Highlights of August 7, 2023 Sarasota City Commission Meeting
SOLD SHORT ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
Commissioner Arroyo prefaced the discussion by saying that he was going to base his vote on whether the changes promoted workforce housing instead of more luxury condos. Did these ZTA’s do that? The debate focused on whether the incentives were too generous for what little attainable housing they’d provide (11.4% of total new units).
Both Commissioner Trice and Commissioner Ahearn-Koch argued that the required attainability target should have been at least 15%, and Commissioner Trice secured the city attorney’s assurance that the density bonus quantities and targets could be altered in the future if they don’t work.
Commissioner Ahearn-Koch pressed for clarification of how the maximum allowable density of 200 units an acre in the downtown core might impact building height and mass and placement throughout the city under the state’s recently passed Live Local Act. The city attorney said he would look at some language clarifications for the second reading of the ordinance.
CONVERSING WITH THE PUBLIC
The Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA) has been working with city staff to assess and improve the process used for administrative review of buildings in most downtown zones. The goal being to develop a means of promoting meaningful resident input and information exchange with the neighbors at the early stages of a project life cycle - before detailed plans are prepared.
Residents know their neighborhoods best, and can often provide insight about things like drainage problems, or traffic patterns, or shade trees that, if preserved, could make the structure fit more harmoniously within the fabric of the street, and help the city weather escalating temperatures. For these reasons, Commissioner Trice suggested the commission advance the meaningful public input process for all downtown zones where buildings undergo administrative review.
Pointing to the fact that neighbors of Bath & Racquet and Selby Gardens remain unhappy with those projects despite much public discussion, Vice Mayor Alpert expressed reservations about setting false expectations that neighbors could stop a project that met code if they did not like it. Despite the fact that "meeting code" is not automatic or simple, commissioners voted to remove a requirement for workshops regarding density increases (Battie, Alpert and Arroyo voting in favor). In any project, there can be major disagreements about the many interpretations of the code -- but the public will now be limited in how they can voice their concerns on downtown affordable housing projects that increase density by up to 400%.
Commissioners Trice and Ahearn-Koch both attended the recent workshop with the developer regarding the County Administration parking lot in Laurel Park. Based on that experience, as well as involvement in their own neighborhood associations, they made the case that respectful democratic dialog and citizen participation in planning the future of their city is both a neighborly courtesy, and a public good in its own right - even if it doesn’t ultimately change the outcome of what is built.
Their points about the prudence of talking to the people at the top of the city's organizational chart were persuasive, and even the commissioners who have never attended a CCNA meeting ultimately indicated support for adoption of a meaningful input / non-binding community workshop component into the downtown development cycle.
TIMELESS PLACES AND FULLER STORIES
“Wow” said Amaryllis Park Neighborhood Association leader Mary Butler in commending the city and the commission for the initiative to seek national and state historic district recognition for Newtown. The 692 contributing structures in the century-old district make it one of the largest intact historic communities in the country.
Former Mayor Willie Shaw explained that "we are one of the few African American communities in the nation that retains its identity”. Commissioner Trice spoke of the civic pride, as well as economic and home-ownership protections that historic designation can confer. For example, local listing can provide tax benefits and waivers from FEMA 50% investment rules for repairs and additions.
Parking workshop August 14. Public art plan Auugust 21.