SARASOTA — Sarasota County commissioners took the first step Tuesday toward the potential elimination of affordable housing requirements in the comprehensive plan.
The change to the plan would not mandate developers to include affordable housing in their developments but would rather offer incentives for them to do so.
The planned changes do not affect the county’s broader policies enacted over the past three years, but those affecting villages and settlements developed using the county’s 2050 Plan enacted two decades ago to control growth generally east of Interstate 75.
By a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Mike Moran absent, commissioners agreed to send the amendments to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for its review to ensure consistency with state laws.
Commissioners will hold another public hearing on Jan. 13, 2021 to formally consider enacting the changes.
Steve Kirk, a county planner, told commissioners a staff review determined that the change was necessary to be consistent with a state law that became effective last year.
That law requires counties to provide incentives to developers in exchange for affordable housing units to offset the developers’ costs in providing those units. Kirk said staff believed the existing language met that standard but additional clarification was needed.
Deputy County Attorney Josh Moye went a step further explaining that the change was necessary to reduce a potential risk of liability to the county should a developer sue over the existing policy, claiming noncompliance and win.
“This switches from being required to being truly incentivized,” Moye said.
Commissioner Nancy Detert, who cast the lone dissenting vote, wasn’t convinced.
“We keep offering builders either accommodations or don’t and pretend we’ve done something about affordable housing,” she said.
“I just think there’s a lot of trap doors in this … I think this plan is going to be fraught with future problems,” Detert added.
No public comments were offered during Tuesday’s meeting although Dan Lobeck, a local attorney and head of Control Growth Now, did send an email to commissioners Sunday opposing the change.
“The claim that this is required by state law is flatly false. The law allows a requirement for affordable housing in exchange for voluntary incentives which fully compensate the developer for the lost profit. It is beyond question that the Sarasota 2050 Plan does that,” Lobeck wrote.
Although he did not speak during the discussion, Commissioner Charles Hines did mention the possibility of converting or adding additional stories to struggling malls in the county to address the shortage of affordable housing in the county.
“How can they be revitalized?” he asked rhetorically.
Laurel Road design
In other business, commissioners unanimously voted to add the Laurel Road preliminary design project to the county’s capital improvement plan. The vote also included a commitment of $400,000 of collected road/mobility fees for the preliminary design of the four-lane widening of Laurel Road from Knight’s Trail Road to Jacaranda Boulevard as requested by the city of Venice.