Multiple entities interested in the land, staff tells the board
Over the past year, especially, Sarasota County commissioners have stressed their desire to see movement by private developers on workforce or affordable housing projects in the community. As part of that discussion, they also have made it clear that they would be willing to entertain proposals involving county-owned land.
To that end, they voted unanimously this week to allow County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to negotiate with nonprofits for the sale of an approximately 6.23-acre parcel the county owns at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.
During the regular commission meeting on Nov. 6, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, reminded the board members that, during an Aug. 21 workshop on affordable housing, staff had noted that a consultant was reviewing all the surplus parcels the county owns to determine which could be suitable for affordable housing initiatives.
Chair Charles Hines, especially, has advocated for sale of county property for an affordable housing endeavor under circumstances the board members would find agreeable.
The full report of that consultant, Colliers International — which has an office in Fort Myers — should be complete later this month, Osterhoudt added on Nov. 6.
During Colliers’ initial evaluation, Osterhoudt continued, it found “we had a few folks interested in this piece of property” located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail.
County regulations would allow the county administrator to negotiate with nonprofit organizations for an affordable housing project, Osterhoudt added, and then bring the proposal to the commission. However, Osterhoudt noted, because of the situation with the North Tamiami Trail parcel, “We felt that it would be prudent to come back to the County Commission to have a conversation” about establishing a formal process for such negotiations.
A staff memo provided to the board in advance of the Nov. 6 meeting said, “Specifically, two organizations expressed interest directly to Colliers. Staff has also received interest from other parties regarding the same property.”
Staff included in the packet for the Nov. 6 meeting the criteria that would be considered during those negotiations, Osterhoudt told the board.
The resolution the commissioners approved calls for all proposals to be submitted by 5 p.m. on Dec. 31.
Commissioner Nancy Detert then asked whether one of the criteria would be that a local organization would win more points. She added that she and other board members had been “approached by people from Miami and people from other parts of the state” about affordable housing partnerships with the county.
“This isn’t going to be a point basis [process],” Osterhoudt replied, noting that it would be different from advertising for Requests for Proposals. Nonetheless, he continued, if the board members wanted staff to revise the criteria for the negotiations, staff would do so.
“I hate to tie your hands,” Detert told him, adding that she knows that government programs with too many factors for extra consideration, involving specific applicants — such as whether someone is a veteran, for example — can complicate processes. “But I would certainly … look more favorably if an idea came from a local organization versus some from out of the area that I never heard of before.”
Osterhoudt said he understood her point.
On the flip side of that concern, Hines pointed out, “We’ve been talking about workforce and affordable housing as a commission for multiple years and begging people to come to us with ideas. So local organizations have had the opportunity to come to us,” he continued, and none had done so.
As he has understands the situation, Hines added, nonprofits in the community that build affordable housing typically work on one or two homes at a time, instead of multiple-unit projects.
“I’m open to anyone that has a good idea that has experience and can show us what they’ve built in other communities, how it’s been successful; they’re not just showing up [with this new opportunity], looking for cheap land,” Hines pointed out.
His hope, he said, would be that if a nonprofit based outside the area ended up with the land, it would hire local subcontractors. “I really doubt they would bring in workers from Miami, Atlanta or wherever.”
Hines further stressed that he wanted interested nonprofits to be able to counter the “NIMBYism” [not in my backyard] view he expected of residents in the area around the North Tamiami Trail property — that “this will be a disaster in their neighborhood.”
(During many discussions about affordable housing, commissioners have expressed frustration that neighbors of proposed projects believe the dwelling units would be of inferior design or construction, compared to theirs, so their property values would diminish if the new dwellings were built.)
Hines also emphasized — as he and his colleagues have on numerous occasions — that the county especially needs workforce housing for nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers, and even County and City of Sarasota employees. Such workers, he said, “need a quality place that has some amenities … that’s not $1,200, $1,300, $1,500 a month.”
After Hines concluded his comments, Commissioner Detert made the motion to authorize County Administrator Lewis to engage in the negotiations, and Commissioner Alan Maio seconded it.
“It’s a big step forward on this,” Hines pointed out after the motion passed 5-0.
Criteria for consideration
The resolution the board members approved says that, among the criteria staff will consider, will be the “financial and organizational capacity [of a nonprofit] to successfully implement the proposed development in a timely manner …”
The resolution adds, “The County may consider the following criteria:”
- Number of units associated with a percentage of Area Median Income (AMI, which is a value set by the federal government).
- Length of time the units will be made available for affordable housing.
- The qualifications and experience of potential purchasers, including examples of previous affordable housing projects.
- Consistency of the proposed use with the zoning requirements and physical characteristics of the property.
- Purchase price or other consideration offered.
- Cost associated with the transfer of ownership.
- Economic impact resulting from the respondents’ proposed use of the property.
“Property is being sold in its ‘as-is’ condition,” the resolution notes. “The selected Respondent agrees to accept the Property with its easements, restrictions and any and all right-of-way requirements,” the document adds.
Additionally, respondents “must provide a comprehensive timeline” and any details about plans to build the project in phases, if applicable, the resolution says. “The timeline,” it continues, “should include realistic and achievable dates for key steps from start to occupancy.”
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office website says the parcel located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail was valued at $1,334,800 this year. It is zoned North Trail with a designation for use as community parkland.
The county purchased the property in January 2015 for $1.2 million, the Property Appraiser’s Office records show. At that time, the value of the land was listed at $1,195,900. The seller was Dwayne Inc., whose president — as noted by the signature on the deed — was Helga Wall-Apelt of Sarasota.