Permit fee study and potential revisions of regulations related to tiny homes and parking requirements among county steps to spur affordable housing

Staff report provides update on initiatives

Tiny houses are part of the Boneyard Studios development in Washington, D.C. Image from

Sarasota County staff has been negotiating with a firm to undertake a permit fee study as one step in a multi-pronged effort to create more affordable housing in the community, the director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department has reported to the County Commission.

Staff also is at work on an amendment to the county’s mobility fee ordinance that would reduce the rates for housing units with less than 750 square feet, Matthew Osterhoudt wrote in a Nov. 13 memorandum. That amendment is expected to be ready for board consideration in the spring of 2018.

Additionally, staff “has been approached by a few individuals interested in exploring a tiny home project(s),” Osterhoudt noted. “Staff will continue to follow up with interested developers,” he added. Discussions about such projects “may help identify the demand for such housing in the county,” he wrote.

Yet another step to facilitate the development of more affordable homes will be a public hearing early next year, during which the County Commission will consider modifying parking requirements for certain types of developments, Osterhoudt continued. That hearing is planned for the morning of Jan. 17, 2018.

With the County Commission having put a focus on affordable housing this year, staff has worked at the board’s behest to meet with community residents, collect data and compile details about best practices, Osterhoudt pointed out in the Nov. 13 report. On May 23, the board specifically directed staff to work on proposals that could be implemented on a faster timeline.

In an interim report, dated Sept. 21, Osterhoudt wrote that because of the strong national interest in tiny homes, staff has evaluated the county’s regulations associated with the development of such dwellings. He explained that “micro units” are those generally less than 500 square feet, while tiny houses typically are less than 400 square feet.

Options have been provided to the County Commission for consideration in regard to tiny house developments. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Unlike many other jurisdictions,” he continued, “the county does not have minimum housing size standards that would need to be changed in order to allow these types of units to be built,” as long as they are permanent residential structures on foundations. However, he pointed out, such homes would have to conform to the Florida Building Code requirement for a minimum of 120 square feet for the first occupant and an extra 70 square feet for each additional occupant.

The restrictions the county code does have, he added, are associated with issues such as houses on wheels and the density of developments, “which may be higher than presently allowed …” Osterhoudt explained that a significant number of the tiny houses being manufactured are built on trailers that can be towed.

Potential modification of fees

Matt Osterhoudt. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the Sept. 21 update, Osterhoudt noted that as a result of the May 23 County Commission discussion, staff talked with developers who were interested in providing details about their experiences with county regulations related to affordable housing. Osterhoudt added that staff “received comments from various stakeholders,” pointing out that the number and expense of fees “can negatively affect their ability to successfully develop workforce housing.”

After receiving requests to waive fees, Osterhoudt continued, staff and the Office of the County Attorney reviewed relevant legislation. “It was determined that fees cannot be waived,” he continued, “but they can be covered by an alternative funding source. One option to consider is for the [commission] to authorize a funding source to offset fees,” if a developer can meet specific criteria.

“Additionally,” he wrote, “the county could consider an overall reduction in fees” to lower developers’ expenses.

Staff also is reviewing standards used for utility fees, Osterhoudt reported.

The Public Utilities Department, he continued, “uses both technical knowledge and historical water usage of master-metered developments that contain smaller residential home types” — such as multifamily units, mobile home units, and spaces for recreational vehicles — to adjust the amount of capacity fees charged for particular types of units.

If a developer uses a master meter to serve a community with smaller dwelling units, Osterhoudt pointed out, the capacity fee calculations should yield potentially lower rates.

Parking changes

Regarding lower parking fees, an Oct. 31 memo to the County Commission explained that county parking costs are driven by three factors: ratios, cost per space and “opportunity cost of the land used up for parking.” It added, “The more parking spaces required, the higher the cost of an overall development.”

Some jurisdictions have eliminated parking requirements in specific areas, such as downtowns and heritage districts, the memo pointed out. However, the memo noted, that approach can lead to “spillover parking problems, which may require more regulation and enforcement.”

“Alternatively,” the memo continued, “eliminating or reducing parking requirements can lead to a more efficient and equitable parking market” in which households pay only for the number of spaces needed. These conditions usually are found “in urban areas with robust public transit options,” the memo pointed out.

The county’s zoning regulations require two parking spaces for each single-family residence, along with a range for multi-family units: 1.5 spaces for a one-bedroom dwelling; two for a unit with more than one bedroom; and one space per five units for visitor parking.

A chart shows proposed changes to the county’s zoning regulations to facilitate affordable housing development in regard to parking requirements. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county already allows a developer to seek approval for a reduction in the required number of spaces by submitting an Alternative Parking Plan, the memo noted. The cost for such an application is $1,000, and it must be supported by data from studies associated with similar uses and conditions, the memo said.

The zoning amendment the County Commission will consider in January 2018 calls for a reduction in the ratio of parking spaces for single- and multi-family unites that are smaller than 750 square feet, the memo explained. Only one space would be required for a single-family unit with less than 750 square feet; two would be necessary for a two-family unit. A multi-family development with an average dwelling size less than 750 square feet also would require just one parking space, plus one space per five units labeled for visitors.

The option for submitting an Alternative Parking Plan will remain, the memo said.

The county’s Planning Commission tentatively is scheduled to consider the amendment during its Dec. 7 meeting.