Workshop planned on potential for county-owned North Sarasota land to host affordable housing project

County commissioners to seek public comments on future of 115-acre site originally planned for sports complex

A graphic shows how the 115 acres could be transformed into a regional sports complex. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota County commissioners have indicated continued interest in working with a private developer on an affordable housing project located on part of a 115-acre site the county purchased in 2013. At the time, the board’s intent was to construct a regional park there that would be called the North County Sports Complex.

Although they took no formal vote during their regular meeting on April 24, Chair Nancy Detert indicated she had the consensus of her colleagues to direct County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to plan a board workshop on the issue.

Commissioner Charles Hines was the first to broach the idea again of the county’s setting aside part of the property for an affordable housing development. Detert reiterated her interest in a tiny home village, creation of which, she noted, had been one of her top goals since her November 2016 election to the commission.

“Why not carve off a piece of our ownership there,” Commissioner Alan Maio said, and “sell it to somebody who wants to build [an affordable housing community].” Maio suggested 20 to 30 acres.

Hines first suggested the possibility in early December 2017, in the context of trying to resolve the two-year-long dispute with the City of Sarasota over a final payment city leaders say the county owes into the Downtown Sarasota Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Trust Fund.

The property is located on the northwest corner of Tuttle Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota. The county bought it from Dolomite Utilities, Aqua Utilities Florida and Aqua Holdings for $2 million in December 2013.

A graphic in an April 9 county staff report shows current conditions on the property. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In response to a commission request, staff undertook a review of the property and provided a report dated April 9. The material was included in the packet for the commission’s regular meeting on April 24.

That report explains that, as part of the county’s due diligence prior to purchasing the land, the county had an environmental assessment performed on the site. The firm Johnson Engineering of Fort Myers analyzed soil borings within the county rights of way abutting the property, the report added.

The firm found that “direct exposure to the soil and [groundwater] appeared to be safe,” the April 9 staff report said, but “results indicated that the groundwater was not suitable for drinking.”

Staff also “conducted research and reviewed historical records of the property and other surrounding properties,” the report continued. “In the 2013 appraisal,” the report noted, “it was determined that approximately 70% or 80 acres of the 115-acre site would be developable.”
Then, in the summer of 2016, the report said, the County Commission adopted a Parks, Preserves and Recreation Strategic Master Plan “that identifies the potential need of additional [athletic] fields in the future. The North County Spots Complex project is featured as a park that would serve a regional function, which is consistent with the County’s transition to the role as Regional Park provider,” the report added. “Within the section of the Master Plan entitled One to Two Year Focus, finalizing the plans for the North County Sports Complex is a prominent task and completion of the project is a top overall objective.”

Staff conducted another environmental assessment of the property on March 20 and March 22, the April 9 report noted.

The report explained that the property was a cow pasture that “was developed into a spray field wastewater treatment facility with associated settling ponds.”

A graphic shows the zoning on the site and surrounding parcels. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, the report continued, staff analyzed the existing wetlands on the site. “It was determined that the two wetlands in the southern half of the parcel, approximately 10 acres total, have lost some quality due to nuisance/invasive vegetation; however, they still seem to have most of their function and value. These two wetlands would likely be required to be maintained and improved as part of a development proposal,” the report added.

“The wetland in the northeast corner is determined to be a highly degraded remnant of a larger system that was cut off by road construction and would likely qualify for … mitigation,” the report noted.

In regard to land use considerations, the report said the property is zoned for residential single-family housing. The county’s Future Land Use map designation for it is Moderate Density Residential, the report added.

If a portion of the property were to be allocated for residential use, the report noted, 45 to 50 dwelling units could be constructed on 10 acres, with double the number on 20 acres.

However, the report pointed out, rezoning to a Planned Unit Development would “provide for attached and multifamily structures, along with a possible commercial/office component.”

Seeking consensus

“What’s pour next step with this piece of property?” Commissioner Hines asked on April 24.

Referencing comments Commissioner Maio had made earlier that morning, Hines indicated that all the board members had met one-on-one with a person in the community who already is working on a tiny home development. Did his colleagues want to talk about the potential of working with someone to create affordable housing on perhaps 20 acres of the land in North Sarasota? Hines continued.

Commissioner Charles Hines. Rachel Hackney photo

“There’s some conflict in staff, naturally,” Hines acknowledged of the North County property, because the land was bought for the purpose of building a regional sports complex. Perhaps a discussion with staff and members of the public should be the next step, he indicated, so the plan could be re-evaluated. “Right now,” he added, the land is “sitting vacant. … It’s not providing any benefit to anybody.”

The developer who had met individually with the board members about the tiny home project has 9 acres, Maio added, and the man is working on a plan with 80 dwelling units.

If the commission agreed to sell part of the proposed North County Sports Complex site for an affordable housing project, Maio said, the land still “could accommodate some [athletic] fields at a point in time when we have the budget and can pay for the staff to [manage activities there].”

Detert added that the developer Maio had mentioned is someone she has known since the person was a student at Pine View High School. “He is one of our resident little do-gooder geniuses. … He is looking to do something great for the community. … This has been his vision for a long time.”

Detert looked at her colleagues as she asked whether the others concurred with the proposal for the workshop. After a couple of moments, she indicated to County Administrator Lewis that they were in agreement.