Accessory dwelling unit option wins accolades as County Commission conducts first public hearing on proposal to increase affordable housing stock

Only one speaker, representing Control Growth Now, voices opposition to the proposal

A graphic shows two examples of how accessory dwelling units could be added to lots as the property owners comply with the applicable setbacks in the zoning regulations. ‘SF’ stands for square footage. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With all but one of the seven public speakers heartily endorsing the proposal on Aug. 28, the Sarasota County Commission will proceed late next month with the second of two required public hearings on allowing accessory dwelling units in two county zoning districts.

The amendment to the county’s land development regulations — the Unified Development Code — would enable a homeowner in areas zoned Residential Single Family (RSF) and Residential Estate (RE) to rent a building up to 750 square feet on his or her parcel without its counting as an additional unit for density purposes, Jane Grogg, manager of the county’s Neighborhood Services Division, explained to the board on Aug. 28.

She characterized the districts as “those that are typically in our urban area, closer to services, jobs, schools, etc.”

The goal with the amendment is to provide more affordable housing options in the county, Grogg pointed out. A unit could include a kitchen.

Short-term rentals would not be allowed, as specified in the zoning regulations for the RSF and RE districts, she emphasized.

The second public hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 25.

Jon Thaxton. Photo from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation website

Former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who served on the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, pointed out that he and his colleagues on that board voted unanimously in support of the proposed amendment. He called that action “pretty special,” given the composition of the committee.

“[The accessory dwelling option] is an excellent way to provide affordable housing,” he added. In fact, he continued, it is “kind of a ‘back to the future’ exercise. When Sarasota County was first being developed in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s,” he said, “accessory dwellings were the norm rather than the exception. They are now in some of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the entirety of the county.”

Thaxton was speaking on behalf of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, where he is a senior vice president.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled that this commission is now addressing this,” Todd Logan of Osprey told the commissioners.

Identifying himself as a county native, Logan said he and his wife moved to Osprey about four years ago; his career had kept him away for the previous 40 years. He was dismayed, he added, to learn that he could not have an accessory dwelling for his elderly parents on his property. “I think that this is just a huge move for the county to improve affordable housing and address other social issues.”

Jono Miller called the proposed amendment “long overdue,” adding, “I think it has tremendous potential to improve households in neighborhoods.” People would have extra help to put up hurricane shutters, for example, Miller said, along with increased options for elder care and babysitting.

Moreover, he told the commission, he believes it will lead to reduced traffic, as people will be able to move closer to work.

Commissioner Nancy Detert concurred with the latter statement.

A graphic summarizes the proposed changes to the county’s Unified Development Code, which contains the land development and zoning regulations. Image courtesy Sarasota County

People often have to spend a lot of time on the road, she said, picking up their elderly parents and taking them on errands and to appointments. Having their parents living in an accessory dwelling, Detert added, would put to an end of many such trips.

“I just think this is a sensible thing to do,” Detert said. “There’s been an impediment to people doing what they would recognize as the right thing to do, like have a little place in the back for their mom.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler added, “It just seems like there’s overwhelming support for [accessory dwellings] from the community. … I’m all for options [for affordable housing].”

The only speaker opposed to the regulations was Glenna Blomquist, representing Control Growth Now. “There are always unintended consequences, loopholes and lackluster enforcement,” she cautioned the commission. “We’re concerned about leaps in density in some neighborhoods,” which could “create problems with traffic, parking, privacy and compatibility. … The stated intention to increase affordable housing will likely not bring about that result.”

Details of the proposal

A chart provides a timeline showing steps the County Commission has taken to try to increase the number of affordable housing units in the community. ‘AHAC’ refers to the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. ‘UDC’ refers to the county’s Unified Development Code. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During her Aug. 28 presentation, Grogg of Neighborhood Services pointed out that accessory dwelling units would not be allowed in cluster subdivisions or on the barrier islands. Staff wanted to ensure that in the latter case, especially, she said, in an effort to comply with county Comprehensive Plan policy prohibiting intensification of uses on the islands.

Further, only one such unit would be permitted per lot or parcel, according to the proposed ordinance.

Grogg also explained that an owner of the property would have to live either in the primary dwelling or in the accessory unit, for “self-policing of the property, if you will.”

The accessory structure could be attached or detached, she pointed out. Regardless, Grogg said, all setbacks and other building requirements of the zoning district would have to be met, and the height of the accessory unit could not exceed that of the principal structure.

Moreover, Grogg explained, the amendment calls for each accessory dwelling to have an architectural style, roof style and exterior appearance similar to those of the principal structure.

This is an example of an accessory dwelling unit — a ‘granny flat’ — that could be used for workforce housing. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

For example, the proposed ordinance says, “If you have a stucco home, the accessory dwelling unit will need to be constructed with a stucco finish.”

“The intent by staff,” Grogg said, “was to be more clear about the expectations of the appearance of the accessory structure,” so it would fit into the neighborhood.

“Makes perfect sense,” Commissioner Alan Maio replied. However, he pointed out, “If the original home is ’70s/’80s vintage and it’s got wood siding,” would the proposed regulations preclude the use of hardie plank? (Hardie plank also is known as cement board siding, according to the HomeAdvisor website.)

After consulting with Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, Grogg replied, “That would not be precluded.”

The proposed ordinance also says, “One extra parking space on the same premises shall be required,” but “[t]andem parking and shell or grass surfacing are permitted for such parking space.”

If the deed restrictions of a homeowners association are more restrictive than the facets of the ordinance, Grogg continued, then the deed restrictions would supersede the ordinance.

Commissioner Alan Maio. File photo

Commissioner Maio also cautioned that homeowners interested in taking advantage of the amendment — providing it ultimately is approved — should check with the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office. Only Property Appraiser William Furst and his staff could tell a homeowner if he or she would lose homestead status by moving into an accessory dwelling and renting out the principal residence.

None of the language in the proposed ordinance addresses the homestead exemption issue, Chair Charles Hines added. With the commission not needing to vote on the new regulations until late September, Hines told Grogg, “Just think through this,” and decide whether language regarding that issue should be included.

The goal with the ordinance, Hines stressed, is to create more affordable housing options, not to add to the stock of units in the county that people can rent out through a multitude of internet-based services, such as Airbnb and Vrbo.