this [affordability housing issue],” Maio added, referring to modifications of the impact fees, as well as the mobility and capacity fees.
The motion passed unanimously.
Then Commissioner Hines said he wanted to take the opportunity to thank all the members of SURE who have met one-on-one with the commissioners. They have offered suggestions, he said, as the board has sought help in increasing the number of affordable housing units in the county. “Keep up your good work,” he added to the SURE representatives. “Stay in front of us.”