115-acre North Sarasota site still has potential as location for affordable housing, Sarasota County staff report indicates

Property becomes focus of City Commission discussion regarding possible sites for such home construction

An aerial map shows the former Dolomite property in North Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

A March 13 Sarasota County Commission discussion has become one focal point for the Sarasota City Commission as it considers how to achieve the construction of more affordable-housing projects in the community.

After first bringing up the topic in December 2017, County Commissioner Charles Hines talked during the March 13 meeting of his board about the potential for approximately 115 acres of county-owned property in North Sarasota to be the focus of an affordable housing development.

The land is located at the intersection of Tuttle Avenue and Myrtle Street. It is adjacent to Newtown Estates Park and close to the North Sarasota Library.

He and City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie — who serves with Hines on the county’s Tourist Development Council — had discussed the property, which the county bought in late 2013 from Dolomite Utilities Corp. The county’s plan was to create a major athletic complex for North County. However, Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out during the March discussion, the Great Recession put those plans on hold.

Maio and Chair Nancy Detert both talked on March 13 of the prospect of a public/private partnership that would lead to the creation of a tiny house development on the site.

As a result of those discussions, the board members asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to have staff research the potential uses of the land and report back to them.

Just last week, City Commissioner Willie Shaw brought up the property as his board considered a report from a triennial committee established, under state guidelines, to review city and county policies, procedures, ordinances, land development regulations and Comprehensive Plans. That committee was charged with recommending actions or initiatives to encourage and/or facilitate the development of affordable housing.

Don Hadsell, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development for the city and county, and Ryan Chapdelain, general manager of the city’s Planning Department, explained that part of the advisory committee’s work was to provide both the City and County commissions an inventory of each local government’s public lands that would be suitable for affordable housing.

These are the potential affordable housing parcels owned by the City of Sarasota. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The 25 on the city’s list, Chapdelain noted during the Dec. 3 presentation, were all in North Sarasota. As Chapdelain pointed out, the committee was able to consider only city-owned land that was not already in use for a park, example, or a lift station for sewage or that had some other condition associated with it that made it ineligible for the list.

“Most of these properties [in North Sarasota] were taken as a result of Code Enforcement action,” Hadsell added. When the parcels were advertised for sale to the private sector, he continued, no one wanted to buy them. Almost all had been put on the market at some time, he noted.

Commissioner Shaw brought up the former Dolomite site, referencing Freeland Eddie’s discussions with County Commissioner Hines. “I would have thought that it would have been one of the prime subjects in this whole conversation … It could be easily annexed into the city.”

City Manager Tom Barwin said he had asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis about the property when he saw Lewis at a recent luncheon. Lewis told him that the land remained listed among properties for the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR). However, Barwin added, Lewis indicated the County Commission would be open to discussing the future of the site.

When The Sarasota News Leader asked county staff for a comment on Barwin’s remarks after the Dec. 3 meeting, Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby reported in a Dec. 6 email, “The county has not changed its plan for the north county land. The county is still following the parks master plan for that location to be the North County Sports Complex.”

Site potential

A 2013 county graphic shows the 115-acre property planned for the North County Sports Complex. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In response to the March 13 County Commission discussion, an April 9 staff report pointed out that when the commission adopted the Parks, Preserves and Recreation Strategic Master Plan in the summer of 2016, finalizing the plans for the North Sarasota property was envisioned as “a top overall objective.”

Nonetheless, the report noted, if a portion of the site were allocated for residential structures, various possibilities exist. For example, the report said, 45 to 50 dwelling units could be created on 10 of the acres, while a 20-acre segment could support 90 to 100 units.

In 1986, the report said, 79 of the acres were zoned Residential Single Family 4, which would allow the maximum density of 5.5 units per acre. “[R]ezoning [the site] to a Planned Unit Development (PUD) would … provide for attached and multifamily structures, along with a possible commercial/office component,” the report said.

If the commission wanted to pursue a change in the Future Land Use Map designation for the property — which is Moderate Density Residential, entailing fewer than 5 units per acre — staff would accept that direction and work on an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the report explained.

During the Dec. 3 City Commission meeting, Jon Mast, CEO of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, who chaired the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC), noted that the parcel is on the list of potential affordable housing sites the committee provided to the County Commission.

Hadsell pointed out that the county board addressed the committee’s report the previous week. No county commissioner commented on the property at that time.

Jon Mast. File photo

The ultimate use of that North Sarasota property, Mast told the city board members, “will be up to your political will.”

Like the County Commission the previous week, the City Commission ended up accepting the AHAC’s recommendations on a unanimous vote.

However, at the conclusion of a later discussion regarding the Blueprint for Workforce Housing that the city and county jointly had commissioned from the Florida Housing Coalition, Shaw again raised the issue of the former Dolomite property. In making the motion to refer the Blueprint’s 12 recommendations to staff for implementation, he asked that city staff also include the North Sarasota land in the focus on future projects. Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch seconded his motion, which passed unanimously.

Committee considerations

In regard to the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) recommendations, Mast, the chair of the group, pointed out that the city has created more affordable housing than the county has.

One of the primary recommendations of the committee, Mast said, is the creation of a “level foothold” for private developers so they can construct affordable housing, “which the city desperately needs.”

He added, “I think the biggest thing that you need to look at … is increased density,” so developers would have the opportunity to recover their costs associated with constructing affordable-housing projects. The committee members also suggest the City Commission lower mobility fees when it reviews them next year, Mast said.

Yet another proposal, which Hadsell noted, is the group’s recommendation that after the Arbor Village affordable housing project has been completed, the city hire a consultant to study the complex’s impact on traffic and crime in the surrounding area.

On April 2, when a City Commission vote let stand the city Planning Board’s unanimous approval of Arbor Village, which will be adjacent to the Pen West Park and across from the Sarasota Fairgrounds. Part of the units will be dedicated to housing for homeless individuals.

Numerous residents appeared before the commission on April 2 to protest the project, citing concerns that potential residents who had been homeless will be suffering with substance abuse and mental health issues and, therefore, pose a danger to nearby residents.

A rendering shows the design of Arbor Village. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Mayor Liz Alpert pointed out that night that most of the opposition to the project appeared to be rooted in discrimination against the homeless.

On Dec. 3, Hadsell told the commissioners that the AHAC members feel the residents surrounding Arbor Village will not see the types of problems they predicted during that April discussion. He added that the committee also proposed the commission undertake similar studies for Bayou Oaks, an 80-apartment complex on Four Seasons Circle in Sarasota, which was designed as an affordable housing complex for people ages 55 and older. It is about 15 years old.

Mast emphasized the breadth of expertise of the members of the AHAC and the time they put into their work on behalf of the city and the county. The committee held seven meetings, he pointed out. “They were a minimum of two hours apiece.”