County commissioners also voice excitement about one potential project whose developer already has been working on a site plan
On Jan. 17, the Sarasota County Commission took its first formal step in adjusting fees it charges developers in an effort to spur more construction of affordable housing. That measure involved parking regulations.
This week, the board took its second step, this one related to mobility impact fees. A third step — involving water and sewer capacity fees — is in the making, Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out during the commission’s regular meeting on April 24 in Sarasota. That third change, he said, would treat an affordable housing unit as the equivalent of half a regular dwelling unit.
A county fact sheet providing an update on the board’s affordable housing initiatives noted that potential options for modifications of the capacity fees would be presented during a commission meeting in the latter part of May.
Commissioners also talked this week of their excitement that one person in the community — whom they did not name — already is at work on an 80-unit project encompassing tiny homes in a size range between 300 and 400 square feet.
On an April 24 motion by Maio, with a second by Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, the board voted unanimously to add in new categories for mobility fees for tiny and micro homes, as well as for multi-family units smaller than 750 square feet.
Although staff had included a line item for developments designed for active adults age 55 and older, Chair Nancy Detert questioned that. “I don’t know anybody 56 years old that quits driving, frankly,” she told Tom Polk, the county’s impact fee administrator, during the public hearing.
Polk pointed out that the revised fees staff had proposed were based on data from national sources — including the ninth edition of the Institute of Traffic Engineers Trip Generation Manual. Staff’s goal, he said, was to build the case for lower mobility fees for certain types of housing.
At the outset of his presentation, Polk told the commissioners that the recommended fee changes were based upon factors such as reduced parking needs, proximity to transit, and the ability of residents to walk to work. The technical evaluation, according to a staff memo provided to the board in advance of the meeting, “demonstrated a reduction in capacity demands on the roadway network for housing units less than 750 square feet.”
“Our chairman lives in one of those communities,” Commissioner Charles Hines noted, referring to the proposedActive Adult (55+)category. Although such developments typically have a number of amenities, including clubhouses and pools, Hines continued, “There’s no reason that [those communities] should receive that benefit [of lower mobility impact fees]. I don’t see that as part of our policy.”
The board’s goal, Hines emphasized, “was to help … workforce housing.”
Caragiulo acknowledged that the list was driven by data from a number of sources Polk had cited, but “it just seems counterintuitive to me.”
Nonetheless, Caragiulo said, “We’re not supposed to be picking winners and losers here when it comes to this kind of [change in county policy].”
Polk explained that a new impact fee methodology study will be undertaken in 2019, as each county’s fee schedule should be updated every five years. After that has been completed, he told the commissioners, he hoped to have a greater body of evidence demonstrating the need for specific mobility fee adjustments. The implementation of those new fees is planned for 2020, according to the staff memo.
“At this point, I would just recommend that we strike that one land use,” Polk said, referring to the Active Adult (55+)line in the proposed ordinance amendment under consideration on April 24.
The other land use she questioned, Detert noted, was Tiny Home (On Wheels), which staff had added to the line with mobile homes and recreational vehicles.
The reason behind that, Polk responded, was the difficulty in determining an exact definition for tiny homes.
“It usually means small, extremely small square footage,” Detert told him. She had only been on the board a short time — following her swearing in in late November 2016, she pointed out — when she first broached the issue of the county’s critical need for affordable housing and specifically referenced tiny home villages.
Some tiny homes on wheels are designed to be “street legal,” Polk replied. They are akin to mobile homes, he added.
The proposed fee was the same, Detert pointed out, regardless of whether the tiny home was permanent or on wheels. “So what’s the difference?”
Polk said staff wanted to differentiate between the two kinds of tiny homes. Those on wheels have an impact on roadways similar to mobile homes, he added.
Then Maio asked whether he could propose a motion. He suggested striking the Active Adult (55+)category altogether. As for tiny homes, he continued, one of the new land use categories should say, Tiny Home/Micro Unit, without use of the word “Permanent.” That way, he pointed out, no differentiation of tiny homes would be included in the amendment; the homes could be “slab on grade or on wheels.”
Then Tiny Home (On Wheels)could be dropped from the category with mobile homes and recreational vehicles.
When a consultant works on revised impact fee methodology for the 2019 update, Maio pointed out, “Some of this will get further refined.”
A project in the making
During a discussion later on the morning of April 24, Maio talked of a recent meeting with an acquaintance he has known for about 25 years who had purchased an old multi-family residential property. The person plans to construct an 80-unit affordable housing project, Maio said.
(An affordable housing update provided to the board that day, as part of a review of the status of top commission priorities, included the note that staff had scheduled a meeting this month “with a local developer to work through development issues for a potential tiny home development in the Nokomis-Osprey area.”)
The project will not need any rezoning or county Comprehensive Plan changes, Maio pointed out.
“He showed me his site plan,” Maio continued. “Interestingly enough, I told him our new parking rules dramatically help the open space on the project.”
The man was not aware that the board had modified county parking regulations in January, Maio added.
As a result of his discussion with the person, Maio suggested county staff look at ways it can expedite the process for developers working on affordable housing projects, so such projects can get underway faster.
“Again, I would ask all of us,” Maio said, to keep reminding staff to bring directly to the commissioners any other issues in county ordinances that need to be addressed, so they can create further incentives for affordable housing developments. For example, he noted, the standard road width may not be necessary for internal road circulation in such communities, “provided the fire trucks and the emergency vehicles can get around [in them].”
Additionally, Maio said, “that water and sewer capacity fee discussion … is critical, because, boy, there’s so much less of an impact, in my opinion,” with smaller housing units.
He clarified that he was talking about structures ranging between 300 and 400 square feet. They are, he noted, “perfect for one person.”
Commissioner Caragiulo told his colleagues he had met with the same person who had talked with Maio. “It’s exactly what this board asked for,” Caragiulo added, in terms of an affordable housing project. “[I am] very, very excited.”