Cutsinger proposes potential use of land zoned for government uses be made available for affordable housing projects

Office of the County Attorney to research legal aspects of such a change to county’s land-use regulations

As encouraging the development of affordable housing remains a top priority for the Sarasota County Commission, Chair Ron Cutsinger this week proposed that county staff look into the potential of land zoned Government Use (GU) being used for such projects.

At the suggestion of County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht, the commissioners agreed that the Office of the County Attorney would work with administrative staff to look into any possible legal issues that would hinder the proposal.

When Cutsinger asked Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho whether the resulting report could be completed within the typical 30-day timeframe for such board assignments, Botelho proposed 45 days. “But we’ll try to meet the [30-day timeframe], or even sooner,” Botelho added.

Botelho was sitting in for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis during the March 21 meeting.

Cutsinger initially suggested that county Planning and Development Services Department staff work on an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations, to allow for affordable housing construction on land zoned GU.

Annually, the Planning and Development staff has been opening two periods during which members of the public — and the commissioners and staff members themselves — can submit recommendations for UDC amendments. Staff divides the proposals into two batches — those it considers privately initiated, because they came from private individuals , and those that have been publicly initiated, meaning the commissioners or Planning and Development staff suggested them.

Technically, according to the UDC webpages, the most recent window for submitting suggested UDC text amendments was March 1 to March 15. However, no one on staff mentioned that during the March 21 commission meeting in Sarasota.

Cutsinger had called for an in-depth discussion of his proposal.

“I think this might help us,” he continued. “There are some GU lands that might be suitable for [affordable housing].”

Section 4.9.1 of the UDC says, “The GU District is intended to apply to those lands where national, state, or local governmental activities are conducted, and where governments or other public entities hold title to such lands. Any lawful governmental activity is permitted in this district. The district includes a variety of uses of varying scales and intensities. Therefore, development of a specific site should be appropriate to the nature of the proposed use and address the impacts on surrounding areas.”

Additionally, Section 4.9.1c1 of the UDC points out that a GU zone allows “[o]ne dwelling unit per acre, as accessory to principal permitted uses, however no GU parcel shall contain more than a total of five residences, regardless of the total acreage of the GU zoned parcel.”

Just that morning, Cutsinger noted on March 21, the board members had voted unanimously to give county property located on North McCall Road in Englewood to the nonprofit Community Housing Trust of Sarasota County for an affordable housing project, as long as that action would not violate any Internal Revenue Service regulations.

Former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, representing the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice — which he serves as senior vice president for community leadership — proposed that action when he addressed the board members on March 21, during the Open to the Public comment period that morning.

Thaxton often provides remarks to the commissioners, on behalf of the Foundation, on issues related to affordable housing.

A county staff memo in the March 21 agenda packet regarding the Englewood property explained that the Housing Trust had submitted a proposal to county staff regarding acquisition of the 18.14-acre site so it could develop a project in which the units would remain affordable in perpetuity. The plans call for a cluster subdivision of 40 to 50 single-family attached dwellings, the staff memo added. No rezoning of the site would be needed, the memo said.

The Trust had offered $200,000 for the land, with the goal of pricing 75% of the units for persons or families earning up to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is set each year by the Department U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The AMI in 2022 for a family of four in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was $90,400. The Sarasota News Leaderlearned that HUD has not yet released its 2023 AMI charts.

The 2022 HUD chart put 80% of the 2022 AMI for Sarasota County at $69,050.

None of the units proposed by the Housing Trust would be priced at more than 100% of the AMI, the county staff memo pointed out.

Commissioner Michael Moran was the first board member to respond to Cutsinger’s March 21 request about the GU property, saying he “could easily support it.” Moran then thanked Cutsinger for “bringing it to the front”

Commissioner Mark Smith added, “I have to agree. It poses some challenges,” Smith continued, “but I think there’s an opportunity there to really help out,” especially in regard to housing for the county’s first responders and county employees.

Commissioner Nancy Detert also voiced support of the idea. She noted that she had learned just that week from county staff that the county years ago sold land it once owned in the area around the site of the planned new County Administration Center, which will be located at 6700 Fruitville Road. (The land went to Benderson Development Co., which had proposed a light industrial, manufacturing and mixed-use complex on the site.)

She added that commissioners “kind of regret that [sale] a little bit.”

Then she told Cutsinger, “I’d like to see the language that you’re proposing [for the UDC amendment] well in advance of any meeting, though.”

“We’re just trying to get another tool out there,” Cutsinger responded, referring to ways to encourage developers to construct more affordable housing units.

1 thought on “Cutsinger proposes potential use of land zoned for government uses be made available for affordable housing projects”

  1. For it to be truly affordable it should be 50% or 60% of AMI. Service workers, delivery people, clerical workers aren’t earning enough to afford rentals at 80% of AMI. Even many school teachers are not earning $69,050!

    Editor’s Note: We believe that affordable housing should be keyed to a new criteria we would call the “Essential Worker Index,” which would be the average of the local starting salaries for school teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, nurses and paramedics. These are the folks most desperately in need of affordable housing, and the folks most desperately needed if our county is to provide a decent quality of life to all residents. If the average of their starting salaries was, say, $47,000 annually, that should be the target income range for all affordable housing in the county. To do otherwise is to expose official disdain for these critical personnel in our midst.

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