Neal’s proposal for Comprehensive Plan amendment unanimously denied by County Commission

Board members object to what staff called an attempt to craft changes under the county’s 2050 Plan to suit just the site proposed for Neal’s Grand Lake development

A graphic shows the proposed location of Grand Lake. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows the proposed location of Grand Lake. Image courtesy Sarasota County

It was not so much that they opposed the project behind the Comprehensive Plan amendment developer Pat Neal had proposed, two Sarasota County commissioners said on Oct. 26. It was the fact that Neal and his team were seeking the amendment instead of coming to the board with requests for modifications to enable the Grand Lake project to be built on property east of Interstate 75 that has a number of constraints, Commission Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo and Commissioner Charles Hines said.

For Chair Al Maio, though, one major objection was Neal’s desire for a reduction in the amount of affordable housing under the Village Enclave Comprehensive Plan amendment Neal was seeking.

The county’s 2050 Plan calls for 10% of a project’s houses to be priced at 80% of the region’s annual median income (AMI); another 5% have to be affordable for families making 100% of the AMI, as county Planner Vivian Roe explained on Oct. 26. Because of the need to put a deposit down on a home, Roe said, a dwelling unit priced at 80% of AMI would end up costing $268,000.

The 100% AMI figure is about $62,000 per year, she said; 80% of AMI is $49,500 per year for a family of four.

However, Neal’s proposed Village Enclave amendment involving the county’s 2050 Plan called for only 10% of such a project’s dwelling units to be considered “community housing,” priced at 100% AMI

The 15% figure “is the preferred path for this commissioner,” Maio said at the end of the public hearing in Sarasota. “I will never go along with 10% of 100% AMI.”

Chair Al Maio. File photo
Chair Al Maio. File photo

Maio added that he hoped no one else would bring forward such a proposal as the one Neal and his team had crafted. Maio acknowledged that “affordable housing isn’t very attractive” to neighboring communities. “But I am here to tell you something,” Maio continued: “My cop son, my single mom daughter are fans of affordable housing. This commissioner is a fan of affordable housing.”

The board voted unanimously to deny the request for the Comprehensive Plan amendment.

About 15 members of the public had urged the board to take that stance, including the president of the Serenoa Lakes Community Association, whose neighborhood borders the Grand Lake site to the north. David Anderson reminded the commissioners that the owners of the land envisioned for Grand Lake — the Bispham family — had worked extensively with Serenoa Lakes representatives to rezone the property last year, and both Maio and Caragiulo had praised that action as a model for such efforts.

“This amendment nullifies the agreements that we made in good faith,” Anderson told the board.

As a result of that effort last year, Anderson said, the property could be home to 258 dwelling units. However, Neal was suggesting that under the guidelines of the amendment — if the board approved it — the approximately 522 acres could end up with 783 dwelling units.

Anderson told the board that 512 residents had signed a recent statement opposing that density and another facet of the amendment, which would allow for reduced green space.

A chart shows how annual median income would be applied to affordable housing in developments. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart shows how annual median income would be applied to affordable housing in developments. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Neal argued that the 2050 Plan requirements for 44% of the site to be used as a buffer and another 50% to remain open space would make it impossible for him to build an economically viable project on the site.

Yet, in response to questioning from Caragiulo and Hines, Roe pointed out that development options other than those under the 2050 Plan were available for the property

Then and now

During her presentation, Roe explained that two key elements of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment had changed since the Planning Commission unanimously voted on Sept. 15 to deny the request.

First, she said, the Neal team had decided to include the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) as one of the facets of a Village Enclave development. Second, Roe pointed out, the original proposal included no affordable housing.

A graphic shows a variety of development options under the 2050 Plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows a variety of development options for the property. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the other elements required for a project to be considered as a Village Enclave — which have not changed, she noted — are the ability to seek a reduction of the greenbelt requirement to a minimum width of 50 feet; a reduction in open space from 50% to 33%; and the omission of retail or office uses in the neighborhood centers, because of existing services in the immediate area.

A Village Enclave designation would be for lands unsuitable for regular Village developments under the 2050 Plan, she told the board.

The way the Comprehensive Plan amendment was crafted, Roe pointed out, the only property that could be home to a Village Enclave project would be the one proposed for Grand Lake. Staff does not support any amendment that appears to be specific to one site, she said.

Attorney Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, who opened the presentation for the Neal team, pointed out that the purpose of the proposed amendment was “to deal with properties that face somewhat insurmountable problems under 2050 without some minor adjustments.”

He likened the concept of the three Village development designations provided under the 2050 Plan as “a big circus tent with three rings in it.” After the tent has been created, he continued, “you have some fabric left over,” but it is not big enough for another three-ring circus.

Yet, properties such as those proposed for Grand Lake “are very valuable,” he added, and “should be salvaged.”

As Neal himself put it to the board: “We believe that the peripheral properties just do not work” under the 2050 Plan as it stands.

Neal also pointed out that, even though he had agreed to include community housing in Grand Lake, those lower-priced homes would be adjacent to a development with houses ranging from $600,000 to $900,000.

During her presentation, Roe provided the board photos of houses in the affordable range that she had found on the Internet, noting that they are attractive dwelling units.

Board discussion

A county graphic shows examples of 'affordable housing.' Image courtesy Sarasota County
A county graphic shows examples of ‘affordable housing.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County

Caragiulo told the development team members that he understood the concept of “remnant property,” but he did not necessarily view the Grand Lake site the same way they did.

Bailey concurred with him that the property had little in the way of environmental challenges.

Therefore, Caragiulo said, “It’s not as if the property can’t be developed.”

Hines agreed with Caragiulo. “Why can’t you get what you want [under the 2050 Plan]?” Hines asked Bailey.

Other projects the board already has approved under the 2050 Plan had to win modifications, Bailey pointed out, because of their size and other limiting factors. “All we’re trying to do is group them together” under one Comprehensive Plan amendment.

After Chair Maio closed the public hearing, it took a couple of minutes before Commissioner Carolyn Mason made the motion to support the staff recommendation to deny the request for the amendment. “I’ve heard a lot, I’ve read a lot about this issue, and I’m not totally convinced that what’s presented is the way we need to go,” she said.

“We spent I don’t know how much time going through and trying to amend 2050 [a couple of years ago] to make it workable,” Hines pointed out. Referring to the property proposed for Grand Lake, he added, “I think there are some viable alternatives [for development of it].”