Charles Hines

SARASOTA — Despite a number of regulatory changes over the past year, developers are still not beating on Sarasota County’s door with proposals for affordable housing projects.

With that in mind, Commissioner Charles Hines thinks the commission needs to take the lead, and he has an idea about how to make that happen.

Sell some of the county’s surplus lands, Hines suggested during last week’s meeting. In particular, he suggested one of the quad parcels near the Celery Fields, or perhaps 15 acres from a site near the Newtown area in North Sarasota that’s being held for development of a large regional park similar to the Englewood Sports Complex.

In addition, Hines wants to see some action before commissioners leave on their annual summer break in mid-July. Besides their annual budget workshops next week, commissioners only have two regular meetings left, July 9 and July 10.

“We’ve been reactive. We’re asking the private sector to bring us a plan,” Hines said. “We’re really just waiting on someone to come to us, but there are pieces of surplus land that could be used. It’s time for us to use our leadership.”

As she has noted several times, Commissioner Nancy Detert chimed in advocating for tiny homes. “I still like tiny houses,” she said. “I think the Celery Fields is a perfect place for tiny houses.”

Commissioner Alan Maio, also an advocate for more affordable housing, noted that if the county were to sell surplus property at a reasonable price and with all the rezoning elements achieved, “…that eliminates the last supposed obstacle to creating a project, which is the cost of the land.”

Then Maio added, encapsulating the frustration commissioners felt, “I don’t think anyone on this board is satisfied with the progress that’s being made.”

County staff is still at work on two further measures to make affordable housing projects easier to accomplish. One of those measures is accessory dwelling units, such as an apartment over a garage. The other is the creation of upper-story apartments over retail centers.

The latter has long been a pet idea for Maio, who notes that older retail complexes that may not be that busy could have plenty of parking available.

Both ideas are still in development and it is not known when they will come to commissioners for consideration.

As the discussion wound down, Hines came back to his original theme.

“It’s time for us as policy makers to move the ball forward,” he said.


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