Oaktree Development will present its plans to city officials during the Nov. 18 Development Review Committee meeting, which is open to the public
During a series of upcoming city meetings, a developer’s representatives will present plans for 17 townhouses situated on the edge of Laurel Park.
The proposal of Oaktree Development of Sarasota LLC will come before the City of Sarasota Development Review Committee (DRC) at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at City Hall, located at 1565 First St. in Sarasota, The Sarasota News Leader has learned. Then, at 6 p.m. that day, representatives of the developer will appear before the city’s Planning Board, petitioning for a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would allow Oaktree Development to construct homes other than the affordable dwellings stipulated for its project site.
Oaktree Development plans to build the townhouses on vacant, county-owned property at 1938 Laurel St., the News Leader learned this week.
The developer has the site under contract for purchase from the county, said Courtney Mendez, senior planner with the city. According to property records, Sarasota County owns two parcels at 1938 Laurel St. that comprise a total of eight-tenths of an acre.
Oaktree Development is proposing to vacate a portion of Cherry Lane and rezone the parcel from Office Professional Business (OPB) to Downtown Edge (DTE). Under the current zoning for the property, development is limited to 12 attainable housing units, along with non-residential uses restricted to no more than 23,500 square feet of office space.
Instead of building affordable units, Oaktree Development wants to make a $250,002 contribution to an affordable housing trust fund the city has established, according to city planning documents.
Oaktree Development is collaborating on the project with the nationally known firm David Weekley Homes; the planning phase began more than a year ago, the News Leader has learned.
The question of affordable housing
Michael Infanti, who manages Oaktree Development, told the News Leader this week that one reason planning has taken more than a year has been the developer’s desire to work with the city on the attainable housing issue.
“The City Commission has made it known they are committed to affordable housing, and we have made it known we are committed to affordable housing,” Infanti said in an interview with the News Leader.
However, at least one significant hurdle has arisen, Infanti said: Which agency would oversee those affordable dwellings and ensure they remained affordable? When the city attached the attainable housing stipulation to the property, the Community Housing Trust Fund was designated as the manager of the affordable units constructed on the site. But with changes to that trust having taken place, Infanti pointed out, “there is no government agency that has been funded to administer or run affordable housing.”
Further, Infanti said, providing money to the city’s affordable housing trust fund would help the City Commission advance either attainable housing initiatives or its efforts to secure housing for the homeless.
The developer’s plan to move forward without attainable units on the property could spur some discussion when the project reaches the point of City Commission review. That board will have to vote on the zoning and Comprehensive Plan changes after the project makes its way through the development review process and a city Planning Board discussion.
Additionally, the Oaktree Development project arrives at a time when the lack of affordable housing in the city once again has become a major topic of discussion among city commissioners. A recent community analysis based on 2011 data from the Federal Government found 31,929 county residents pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing.
Yet, the developer stated in a narrative submitted to the city on Oct. 16 with its site plan, “It is our intention to build seventeen townhouses on the parcels. It is our intention to provide funds in lieu of constructing any attainable housing on site,”
Oaktree Development proposes for each of the townhomes to have between 1,200 and 3,000 square feet of space, Infanti told the News Leader. Buyers would own both their units and the land under the dwellings.
According to city Department of Neighborhood & Development Services documents, the townhomes would be two and three stories in height, with attached one-car garages.
The project borders the edge of Laurel Park and falls within the Laurel Park Overlay District. The developer has spent the past few months meeting with Laurel Park residents to ensure the project is compatible architecturally and in scale with the existing homes.
The Laurel Park Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the city on April 16 of this year, expressing support of Oaktree Development’s proposed zoning change. The letter also notes the design is compatible with surrounding homes.
However, Jude Levy, president of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, added in the letter, “We are concerned that some protections for the neighborhood be embedded into the Downtown Edge zoning for this parcel since there is no intervening street and the adjacent house is very close to the edge of the lot. The proposed project seems very compatible, but if the parcel were sold, this could be an issue.”
Still, Levy wrote, “This project has the potential to be a handsome addition to Laurel Park. We especially like the respect for transects, sidewalks, landscaping and trees.”
A longtime Sarasota resident, Infanti says the property is perfect for townhomes.
“It’s a convenient location,” Infanti told the News Leader. “We just love Laurel Park. It is a very involved community of a collection of very eclectic, smart people.”
He added, “Laurel Park has a little bit of everything. It has its own little flavor.”
The developer will present details of the project to city planning officials during the Nov. 18 DRC meeting, which will be held at 9 a.m. at City Hall, located at 1565 First St. Under the guidelines of the Comprehensive Plan amendment process, the developer’s representatives previously appeared before the DRC.
While DRC meetings are open to the public, comments are limited to committee members, unless one of the latter requests information of an applicant, according to city guidelines. Opportunities for citizen comment on proposed developments are provided through community workshops, by scheduling appointments with individual city staff members, or by speaking or submitting written comments during public hearings before the Planning Board or City Commission.