City Commission approves the draft lists on 4-1 vote, however, with the assurance that further public comment and board review will be part of the process
A draft of priorities for the 2016-21 Consolidated Plan the City and County of Sarasota must submit in August 2016 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) won City Commission approval last week on a 4-1 vote.
City board members did not question the change in language the County Commission sought the previous week in regard to a shelter or triage center for the homeless. However, Mayor Willie Shaw, who cast the lone “No” vote, voiced concern about an apparent shift in focus from making sure affordable housing is available in the community to establishing a shelter. He also questioned whether the two local government boards would reach the successful conclusion of their collaboration on Myrtle Street improvements.
Don Hadsell, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, appeared before the City Commission during its regular session on Nov. 16 to seek approval of the recommendations for priorities marked “High,” “Medium” and “Low” for funding the two boards will receive from the state and federal governments. Hadsell explained that the Consolidated Plan must be submitted every five years in accord with federal guidelines for communities that receive HUD grants for housing and community development programs.
Because the County and City commissions formed a consortium years ago to obtain one type of HUD funding, Hadsell pointed out, the two local governments work together to craft each five-year Consolidated Plan. The last such document was completed in 2011, and it will run through Sept. 30, 2016, according to a memo Hadsell provided.
After a similar presentation by Hadsell on Nov. 10, the County Commission sought a change in the wording of the top priority from “Coordinated entry system for chronic homeless individuals” to “Coordinated entry system for chronic homeless individuals, which may include a shelter and/or triage center.”
When City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asked Hadsell on Nov. 16 for clarification about that priority, he explained that it refers to a physical location, not the management information system set up to coordinate data about homeless individuals and families seeking assistance. Hadsell added that while homeless families are served by two emergency shelters, no physical structure has been designated for chronically homeless individuals to visit if they need help, except for a Salvation Army facility in Sarasota.
In early October, the Salvation Army opened a new intake and social services center at the Glasser-Schoenbuam complex, located at 1750 17th St. in Sarasota.
After he showed the city Commission slides listing the draft priorities, Shaw asked Hadsell whether some emphasis will remain on maintaining affordable housing stock in the community. “Or are we putting all of our eggs in one basket,” Shaw added, referring to the shelter proposal.
(In the 2011-2016 Consolidated Plan, the second item listed under “High” priorities is “Maintaining the Affordable Single-Family Housing Stock.”)
“This hasn’t been decided yet,” Hadsell responded. The slides showed concepts only, he continued. Funding priorities will be decided at a future point in the process, he said.
Even though financial details for a homeless shelter have not been discussed, Shaw pointed out, it seems “a given” that a considerable amount of money will have to be set aside for that purpose. “Correct?” he asked Hadsell.
“I don’t think that there has been any decision by the county or the city” regarding the amounts of funding that will be accorded to the individual priorities, Hadsell replied.
In February, the city and county boards are expected to review the public comments received during the advertising of the draft plan and its presentation at public meetings, Hadsell told the City Commission. Then, in April, as outlined in his schedule, the two boards will select activities for funding in the 2016-21 Consolidated Plan.
“My apologies,” Shaw told Hadsell, for “getting ahead of the game.”
The final slide indicating goals showed “Other Public Services; and Public Improvements” as low priorities. “That’s a major change,” Hadsell noted, referencing the board’s discussion earlier that day about improvements to Myrtle Street.
A staff memo regarding the Myrtle Street project explains that the city allocated $216,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds “for the acquisition of the real property and easements necessary” for the work to widen Myrtle Street between U.S. 41 and the point approximately 200 feet east of Osprey Avenue; construct sidewalks on the north and south sides of the road; close drainage systems; and add bicycle lanes and lighting.
Because of environmental concerns identified on one parcel the county needs for the work, the staff memo notes, a renegotiation of the purchase contract for that land will have to be pursued. Ultimately, the memo adds, the county may have to acquire the property through eminent domain. However, because the CDBG funds have to be spent by July 31, 2016, the memo continues, “City and County staff have determined that the Myrtle Street project will need to be constructed in phases.” The first one, it says, will be between Central Avenue and U.S. 41 at a cost of about $2 million. After the remaining parcels are acquired, the memo explains, the rest of the improvements can begin.
As part of its Nov. 17 Consent Agenda, the County Commission approved an amendment to its agreement with the city regarding the project. The next step is for the county to hire a contractor, the city staff memo says, adding, “It is anticipated that construction [of the next phase] will begin on January 1, 2016.”
When Shaw asked Hadsell whether some of the CDBG funding might be reallocated from the Myrtle Street project, Hadsell pointed out that the money is designated for use in the 2016 fiscal year, so the project would go forward. However, Hadsell added, the city and county always have the option of amending their CDBG grant to change their priorities.
Nonetheless, Hadsell said he believed the work already planned would be completed unless some unforeseen circumstances arose to increase the cost.
A Nov. 17 memo to the County Commission from county Public Works Director Isaac Brownman points out that, because of higher than anticipated expenses, the project is fully funded only through Phase 2. That includes construction of the sidewalks on the south side of the road, street lighting and stormwater improvements. He added that an application for the final phase — including the sidewalks on the north side of Myrtle — has been submitted to the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Shaw told Hadsell that the city commissioners had seen in the recent past that a matter they believed to be settled “looks altogether different” at a later point in the process.
With no other questions from city commissioners and no public comments on the draft priorities, Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell made a motion to approve the recommendations as Hadsell had presented them. Freeland Eddie seconded the motion.
Shaw then was in the minority as the motion passed on the 4-1 vote.