Planning Commission unanimously recommends the County Commission approve staff-initiated zoning text amendment
Sarasota County Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper called it a necessary step, from the public policy perspective.
His fellow Planning Commissioner Ron Cutsinger cited it as a key to reducing costs, so developers will build housing units that are more affordable.
Their focus was a proposed change to the county’s zoning regulations that would reduce the number of parking spaces necessary for smaller dwelling units. On a unanimous vote on a Dec. 7 motion by Cooper, the commission recommended that the County Commission approve the zoning amendment, which staff had proposed.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time here,” Cooper said of the effort to spur more creation of affordable housing units. “We have to get this done. … If we’re not carrying our weight for the public policy side of things, we will not get this done.”
The County Commission is scheduled to address the proposed zoning text amendment on Jan. 17, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson told the Planning Commission members.
In her Dec. 7 presentation, Thompson pointed out that the County Commission has made the creation of more affordable housing units one of its top priorities. To that end, in September, she continued, the board directed staff to proceed with steps that could be enacted fairly quickly to facilitate such developments.
“A key issue that was identified during … outreach efforts,” Thompson said, “has been that the county’s parking regulations can be too restrictive.”
The three factors that affect the cost of parking spaces in a new community, she noted, are the ratios of spaces required per square foot of a dwelling unit; the cost to construct each space; and the expense of the land necessary for the parking area.
Thus, she said, the more parking spaces zoning regulations mandate in a development, the more costly a project will be.
In an effort to boost the amount of affordable housing stock, Thompson added, some jurisdictions have eliminated parking requirements altogether. However, Sarasota County staff feels that that can lead to spillover parking in adjoining neighborhoods, with the attendant resident frustrations, she indicated.
Therefore, staff had settled on a proposal that it felt would foster affordable housing development without creating new problems, she said.
Diving into the numbers
The county’s zoning regulations require two spaces for each single-family residence, Thompson explained. For multi-family construction, the code calls for 1.5 spaces for each one-bedroom unit; two spaces for each unit with more than one bedroom; and one space for every five units, located in close proximity to the building, for visitors.
The proposed changes, she noted, would allow for one space for a single-family dwelling unit with less than 750 square feet and two spaces for single-family detached homes, traditional patio homes and villas larger than 750 square feet. Additionally, two spaces would be required for two-family units but only one space for a multi-family dwelling with an average size less than 750 square feet. However, one space per five such units would have to be set aside for visitor parking. For multi-family dwellings larger than 750 square feet, she said, 1.5 spaces would be necessary for one-bedroom units; two, for units with more than one bedroom; and one space per every five units, labeled for visitor parking.
“I would point out that this does not eliminate the ability for a developer to seek an alternative parking plan in which he can demonstrate that those parking requirements may be too stringent for his development, or he may request more parking than what is required,” she told the board.
Cooper first asked Thompson whether she was aware of any alternative parking plans having been approved for multi-family units.
“Yes, sir,” she replied. The developer of a new apartment complex had sought a reduction in the number of spaces, she said, having explained to county staff that residents will have ready access to public transit because of the project’s location.
Then Cooper told her that while he found the zoning regulations amendment a good proposal, “the question I have is … does it go far enough?”
Cooper added, “I just want to make sure [that with multi-family housing], we’re taking it as far as we need to actually make it work.”
“Hopefully, this will provide an alternative for [developers],” Thompson responded. Again, she emphasized that a builder always can request an alternative parking plan.
Commissioner Robert Morris questioned the need for the number of visitor spaces proposed in the zoning text amendment.
Thompson asserted her belief that the number is appropriate. For example, she said, a resident of a multi-family community could host a holiday party, and the attendees would need somewhere to park.
Then Morris asked, “Would it be safe to say that there aren’t a lot of 750-square-foot, single-family houses being built [in the county]?”
“At this point in time, I would say that would be safe to say,” Thompson replied. Yet, she continued, “We have had several inquiries about providing tiny houses throughout the county,” and those developments would benefit from final approval of the zoning amendment.
Chair Andrew Stultz then asked how much staff had involved the public in the proposed changes.
Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained that the “situational report” staff produced in the spring — in response to the County Commission’s calls to facilitate construction of more affordable housing developments — detailed the “quite robust” outreach staff had undertaken. However, Osterhoudt noted, staff did not hold a formal public meeting on the issue.
Osterhoudt did point out, “At the top of the list [of the public’s focus] was parking requirements.”
No one had signed up to address the Planning Commission on the proposed changes, so Stultz then closed the public hearing.
Cooper pointed out of the amendment, “This is just one piece of the puzzle” in fostering more affordable housing developments.
Commissioner Cutsinger added that he had read the situational report to which Osterhoudt had referred; he recommended that any of his colleagues who have not done so take that opportunity. “It’s a great report.”
Then the members voted 9-0 to recommend the County Commission approve the zoning text amendment.