Commissioners agree on two alternate offers in the event staff unable to gain concessions board members laid out, including agreement on level of affordability of units
It took just shy of 60 minutes on Feb. 9 for the Sarasota County Commission to adopt two motions regarding proposals for an affordable housing project on county-owned land located at 4464 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.
Commissioners settled on a plan put forth by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County for a “live/work [building] for artists on the 6.2-acre site. The developer would be Artspace, which is based in Minneapolis. The proposal references construction of “art space buildings.”
However, the motion made by Commissioner Christian Ziegler called for staff to work with the Alliance to seek 50% more housing units and 50% more money for the purchase price, plus a commitment to making the units affordable for persons earning 80% of the Annual Median Income (AMI) of the North Port-Sarasota Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).
They also concurred that they did not want a community park to be part of the project, even though the Alliance included that in Phase 2 of its offer.
Further, the motion encompassed a “friendly amendment” made by Commissioner Michael Moran that called for seeking a deposit on the property — putting up “hard money,” as Moran characterized it. “I just think it’s good, prudent business.”
Commissioner Nancy Detert, who seconded Ziegler’s motion, pointed out, “We’re also asking our staff to negotiate the best deal. … I don’t think we have to micromanage it.”
Nevertheless, by incorporating Moran’s comments into the motion, Chair Alan Maio responded, the representatives of the Alliance cannot tell anyone that the commissioners “never said that.”
The Alliance did not include a deposit in its offer.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the AMI each year for MSAs. In 2020, the median income for families in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton MSA was $76,700. For a family of four, HUD said, 80% of AMI would be $61,200.
During the Open to the Public portion of the commission’s afternoon session on Feb. 9, Chris Johnson, CEO of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, commended the board members for taking a step to create more affordable housing units in the community. “Within Sarasota County,” Johnson pointed out, “twenty-six percent of renters are cost-burdened,” struggling to make their monthly payments. “True affordable housing is what we really need.”
Johnson urged the commissioners to settle on a proposal for the North Tamiami Trail site that would entail homes renting for 30% to 60% of the AMI. “That’s really where the impact is going to be for us.”
Johnson cited the latest report of the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, located at the University of Florida, which says the county has a 14,735 dwelling unit deficit in homes renting for 60% AMI and under. For those under 120% AMI, he added, the county has a 1,888 unit surplus.
As part of the commissioners’ years-long efforts to foster the creation of more affordable housing units in the county, staff had asked a national real estate firm — Colliers International — to analyze county property for potential affordable housing sites. Colliers identified the parcel at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail as one of the top candidates.
Staff initially won interest from a Miami nonprofit — Carrfour Supportive Housing — for a project on the land. However, after those negotiations failed to achieve fruition, the board members in September 2020 declared the property surplus, and staff then issued a formal Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) to companies interested in pursuing construction of an affordable housing development.
If at first you do not succeed …
On a second Feb. 9 motion, the commissioners directed staff to negotiate with the developers of two other proposals. However, they made it clear to Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, that they wanted staff to work with the Alliance first. If those negotiations fell through, board members said, then Planning and Development could work simultaneously with Blue Sky Communities and CASL on its proposal, as well as Southport Financial Services of Tampa, which had submitted an offer.
Osterhoudt told the commissioners he would like to provide County Administrator Jonathan Lewis monthly reports on the negotiations and then come back to the commission within 60 to 90 days on the results of staff’s efforts.
“Good or bad [news]?” Commissioner Michael Moran asked, referring to that timeline.
“That’s our goal,” Osterhoudt replied.
Zeroing in on the Artspace proposal
In its response to the Sept. 23, 2020 advertisement of an Invitation to Negotiate for the sale and development of the North Tamiami Trail property, the Arts and Cultural Alliance offered $1.3 million; construction of 50 to 64 housing units in Phase 1; construction of Phase 1 starting in 2025; 100% occupancy by 2026; and AMI “within prescribed range of AMI for affordable housing in Sarasota County,” as a county chart showed.
(The county paid 1.2 million for the land in January 2015, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.)
“We did ask for clarification,” Osterhoudt told the commissioners, about the AMI range. The developers said they would “narrow that down for us” if the board was interested in the proposal.
Chair Maio proposed the 80% and under AMI factor for the dwelling units.
As for the park plans: “I like the idea of the live/work [opportunity],” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said, “with people that are in the same field or the same industry. … You see the collaboration that occurs, and it’s really a phenomenal thing. However, he added, “I’m not so sure about the [park] aspect of it.”
“Isn’t there a park just to the east of this property?” he asked Osterhoudt.
“Correct,” Osterhoudt told him: the North Water Tower Park, which is a City of Sarasota property.
Moreover, Ziegler noted, The Bay Park on 53 downtown Sarasota acres, owned by the City of Sarasota, will not be far from the North Tamiami Trail parcel.
“I’d like to see more units, less park,” Commissioner Detert said.
Commissioner Moran voiced concern about “an insinuation” in the proposal that the county would cooperate with the City of Sarasota in constructing the park. Yet, he continued, the county commissioners have made it clear to city leaders in recent years that the county’s focus with parks is on regional facilities, not neighborhood parks.
Moran also pointed out that the plans for 100% occupancy by 2026 would put the development three years behind the timeline provided by the other proposers. “I’d like to see that accelerated as much as possible.”
Second and third choices
The Blue Sky Communities/CASL proposal offered $1,472,000 for North Tamiami Trail land, adding that the firms planned to construct 92 units. Of the latter, 14 would rent for 30% of AMI; 60, for 60% of AMI; and 18, for 80% of AMI. The development would be 100% occupied by 2023, that offer added.
Blue Sky Communities is located in Tampa, while CASL is in Sarasota, Commissioner Detert noted. “They are very, very familiar with our community, have built things here before.”
Additionally, she said, she liked their proposal for including a management office, clubhouse and pool in the development. “I always like to see an on-site management office that’s there to smooth problems, collect rent [and handle other issues that come up].”
The Blue Sky/CASL (Community Assisted & Supported Living Inc.) plan called for a deposit of 10% of the purchase price.
During the discussion, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger was the first board member to indicate interest in putting the Southport Development proposal at the top of the list. “They’re providing a lot of affordable housing,” he said, and offering $2.8 million for the North Tamiami Trail site.
Moreover, he pointed out, that offer included a program with an opportunity for home ownership. “I like that.”
Southport’s proposal calls for a total of 134 units, with 121 at 60% of AMI and the other 13 at 33% of AMI.
That offer also included a management office and clubhouse, with completion in 2023. Further, Detert noted that the company was proposing an initial, $28,000 deposit.
Southport is based in Tampa.
Detert ended up making the motion for the second and third options. “I don’t see any changes that need to be made,” she told her colleagues.
In discussing whether they should ask county staff to negotiate with the Arts and Cultural Alliance, Blue Sky/CASL, and Southport all at the same time, Detert suggested that if staff fails to gain the concessions that the board is seeking from the Arts and Cultural Alliance, then staff could talk with the representatives of the other two proposers at the same time.
“With the Artspace,” Commissioner Moran said, “it’s theirs to lose, if you ask me.”
Chair Maio asked for clarification from Deputy County Attorney Joshua Moye that, even if staff gets the Alliance to agree to the parameters the board members had set forth, the commission would have the final decision on which deal to accept.
Moye replied that that was correct. Staff will come back to the board for final approval or denial, he said.
“I’m not crazy about limiting our options at this point,” Ziegler told his colleagues. Nonetheless, he added, “I am excited about this potential for this Artspace here.”