In update on affordable housing initiatives, County Commission advised of elements in state’s new Live Local Act

Director of Planning and Development Services says developers already showing interest in state law’s provisions, which go into effect on July 1

With the state’s new affordable housing legislation — the Live Local Act — going into effect on July 1, Sarasota County’s Planning and Development Services Department is preparing to work with developers on the opportunities it makes possible, Matt Osterhoudt, director of that department, told the county commissioners on June 13.

“We’ve had a couple of people come through the door,” Osterhoudt pointed out. However, he said, no one yet has shown the Planning staff a specific proposal. Mostly, Osterhoudt continued, staff has heard a lot of questions about how the state law will work in regard to county regulations.

One key element of the act — which staff is still researching, he explained — says local governments must provide administrative approval — instead of county commission approval — for projects that satisfy a county’s land development regulations for multi-family housing in areas zoned for that purpose and which are otherwise consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community.

Staff certainly wanted to make the commissioners aware of that, Osterhoudt pointed out.

Among other facets of the act, as noted in a slide that Osterhoudt provided to the board members during their regular meeting on June 13, are the following:

  • The county must authorize multi-family and mixed-use residential development as allowable uses in any area zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed-use if at least 40% of the units will be affordable for at least 30 years and serve incomes up to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). At least 65% of the total square footage in mixed-use residential projects will have to be used for residential purposes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) releases the AMI each year for each Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the United States. The 2023 AMI for a family of four in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton MSA is $98,700. Last year, it was $90,400.

  • The county may not restrict the density of an affordable housing development so that it is less than the highest allowed density on any unincorporated land in the county where residential development is allowed.
  • The county may not restrict the height of any development so that it is shorter than the highest allowed height for a commercial or residential development in its jurisdiction within 1 mile of the proposed development or three stories, whichever is higher.
  • The county may not require a zoning or land-use change or a Comprehensive Plan amendment for the building height, zoning and densities authorized in the state bill.

Additionally, the slide said, the county will have to provide a list of county-owned parcels suitable for affordable housing by Oct. 1 and then every three years. The list must be made available to the public on the county website, to encourage development.

Further, the slide noted, each local government will be required to maintain on its website a policy containing the procedures and expectations in regard to expedited processing of building permits and development orders that the law requires for expediting. The term “development orders” refers to county or city governing board approval of a construction project.

Finally, the law includes three property tax exemptions linked to specific types of affordable housing efforts.

Commissioner Mark Smith noted during the discussion that he had talked with County Attorney Joshua Moye about what Smith referenced as “shortcomings” between affordable housing regulations in the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) and its Comprehensive Plan. “I think we need to, in my opinion, put some more teeth in the Comprehensive Plan and definitely coordinate it with the UDC,” Smith added.

The UDC contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.

In the past, Smith pointed out, as the commissioners have considered development proposals including affordable housing, staff has suggested at times that those projects did not comply with elements of the Comprehensive Plan. “I don’t want to confuse the conversation,” he said, in regard to what the board members can and cannot control.

“As a good starting point,” Osterhoudt replied, staff could create an inventory of the relevant policies in the Comprehensive Plan and the UDC and make it clear how those policies relate to rezoning and Special Exception requests, as well as proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments, Osterhoudt replied.

“That’s a great suggestion,” Chair Ron Cutsinger said.

On another point, Commissioner Neil Rainford told Osterhoudt, “We have to do a better job of educating the public” in regard to the provisions of the Live Local Act, along with the county’s regulations regarding the 750-square-foot dwelling unit concept that the board members approved in 2019.

He had heard, Rainford continued, that the developer of the first project comprising units of that size had sold about 90% of those dwellings already. “I think that is remarkable,” he added. “Those seem to be the projects that are moving forward the fastest,” Rainford noted, because of the provisions the commissioners have adopted to make those units more economical to build.

The half dwelling unit concept, Cutsinger emphasized, is “a market-based solution.” His understanding, he said, is that that first project is “essentially sold out.”
Given the provisions of the Live Local Act and the county’s past policy and regulation changes, Cutsinger continued, “I think in the next year we’re going to see a lot of exciting developments come forward.”

Osterhoudt told the commissioners that staff would keep them apprised of the status of all county surplus lands and developer proposals for half dwelling unit projects, including occupancy data.

