Sale of county property at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota approved, for construction of affordable housing development

Blue Sky Communities and CASL to pay county $1,950,000 for land that County Commission declared surplus a couple of years ago

In unanimously approving their July 12 Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the Sarasota County commissioners formally agreed to sell a North Tamiami Trail parcel to a project team that the board members selected in October 2021 to construct an affordable housing project on the site.

The resolution the commissioners adopted on July 12 called for the property located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota to be sold for $1,950,000 to Blue CASL Tamiami LLC. That limited liability company plans to build at least 96 dwelling units that would be priced at 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), or less, as a July 12 county staff memo pointed out.

Blue CASL Tamiami is a collaboration between Blue Sky Communities of Tampa and Community Assisted & Supported Living (CASL), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Sarasota County.

This year, the AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area is $90,400, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced. The chart released by HUD shows that, for a family of four, 80% of the AMI would be $69,050. Further, 50% of the AMI for a family of four in this Metropolitan Statistical Area is $43,150, the chart says.

The July 12 staff memo noted that sale proceeds of up to $1,206,096.78 will be allocated to the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Acquisition Fund, which also provides taxpayer-approved revenue for the purchase of property for new county parks. The county bought the 4644 N. Tamiami Trail site for $1.2 million in January 2015, with plans for the creation of a regional park.

This year, the commissioners have authorized the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff to work on the expansion of the county’s 17thStreet Park into a regional facility.

The remainder of the sale proceeds will be allocated to the county’s General Fund, the staff memo said. That fund pays for operations of county departments that do not generate their own revenue.

A bit of history

In February 2021, the County Commission voted to authorize county Planning and Development Services Department staff to negotiate with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County and a nonprofit organization called Artspace for the property located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail. Staff had issued a solicitation for affordable housing proposals for the site and then provided the commissioners with details comparing the six responses.

Together, the Alliance and Artspace planned a “live-work [building] for artists” on the 6.2-acre parcel. Further, that team’s offer called for construction of units “within the prescribed range of AMI for affordable housing in Sarasota County.”

Matt Osterhoudt, director of Planning and Development, explained to the commissioners on Feb. 9, 2021 that staff had asked for clarification of that latter point. The developers, he added, had said they would “narrow that down for us” if the board was interested in the proposal.

Therefore, Commissioner Christian Ziegler’s motion that day called for not only 50% more money for the purchase price but also for a commitment that units would be affordable to persons earning 80% of the AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Further, the commissioners agreed that the Blue Sky/CASL proposal would be their second choice, if the negotiations with the Alliance and Artspace were unsuccessful.

On Oct. 12, 2021, Osterhoudt of Planning and Development was back at the podium in the County Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota to explain that the Alliance and Artspace actually had lowered their offer for the county land on North Tamiami Trail to about $200,000.

Osterhoudt added that, later, the team came back with a counterproposal of $1,950,000.

During the commissioners’ Oct. 12, 2021 discussion, Chair Alan Maio emphasized his displeasure with the Alliance/Artspace group’s initial stance on the purchase price, characterizing it as “wasting staff’s time and energy and taxpayer money.”

As a result, the commissioners authorized negotiations with Blue Sky and CASL.

The sales agreement

The County Commission had designated the property at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail as surplus for the purpose of trying to facilitate the construction of an affordable housing development there. The July 12 resolution that the board approved for the sale noted that.

The contract also points to the commission’s goal of seeing the parcel serve as home to “a mixed income, affordable rental community …”

It further notes that Blue CASL Tamiami has agreed that the community “will consist of approximately 96 rental units with a mix of 30%, 60%, and 80% AMI, with 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units” in accord with the Development Concept Plan that Blue CASL Tamiami had provided to staff.

That concept plan was attached as an exhibit to the contract. Details on the graphic show that it was created by Hoyt Architects in Sarasota.

Among other parts of the contract, it says that Blue CASL Tamiami “shall use commercially reasonable efforts to secure financing … in sums sufficient to purchase the Property and construct the Affordable Housing Units in [their] entirety.”

The contract also notes that the limited liability company “intends to utilize financing” from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., and the county “has agreed to provide [a] local contribution through the Sarasota Office of Housing and Community Development.” The latter contribution, the contract adds, may not exceed $750,000.

As the county website explains, the Sarasota Office of Housing and Community Development “is a cooperative effort of the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County government” that serves residents throughout the county, including those living in the Cities of Sarasota, Venice and North Port.

The office provides a variety of programs, including one focused on housing rehabilitation and another that provides loans up to $20,000 to homeowners who do not have sufficient equity in their property, so they can make repairs to electrical, plumbing and heating/air conditioning systems, as well as roofs.

The agency also provides grants to nonprofit agencies that address homelessness in the county. Those funds can be used “to administer housing services, such as outreach and engagement, case management, and rapid re-housing to homeless persons,” the website says.