Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations among organizations urging city staff to provide more time for public participation in process
The Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations of Sarasota (CCNA) and at least five individual neighborhood associations are imploring the Sarasota city commissioners to slow down the process for implementation of a controversial amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan that four of the commissioners initially approved on May 16, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
(Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch cast the “No” vote.)
That amendment calls for a number of steps to try to spur the creation of more affordable housing in the city. It would modify the city’s Future Land Use Map (FLUM) to reflect those plans.
During the May 16 public hearing, numerous speakers voiced opposition to facets of the amendment. The section that generated much of their concern, they said, was a provision for taller buildings in two of the city’s downtown zoning districts — Downtown Core and Urban Edge. The Downtown Core district has a maximum height of 10 floors; up to five more stories would be allowed if a sufficient number of the units were priced to be affordable. Urban Edge restricts height to five stories. Therefore, the city proposal calls for a developer to be awarded one or two more stories if city staff deems enough attainable dwelling units are included in the design.
Steve Cover, the city’s planning director, characterized a sufficient percentage of affordable dwelling units as being “in the 15% to 25% range.”
Ultimately, that facet of the proposed amendment was stripped from it for later discussion.
Yet another controversial section of the amendment would allow city staff to approve new projects after an “administrative review” process, which would not entail any City Commission hearing. Staff would have to determine only whether a developer’s project complied with all the applicable elements of the amendment before staff gave the developer the go-ahead to proceed.
Among other facets of the proposed amendment, as Laurel Park resident Ronald Kashden pointed out in an Aug. 18 email to neighborhood leaders citywide, it calls for changes to the city’s transportation corridor. Those would have an impact on 1,000 to 1,500 parcels, affecting “every major road,” Kashden wrote, with emphasis. Residents “could see multi-story structures with incompatible uses abutting every neighborhood in the city,” he added.
The amendment would allow for the redevelopment of existing commercial shopping centers into mixed-use sites on transportation corridors.
That proposed new section of the Comprehensive Plan calls for an “Urban Mixed-Use” land classification. The amendment explains that it “is founded upon the concepts of ‘New Urbanism’ whereby diverse, walkable neighborhoods are created. … A goal of ‘New Urbanism’ is to realize compact and diverse mixed-use neighborhoods with discernable centers that provide housing and workplaces in [close proximity to each other].”
That part of the amendment would allow base residential densities of up to 25 dwelling units per acre along mixed-use corridors, except along the North Tamiami Trail, which could have up to 35 units per acre. It further notes that up to 50 dwelling units per acre within mixed-use centers “may be consistent” with the proposed new land classification. That section also points out, “Additional residential density may be approved when attainable housing units are provided for a portion of those residential units exceeding the base residential density.”
Additionally, neighborhoods, like Laurel Park, would be affected by proposed changes to the Downtown Core land-use classification. That part of the proposed amendment would allow base residential densities up to 50 units per acre, with extra dwelling units allowed when a portion of them are priced to be workforce housing.
State sign-off on amendment leads to implementation schedule
As required by state law, city staff had to send the proposed amendment to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for a formal review before the City Commission could subsequent public hearings on it for adoption purposes.
On Aug. 17, the DEO staff formally notified Mayor Erik Arroyo that its review produced no comments. In other words, no changes were recommended in the proposal.
The letter added that the review “was completed under the expedited state review process.”
As a result, Kashden continued in his Aug. 18 email, city staff has announced the following schedule for the upcoming City Commission hearings:
- Sept. 19 — First reading of the finalized changes to the amendment.
- Oct. 17 — Second reading and final vote to enact the amendment, as well as the first reading of the accompanying inclusionary zoning changes.
- Nov. 7 — Second reading of the inclusionary zoning changes and vote to enact those.
In an Aug. 19 email to City Manager Marlon Brown that the News Leader read on the city website, Cover, the planning director, wrote, “We are continuing to work with the City Attorney’s Office on the final language for the ordinances to go to the Commission. One-on-one meetings have been scheduled for September with each of the Commission Members.”
Fuming over the handling of the FLUM
In his email to the neighborhood groups, Kashden also pointed out, “The FLUM [Future Land Use Map] is the bedrock which dictates our zoning code. It creates a universal understanding regarding how the land around us could be used in the future. It’s the long-range resolute guide to our neighboring land uses, and it’s that durability which brings stability to our zoning code. In other words, FLUM changes should be rare, and their implications well-understood by residents as well as city planners and developers.
“Furthermore,” Kashden continued, “there hasn’t been a consensus as to the efficacy of the proposals [in the Comprehensive Plan amendment].
