Commissioners Maio and Hines talk of potential for affordable housing to revitalize strip centers and malls
A speaker’s suggestion during a public hearing has prompted Sarasota County commissioners to suggest that a new county zoning district should be explored just for mixed-use developments.
During the March 1 hearing, Larry Grossman noted his background as a planner who had developed “zoning codes and zoning nomenclature.” He was before the board to voice opposition to a proposed county zoning code amendment that would allow freestanding multi-family residential structures in any district zoned Commercial General, with the County Commission’s approval of a special exception. (A second public hearing, required by law, will be held on April 3 before the board votes on the proposed amendment.)
“If you want a mixed-use zone,” Grossman told the board, “create a mixed-use zone. But don’t use this [proposed amendment] and sneak in residential uses [in Commercial General zones].”
Brian Lichterman, owner of Vision Planning & Design of Sarasota — who was presenting the issue on behalf of a private investment group — agreed with Grossman.
If the county had a district strictly for mixed-use development, Lichterman added, “that would probably be a better mechanism. However, that is not a tool in the tool box right now.”
After Lichterman completed his rebuttal to speakers’ remarks during the hearing, Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out that the previous day, the board awarded a contract to a consultant to begin an estimated 18-month process to update the county’s land development and zoning regulations and combine them into a Unified Development Code.
“That would be a fine place, I think for Mr. Lichterman, Mr. Grossman and others to start exploring a mixed-use concept,” Maio added.
“We have some very old, tired strip centers in this county,” Maio continued. Given the community’s need for affordable housing, he added, those retail developments potentially could be transformed, with 1,000-square-foot, two-bed/two-bath dwelling units on second levels. “What a wonderful way to see those [centers] replaced.”
Noting the time projected to complete the new Unified Development Code, Maio said it probably would take as long for a firm to go through the process to try to win approval for a special exception for a particular project, if the proposed zoning amendment were approved. “So I would just ask folks to get engaged and come up with the best ideas on mixed use.”
Audience members filling the Commission Chambers for an upcoming hearing that day on a proposed restaurant supply warehouse near the Celery Fields applauded Maio’s remarks.
Residents of the community have changed their ideas about “where they want to work, where they want to live,” Commissioner Charles Hines said. Moreover, he continued, shopping patterns have changed. “You see large commercial centers that are closing.” What better use of them could be planned, Hines added, than incorporating residential units into them. Plenty of parking and the necessary stormwater facilities already are present, he pointed out.
The Macy’s store at Westfield Sarasota Square — which is located at 8201 South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota — is one of that company’s facilities slated for closure, he continued. (Macy’s has reported that it has been dealing with declining revenue.) “Talk about revitalizing a mall,” Hines added, “if people actually lived on that site.”
“That’s how I’d like to see this used,” Hines said of the proposed zoning change.