Building and development are booming in our region, yet many warn that government regulations are threatening the future of this major local industry. To discuss this and other issues, we assembled a virtual roundtable of building and development experts. Our panel includes Carol Clarke, director, Manatee County Planning Department; Dickson Clement, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Sarasota County; Tom Danahy, executive vice president and C.O.O. of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc.; Bruce Franklin, president of The ADP Group, Inc., Architecture, Design and Planning; John Harshman, president and broker, Harshman & Company, Inc.; and Jono Miller, director of New College of Florida environmental studies program. Here are some edited comments from their e-mail discussion.
What challenges are you facing?
Carol Clarke: The volume and complexity of new development. Also, ensuring that, as new areas of Manatee County develop, our urban areas remain vibrant.
John Harshman: Ever-changing regulations and the uncertainty of the process.
Tom Danahy: The Development of Regional Impact (D.R.I.) process requires a detailed review by a multiplicity of agencies, many with overlapping areas of responsibilities and conflicting objectives.
Dickson Clement: Land availability and land use controls, the public's understanding of the land development and home building process, the rising costs of doing business translating to higher housing prices, and less housing for the workforce.
Bruce Franklin: The incredible amount of lead time required for various levels of governmental approvals. The enormous costs of delays undermine the investment value of projects. Local governments should implement a hearing officer form of review for rezoning and special exceptions, because infill and redevelopment proposals are all too often subject to special-interest groups' provincial views.
Where do you see the most growth?
Harshman: North Port and Lakewood Ranch. Residential will continue to dominate.
Danahy: The east county. Over the past few years we've seen increasing demand for multi-family product and very large homes.
Franklin: South Sarasota County and Charlotte County will also see stronger growth, particularly in residential. The City of Sarasota is witnessing an unbelievable level of private investment.
Clement: Detached single-family residential housing in southern Sarasota County, particularly North Port.
Clarke: The areas south of the Manatee River and east of I-75-Lakewood Ranch, Greenfield Plantation, Waterlefe, GreyHawk-and in the U.S. 301 corridor between Ellenton and Parrish.
What's been your biggest surprise about local building and development in the past few years?
Harshman: The disproportionate number of buyers of downtown condos who are non-residents and part-time residents.
Clement: The increasing market demand and public interest to live in or near Sarasota.
Miller: I've been encouraged by Lee Wetherington's efforts to incorporate more environmental considerations in his projects. I hope it works for him and breaks trail for others. Schroeder Manatee surprised many by selling a nearly 2,000-acre conservation easement to Sarasota County. That land will never be developed. I hope others follow that lead as well.
Clarke: That the level of development has continued at a record-breaking pace without any sign of slow down.
Where do you see price levels going in the next three to five years?
Franklin: High and up. We should stop talking about affordable housing until local government is ready to underwrite the subsidy required.
Harshman: Prices will level as interest rates increase and other investments attract money currently attracted by real estate.
Danahy: As long as the market stays strong and interest rates stay low we will see escalating prices and values.
How good a job are local builders and developers doing of addressing environmental issues?
Danahy: A pretty good job, but there's always room for improvement. At Lakewood Ranch we are working with our builders to be more environmentally responsible. There are always tradeoffs: A builder can include some energy-saving features but that may drive up the cost of the home.
Franklin: It's always interested me that people distinguish between developers and environmentalists. Most developers respect the environment if, for nothing else, because it is a major component of the community's quality of life.
Clements: Our industry in Sarasota County led the way in the implementation of the county's WaterWise landscaping ordinance to reduce water consumption.
Miller: We're making progress on reducing sod grass lawns. I hope to live long enough to see turf grass areas reduced to the actual area families use for outdoor recreation. Overall house size worries me because larger homes require more resources to construct and maintain. We need to promote smaller, more manageable homes.
Clarke: Sometimes conflicting regulations have unintended consequences; for example, some storm water requirements can require filling, which can result in trees being lost from a site.
Can we sustain quality of life and environment as we continue to develop new communities?
Harshman: Yes. That demographic critical mass provides a market attractive to Starbucks, Saks, Ritz, Whole Foods, and provides tax dollars for environmentally sensitive lands.
Clarke: Continued sustainable development will require some understanding that higher densities can be a good thing in utilizing existing public facility capacity and keeping portions of our community green.
Franklin: We must continue to grow. The opposite of growth is simply unacceptable.
Clements: The housing industry continues to work with local governments and other groups (such as the Green Building Coalition, Florida House) to sustain our quality of life. We embraced the Sarasota 2050 Plan because it offers the ability to preserve environmentally sensitive lands in exchange for the opportunity to develop clustered communities.
Miller: We've nearly allowed sprawl to create a pattern that will block the necessary protections. And annexations are compounding that problem. Our land protection strategies are mainly anchored in voluntary protection, which I support but which means we have few tools to squeeze as much as we can out of what's left of our natural systems.
How have the demographics of your buyers changed in the last 10 years?
Harshman: The Baby Boomers have arrived with money.
Danahy: When Lakewood Ranch started selling in 1995 the market targeted was primarily young families, first-time homebuyers and value-conscious seniors. Now we're seeing an ever-increasing number of affluent, luxury buyers.
What do new homebuyers want today?
Danahy: More technology, more personal indulgence and a higher quality in finishes and appliances. Also, more outside areas with outdoor kitchens and fireplaces creating secondary family rooms. There is some interest in using grasses that require less water, some native plants and dripped and zoned irrigation.
Clements: Homebuyers want space, floor plans to entertain, security, peace of mind, access to amenities, work, healthcare and good schools. They are open to programs on sustainability and other new trends as long as the cost doesn't compromise their choice of home and community.
Miller: My guess is they will increasingly want real neighborhoods (with all the economic and age heterogeneity that implies). I also think they will want transportation alternatives, recreational opportunities such as walking trails, and a housing strategy that works better for them as they age than it did for their parents.