Project team hopes to break ground before the end of the year
One new Sarasota city commissioners raised concerns about the affordability of the homes, while the other focused a number of questions on the mitigation of trees on the property. In the end, though, they joined their three colleagues this week in voting to accept a revised development agreement and an ordinance to allow Payne Park Village to be built on School Avenue.
The agreement has a termination date of 2020, but Sarasota planning consultant Joel Freedman said the developer — David Weekley Homes — “is not going to wait until 2020 to build this.” The goal is to break ground by the end of the year, he added.
The project will feature four-story multi-family townhomes facing Payne Park, with two- and three-story buildings comprising the rest of the 135 units. Thirty-four of the homes will be small cottages, Martin Frame, the land acquisition manager for David Weekley Homes, told the City Commission during its May 15 regular meeting. Another 66 will be two-story units, he said.
When Commissioner Hagen Brody brought up the issue of price, Frame replied that the units will range from the $300,000 level up to more than $500,000.
Brody responded that the development as proposed would be preferable to what is standing on the property. (The deteriorated structure that once housed the Scotty’s hardware store remains on the site.) However, Brody continued, the prices Frame mentioned are “going to be unaffordable for most working class [people],” including firefighters and police officers. “I just want you to know that’s a concern of mine.”
“It’ll be the most affordable new housing that’s in downtown right now,” Frame told Brody.
Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie recalled one-on-one sessions with the development team as the project was being planned, she pointed out. During her discussion with the group, she said, she asked about affordable housing, too. Payne Park Village “may be the most affordable place to live in downtown,” she noted, “but it certainly isn’t the most affordable place to live for most folks.”
“We put quite a bit of effort into getting the prices down for these units,” Frame told her. The 66 two-story units in the interior, he continued, could end up being priced in the low $300,000s. “That is approaching what is considered attainable by the City of Sarasota for workforce housing … as the city defines it.”
Frame added that the development team went through 18 or 20 site plans, trying to come up with the best mix of units and price. “David Weekley himself came into town,” Frame pointed out, as that effort unfolded. Affordable housing “has been a concern of ours … [because] we also don’t want to be sitting here 10 years trying to sell the project.”
“I would say I think that you’re undervaluing the price of these [homes],” Brody replied. “I know that neighborhood well. New construction’s going for $400,000.”
Given the tentative plan for a north extension of The Legacy Trail to connect with Payne Park, Brody continued, and the park itself situated across from the development, the homes will be “extremely desirable.”
Those units facing the park will be, Frame agreed. However, the two-story homes in the interior of Payne Park Village “will be more affordable,” Frame asserted.
Several residents addressed the board before the vote to lend their support to the project. Among them was Stan Zimmerman, a past city commissioner; a past president of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association, whose homes border the project; and a past chair of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA).
“Tonight represents closure for 10 years of endeavor by neighborhoods … to fight for something that is reasonable,” he told the commission.
In seconding one of the two votes needed for the project to go forward, newly elected Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch concurred with Zimmerman: “It’s been a long, long, long fight.” Referring to the David Weekley team, she added, “It’s so wonderful to see when the developer does reach out to the neighborhood and produces compatibility.”
At the outset of the development team’s presentation, Freedman pointed out that the original project planned for the site would have included several buildings of far greater height. During his remarks, Zimmerman referred to those structures as “10-story dark towers looming over a one-story neighborhood.” Zimmerman added, “Inch by inch and eventually foot by foot, those proposals were clawed back to something which is compatible with the neighborhood and which will be of benefit to the neighborhood.”
Freedman pointed out that the proposal the City Commission finally approved in 2009 — after numerous neighborhood workshops — included 238 multi-family homes, 55,000 square feet of office space and 19,300 square feet of retail units.
“This is a substantially less intensive site plan,” City Attorney Robert Fournier said of the Payne Park Village proposal.
“It’s a good mix of single-family and multi-family buildings,” Frame pointed out.
The property comprises 8.7 acres, Freedman noted.
A community center will be built in the interior of the site, Freedmen added, but its design has not been completed. Still, he said, David Weekley Homes has committed to making the clubhouse a maximum of two stories and 5,000 square feet.
The site plan also includes an 8-foot sidewalk and parallel parking on School Avenue. Each home will have a two-car garage, Freedman added.
The trees and other details
During the discussion of the site plan, Phillip Smith, a landscape architect and certified arborist with David W. Johnston Associates in Sarasota, explained that the team plans more tree mitigation than necessary under the City Code. Almost 246 of the trees on the property are exotics. “[They] do not require mitigation.” However, he said, David Weekley Homes will plant 79 trees with 3-inch calipers instead of the 13 called for by the code, for example. It also will use canopy trees in lieu of 29 palms.
When Ahearn-Koch asked for more details, Smith explained that the team’s plan calls for “major shade trees,” including Southern magnolias and oaks. As part of the buffer separating the neighborhood from surrounding residential area, he said, native trees — such as green buttonwoods and Southern red cedars — will be planted.
Ahearn-Koch also sought reassurance that two grand oaks on the property will be preserved.
Although only one of them fully stands on the site, Smith said, the team has “adopted” the other, whose root system extends onto the property. Both will remain in place, he added.
Then she asked about a slash pine, whose removal was cited in the project application.
Smith explained that that tree does not have a good canopy, so the plan is to replace it with new trees that would grow “with good structure.”
Ahearn-Koch then pointed out that slash pines are endangered. “They only propagate in this region,” she said.
“Your point is well taken,” Smith replied. Therefore, he indicated that the team would add slash pines into its mix on the property.
Although she ended up seconding one of the two motions the team needed to proceed with the project, Ahearn-Koch did add, “My only wish is if you could look into saving that slash pine.”
Zimmerman raised one other point in his public remarks, which Freedman assured the commissioners would not be an issue for future concern.
During his presentation, Freedman pointed to an easement David Weekley Homes would provide along the former Shopping Way road between School Avenue and the Ringling Shopping Center, which is the focus of a redevelopment plan. That easement would allow a pedestrian and bicycle connection from the latter project to School Avenue, Freedman said.
Shopping Way is a private road that David Weekley Homes does not own, Zimmerman told the board. Instead, the trust that owns the Ringling Shopping Center site holds title to that road, he continued. If the plan is to depend on Shopping Way as connectivity from proposed Legacy Trail extension to Payne Park, Zimmerman warned, “that’s a very weak reed to depend upon.”
In response, Frame explained that David Weekley Homes has in its development agreement an 11-foot easement reserved for that connection.
Freedman added that the project team members happily would join the city commissioners in lobbying for the extension of The Legacy Trail.
(The Sarasota County Commission is working on plans to purchase the necessary CSX railroad right of way in two segments, with the first closing called for by the end of this year.)