Affordable Housing

New Affordable Housing Incentives Will Allow Triple Density Along Some Sarasota Thoroughfares

City commissioners voted 3-2 Monday to expand developer incentives in exchange for affordable units to address the city's affordability crisis.

By Kim Doleatto April 3, 2024

A rendering of Artist Court, where developers are building a multi-family project that includes affordable units in exchange for increased density.

Developer giveaway or important step toward solving Sarasota's ongoing housing affordability crisis? That's the debate over a series of affordable housing incentives that were expanded Monday by the Sarasota City Commission.

The incentives already existed in downtown areas and along commercial corridors throughout the city, but with the City Commission's 3-2 vote, they will now be extended to more than 700 parcels. The new zoning text amendment encourages mixed-use developments and provides density and height bonuses to developers who include affordable housing in mixed-use projects along Tamiami Trail, University Parkway, Washington Boulevard, 10th Street between Central and Orange avenues, Fruitville Road east of downtown, and Beneva Road, as well as Southgate Mall and its surrounding area.

The parcels in green in this map of the City of Sarasota are the areas being targeted for the new affordable housing incentives.

Developers who build in these districts will receive up to a triple-density bonus if 15 percent of the bonus units are priced as attainable. (Bonus units are the extra units above the base number allowed without the incentive.) That will allow up to 75 units per acre in two of the three new zones, and 105 units per acre in third zone that covers the North Tamiami Trail area. Base heights of three stories will be allowed, with an increase of up to five stories on parcels of three acres or more that are located at least 100 feet away from residential single-family homes.

The bonus units must include a mix of residences that range in cost from those priced at 80 percent or less of the area median income (no more than $58,500 a year for a household of two, or $73,100 for a household of four) to units priced at 120 percent of the area median income.

Critics at Monday's meeting expressed worries that the measure amounted to a developer giveaway and that the affordability requirements do not do enough to address the city's affordable housing crisis. Detractors also shared concerns about increased noise, traffic and stress on infrastructure, and argued that the new developments might negatively affect nearby residential neighborhoods.

All developments within an urban mixed-use zone district must meet daylight plane requirements with a gradual increase in height. The daylight plane requirement allows a maximum height of two stories starting at the side or rear setback line and then extending upward at a 45-degree angle until reaching the maximum height limit.

Supporters, meanwhile, welcomed the incentive as a step toward the construction of more affordable housing in a city where many workers are being priced out of the neighborhoods where they work, leading to long and costly commutes for teachers, nurses, firefighters and law enforcement officers, among others. The crisis is also affecting employee retention and discouraging workers from moving to the area for career opportunities.

Among Monday's speakers was Heather Kasten, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, which represents roughly 1,400 local businesses that employ close to 60,000 people.

“Affordable housing is the No. 1 issue our businesses are facing," she said. "One statistic worth sharing is that 91 percent of the businesses we surveyed said they would support zoning changes that would create more affordable housing options. We cannot keep talking about this issue and kicking the can down the road and sacrificing good for perfect."

Ron Kashden, who opposed the measure, said, "The impact of this amendment can't be overstated. If you think the impact is in the distant future, then you don't have the pulse on the current construction in downtown Sarasota. Just in January, Artist Court [a multifamily development headed to Washington Boulevard in downtown Sarasota] modified its plan to take advantage of the newly passed zoning incentives. So now it will be 10 stories, with 242 units, and just 26 affordable units."

For builders to take advantage of the new incentives, they will not need approval from the city commission or planning board. Projects can be OKed by city staff unless extra density or height is requested, in which case a community workshop will be required.

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