More than 150 people turned out for a neighborhood workshop Monday evening to learn more about a proposed 347-unit apartment complex in Venice.

The workshop, held at Unity Church of Venice on North Jackson Road, is a preliminary step before a formal development petition is submitted to the Sarasota County Planning Commission for its consideration.

Planners got an earful from neighbors from Blue Heron Pond, Stonewalk and other nearby subdivisions, who don’t want to see major changes in their community.

The 27-acre property in question is located on the south side of East Venice Avenue between Jacaranda Boulevard and River Road. It’s currently zoned one unit per five acres, but is slated per the county Comprehensive Plan to become an urban area with major employment centers nearby.

Workforce housingBrian Lichterman, with Vision Planning & Design, said the property owner, David Dobson, is the original owner of Stonewalk subdivision.

He is looking to provide housing — including workforce housing — for area businesses like the planned Venice Bayfront Regional Medical Center also on East Venice Avenue, the planned Sarasota Memorial Hospital ER center off Laurel Road, the Atlanta Braves Spring Training facility on Tamiami Trail that’s about to open, and other established businesses, like PGT Industries, that have openly called for more workforce housing in the area.

Concept plans call for seven three- and four-story buildings with surface parking.

On Monday, Lichterman was hoping to hear from residents about specific concerns with a conceptual site plan, like landscaping or wall buffering, and two new roads into the property, or building orientation. But the concerns from the larger-than-expected crowd had more to do with low income or subsidized housing.

Lichterman said he took pains to explain there will be none of that.

He said the mix of market rate and “workforce” housing has nothing to do with “section eight” housing.

“When you mention workforce housing, they immediately think section eight housing, but that’s not the case. It’s apartments for hospital workers, and those at PGT. Those who will work at the Braves stadium. That is workforce housing,” Lichterman said. “A lot of people already had their minds made up they didn’t like this project.”

In addition to the Comp Plan Amendment being sought, the developer will seek a rezone petition from OUE (Open Use Estate), at one unit per five acres, to RMF 3 (Residential Multi-Family)/PUD (Planned Unit Development) zoning, up to 13 units per acre.

Part of the rationale for that density is there will be 1,000 jobs created alone from Venice Regional, Lichterman said.

“But you also have to look at the adjacent Kimball Lumber truss plant, and to the west there is a concrete plant and an additional employment center planned on the western border of this property. On two sides the county is encouraging industrial uses,” Lichterman said.

But the Comp Plan also “encourages residential units adjacent to that so you can provide housing for employees to walk and bicycle to work to reduce vehicle trips on arterial roads.

“I understand where (those against the project) are coming from. They come down here and see rural areas and think it’s going to stay that way forever. But you have to follow those (Comp) plans. This is planned for density so people have all the urban services that people want and demand,” he said.

The developer has committed to holding another neighborhood workshop to get more detailed input, but a date hasn’t been set.

“We may rethink things. Maybe scale the project back a little bit,” Lichterman said.

It may take up to a year to complete the Comp Plan amendment and rezone petition, then perhaps another two years before site plans and other approvals are obtained, he said.

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