Vote the latest in effort to encourage growth of affordable housing stock
As part of its continuing effort to spur construction of affordable housing units, the Sarasota County Commission has agreed to a 25% reduction in the trip generation rate for developers building multi-family dwelling units smaller than 900 square feet.
That adjustment is based on the expectation that fewer vehicles associated with smaller apartments or condominiums will mean fewer trips in and out of those new residential areas, leading to a reduced need for features such as extra turning lanes and medians, County Engineer Spencer Anderson explained during an April 20 presentation.
As an April 20 county staff memo explained it, “Trip generation is the process of forecasting the amount of traffic a proposed development will have after it is built and operational. The number of trips … will establish if there is a warrant for exclusive right-turn and left-turn lanes to access the site.”
The rate reduction would apply only to construction within the county’s Urban Service Area Boundary, the memo pointed out. That part of the county is where infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, already is in place to support new projects.
During his April 20 presentation, Anderson told the commissioners that a couple of developers had asked staff to reduce the trip generation calculation, based on their plans for less residential density.
The reduced trip generation rates will be in effect for three years, to allow county staff sufficient time to analyze how traffic actually will function in developments with smaller units, Anderson noted.
This latest County Commission action follows board approval of ordinances in 2018 and 2019 that did the following:
- Reduced the mobility fees for multi-family units smaller than 750 square feet, “micro-apartments of less than 500 square feet and tiny homes.
- Reduced the parking space requirements for multi-family dwellings with less than 900 square feet.
- Allowed multi-family units no larger than 750 square feet to be counted as half units for density purposes only.
As Anderson pointed out on April 20, none of those ordinances considered a change in the trip generation calculations for smaller multi-family units.
When staff members conducted research into the trip generation issue, he continued, they reviewed best practices across the country. However, Anderson added, staff was unable to find information that was appropriate for Sarasota County situations.
During that research, the April 20 staff memo said, staff also consulted representatives of Charlotte, Lee and Manatee counties, but staff could find no trip generation policy or formula that any of those local governments had implemented in regard to developments with smaller dwelling units.
Nonetheless, during his remarks to the commissioners, Anderson pointed to the “logical link” between fewer parking spaces and trip generation. “You can only park so many vehicles on a lot, [and that] could likely lead to a reduced number of trips.” Staff came up with the figure of 29%, he added.
Yet, because of the need for guest parking in new developments, Chair Alan Maio said, staff settled on the 25% figure.
Commissioner Nancy Detert told Anderson, “I can see where [this proposal] is good for developers. … It’s cost-effective.”
Then she asked Anderson whether a similar reduction in trip generation could be accorded to 1,200-square-foot homes, as an example. Nine hundred square feet, she pointed out, is “a little small for a house.”
One of the primary considerations in allowing the reduced trip generation rate for multi-family construction, Anderson responded, is that a 900-square-foot residence generally would have one bedroom. If a home were larger than that, he added, it likely would “have more than one bedroom,” which would mean the owners or tenants would have more than one vehicle.
“At this time,” Anderson told Detert, “I’m not ready to consider a 1,200-square-foot, single-family home” as being comparable to a 900-square-foot dwelling.
“Well, I’m trying to figure out where people are going to live that they can afford,” Detert replied, “considering that salaries have not kept up with prices.” She read recently, she added, that the average price of a single-family home in the United States is $313,000.
When Detert then asked Anderson whether he could take a creative approach to the single-family home issue, he told her he would conduct research with the hope of offering future recommendations.
“I think we can be innovative if we try,” she replied.
Referring to younger people, Detert continued, “I think they want to go back to the basics,” adding that they seem to prefer homes without “all the frills,” such as granite countertops. In decades past, she pointed out, many families lived in 1,200-square-foot homes.
Chair Maio reminded his colleagues that board members “had to eat this elephant one bite at a time,” referring to the steps to encourage developers to construct affordable housing projects. “We limited this to multi-family [initiatives],” he added, “simply because we didn’t want to start impacting single-family lots.”
“I really would like to see this move forward,” Maio told his colleagues.
Finally, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the 25% trip generation rate reduction, and Maio seconded it.
“I think this is a great solution,” Cutsinger said, adding that he liked staff’s idea of collecting data over the next three years to determine the effectiveness of the approach.
The motion then passed unanimously.