As Osterhoudt noted in his presentation, a multi-family dwelling unit that has no more than 750 square feet of habitable space, located within the county’s Urban Service Boundary — where county services such as water and sewer already are available — “shall be counted as one-half unit (0.5) for density purposes only,” as approved by a past commission. Developers of such units are eligible for incentives such as a reduction in the number of parking spaces required, along with lower impact and utility fees.

The half dwelling units are not allowed on the county’s barrier islands, and they cannot be used for tourist accommodations, as provided for in county regulations.

During his presentation, Osterhoudt also reminded the board members that their predecessors approved measures to allow upper-story residential dwelling units smaller than 750 square feet to count as half units for density purposes in the redevelopment of commercial property — such as aging shopping centers — so companies could take advantage of fewer parking and stormwater requirements.

Additionally, he noted, a past commission approved accessory dwelling units with kitchens that could be a maximum of 750 square feet. Those are not counted for density purposes, one of his slides said.

Surplus land initiatives

Osterhoudt did remind the commissioners that previous boards agreed to make two county surplus parcels available to developers willing to build affordable housing projects.

The first of those, located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota will be called New Trail Plaza, as shown on a slide. It will have at least 96 units serving families making 80% of the AMI or less for no shorter a period than 50 years, Osterhoudt said.

The Blue Sky Communities/Community Assisted & Supported Living (CASL) project on approximately 6.2 acres is in the permitting process with City of Sarasota staff, he added.

Second, he continued, the commissioners — in July 2021 — approved the sale of the property located at 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota to a company that plans a development with approximately 1,482 multi-family dwelling units, with 25% of those homes to continue to be priced as affordable for 10 years. The site comprises about 114 acres at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Tuttle Avenue.

Along with the dwelling units, Osterhoudt pointed out, the development — called Gracewater Midtown — will have a grocery store and a pharmacy, at the commission’s request, as that part of the community has been known as a “food desert,” with no grocery stores in close proximity to the existing homes.

In fact, that morning, as part of their approval of their Consent Agenda of routine business matters, Osterhoudt reminded the commissioners, they approved an extension of the sale and purchase agreement with Gracewater Midtown LLC to give the company until June 19 to turn over to county Planning staff the “land use submittals,” showing the formal plans for how the project has been planned. After the county’s Development Review Coordination (DRC) process on those plans has been completed, the contract amendment said, the proposal would be scheduled for public hearings before the county’s Planning Commission and the County Commission.

The DRC process involves representatives of each county department or division that handles land-use issues. Those individuals review the plans and then provide comments about any changes necessary to ensure the plans comply with all of the relevant county policies and regulations.

The principal of Gracewater Midtown LLC is Eldon E. Johnson Jr., who also has been redeveloping the former Rolling Green Golf Club, which is adjacent to the site on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Third, Osterhoudt continued, staff is negotiating with the Community Housing Trust (CHT) on an 18.14-acre site in Englewood, as the current commission directed earlier this year. A “cluster subdivision” with about 45 single-family attached units “would operate under the CHT’s land model and remain affordable in perpetuity,” that slide said.

Finally, Osterhoudt reminded the commissioners that, in 2022, the board seated at that time approved $25 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money for affordable housing projects. Altogether, the commissioners agreed to eight proposals entailing 741 affordable housing units, that slide pointed out. “All projects are moving through the necessary processes of financing, entitlement, acquisition and land development,” the slide added.

The county’s allocation of those federal funds was the second highest from a local government in Florida for affordable housing efforts and the single largest allocation of money for affordable housing initiatives in the county’s history, Osterhoudt emphasized.

During the discussion, Chair Cutsinger reiterated previous comments he has made about the potential of using county parcels zoned Government Use for affordable housing projects. Osterhoudt noted that staff has scheduled a discussion on that issue for the board’s regular meeting on Aug. 29.

2 thoughts on “In update on affordable housing initiatives, County Commission advised of elements in state’s new Live Local Act”

  1. The current policy that defines “affordable” at 120% of median family income would be laughable if were it not so tragic. With our median income at $98,700, 120% comes to $118,440 per year. Consider the new ALICE report that found 45% of Sarasotans are under the ALICE survival income – about 200% of poverty level. We are doing nothing to provide real affordable housing to the service workers, constructions workers, school teachers, child care and home health aides who are working hard but not earning enough to afford a decent place to live!

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