For example, he continued, over the course of the summer, former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton and Commissioner Ahearn-Koch described an alternative approach that other cities, including Miami, have taken. That requires 25% of new units in areas recently designated for residential or mixed use to be provided in perpetuity at 60% to 100% of the Area Median Income — AMI — as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Kashden noted.
For the current year, HUD says the AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is $90,400.
“This is the sort of approach Sarasota needs if it is to accommodate its workforce and young families,” Kashden wrote of the range of AMI proposed by Ahearn-Koch and Thaxton. “HOWEVER,” he again emphasized, “this is NOT what is being worked on for Oct. 17. Once the 1,000-1,500 parcels are given the FLUM change, the opportunity to build an affordable housing component into the [uses the city would allow] will be lost forever …
“Despite the accelerated schedule, and incomplete publicly-accessible information,” Kashden added, “affected persons (everyone who lives within 500 feet of any ‘transportation corridor’ which would get this new mixed land use) must weigh in within the next 120 days or forever hold their peace … Yet again, there is no mention of community workshops, nor any planned consideration of community feedback,” he wrote once more, with emphasis.
During the May 16 public hearing, a number of speakers protested that Planning Director Cover had not conducted a sufficient number of public workshops on the proposed changes. In spite of having promised multiple sessions with residents, they stressed, Cover held only one workshop, and that one was not advertised sufficiently to ensure that all of the affected residents knew about it. Even Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who noted that she should have been advised of the event — as a property owner in an affected area — did not get one of the notices, she said.
“There is no need to have this done by Nov 7, particularly at the cost of community engagement,” Kashden wrote, referencing the City Commission agenda schedule he had included in his email. “This is our city. Our neighbors. Our neighborhoods. We must stand up together, as a community, and demand our rights to decide our own destiny and regain a voice in the decisions that impact our everyday lives.”
The DEO letter to Arroyo did note that “an affected person” could challenge the amendment. Therefore, Kashden continued, “I suggest CCNA, acting on behalf of its members, assert affected person status and require that the process of planning our collective future be a collective and inclusive one.”
CCNA, Alta Vista and St. Armands responses
In response to Kashden’s email alert, the CCNA Executive Committee sent a position paper/statement to the city commissioners on Aug. 21, calling, with emphasis, for them “to expand the timeline [for approving the amendment] to include scheduling of workshops to educate the community and allow crucial community feedback. There are no circumstances under which property owners, residents, and neighborhoods should be excluded from having a voice in the evolution of our city.”
The position paper also pointed out that, prior to the commission’s May 16 vote, “[T]here had NOT been a consensus as to the efficacy of [the] proposals with disagreement amongst the commission, the community, and former commissioners.”
The letter was signed by CCNA Chair Lou Costa.
A day later — Aug. 22 — the board members of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association told the city commissioners via email — also with emphasis — that they are “unanimously united in strong agreement with Mr. Kashden.” They “[implored the commissioners] to abide by our joint request for slow deliberation and mass citizen involvement in this process” of amending the Comprehensive Plan.
Larry Silvermintz is president of the Alta Vista Neighborhood Association.
Then, on Aug. 23, Kashden — writing on behalf of Laurel Park residents — sent City Manager Marlon Brown an email reprising some of the points he had made in his earlier correspondence with the neighborhood leaders.
Among those points, he noted, “The rushed schedule precludes time for the appropriate community education, workshops and feedback. It is even more jarring because this package includes the expansion of administrative approval, or put another way minimizing the voice of existing residents. If the community isn’t involved in the discussion of these changes now, we could be precluded in the future.”
Kashden added that, along with getting formal responses from the CCNA and the Alta Vista board, he personally had heard back from other neighborhood groups “in support of lengthening the [hearing] schedule and holding workshops.” Those were the Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association and the Golden Gate Point Association.
Chris Goglia, president of the St. Armands Residents Association, also wrote to the city commissioners and City Manager Brown on Aug. 23. In that letter, Goglia pointed out, “We agree that it is important to find solutions to the lack of available workforce, attainable, and affordable housing, but it is our understanding that once these comprehensive plan changes are made, they cannot be undone. Accordingly, we ask you to take more time to increase the chances of getting this right for the benefit of ALL City residents, now and for all future generations.”
Additionally on Aug. 23, Valerie Buchand of Newtown, president of the Agency-Wide Resident Council of Public Housing, emailed City Manager Brown and the commissioners to express support for the CCNA position paper. “We further believe neighborhoods/citizens should be very much involved in the process of any changes that will affect the lives of [their] community,” Buchand wrote.
The News Leader learned through Kashden that, altogether, 11 separate neighborhood groups are calling on city leaders to adjust the timeline for approving the Comprehensive Plan amendment and taking related steps.