Sarasota City Commission Candidates Talk Affordable Housing

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The six Sarasota City Commission nominees shared their views on affordable housing, the Sarasota Performing Arts Center and other key topics in recent interviews with the Herald-Tribune.

They are due to contest the Aug. 23 primary election, in which voters will narrow the pool of candidates to three. These three people will then participate in the general elections on November 8, when two of them will be elected to general seats on the municipal commission.

Candidates include incumbent Jen Ahearn-Koch, health care consultant Sheldon Rich, planning council chair Terrill Salem, Lido Key Residents Association president Carl Shoffstall, former Rosemary District Association president Debbie Trice and community activist Dan Lobeck.

Background:Sarasota ward leaders, an incumbent and others participate in the city commission race

After:Dan Lobeck joins race for Sarasota City Commission seats

The two elected to the commission will be tasked with trying to ease Sarasota’s housing crisis, which is being driven by rising rents during the pandemic and a lack of affordable housing in the area.

Candidates’ views on this and a few other topics are listed below.

What can be done to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city?

Jen Ahearn-Koch: She thinks the city should implement inclusive zoning, which requires that a share of new developments be built for low-income people, in areas “where it makes sense.” She also studied other affordable housing tools, including a program in Vail, Colorado, that encourages people to restrict their property so that its next occupants are people who work in that county.

Dan Lobeck: He supports inclusive zoning and said developers shouldn’t get density bonuses unless they’re tied to ‘truly affordable housing’. He believes that whenever the city increases an area’s base density — the number of housing units allowed in an area — some of the units built there need to be affordable.

Sheldon Rich: He would like the city to adopt a program similar to the Nashville model, which gives private landlords incentives in exchange for reducing or removing barriers to renting that are often faced by low-income people and working families. Rich also thinks that eventually the city will likely have to implement density bonuses. If that happens, he wants to make sure those bonuses translate into affordable housing.

Terril Salem: He believes that whenever a developer asks the city for an area change, the developer must agree to build feasible housing as part of their overall housing development. Salem, a general contractor, builds and leases affordable housing. He said he was in favor of keeping affordable housing affordable in perpetuity.

Carl Shoffstall: It supports giving developers density bonuses and other credits when they agree to build affordable housing. He also thinks inclusive zoning is a tool the city can explore. He said everyone – including the city, developers and citizens – is going to have to come “to the table” to find solutions to the housing crisis.

Debbie Trice: She said the city needs to implement mandatory inclusive zoning. She also thinks Sarasota should give builders information and support so they know what the city’s requirements are for building affordable housing. Additionally, she wants the city to work more closely with housing-related nonprofits that could provide services to affordable housing residents.

What do you think of the idea of ​​administrative approval for accessible housing?

The city commission voted 4-1 in May for a full plan proposal with multiple components. One is that development projects would be subject to administrative review – by staff – during project design if the development contains “achievable units”.

Under administrative review, a project would no longer be subject to planning board or municipal commission approval, which opponents say limits citizen participation in critical development decisions that affect the look, feel and design. character of the city.

The May vote sent the proposal to state officials because changes to a municipality’s growth plan require state approval. The city commission will then need to approve the plan for it to take effect. City staff expects the public hearing on the proposal to take place on September 19.

Ahearn-Koch: She has been a critic of administrative approval for a long time and she thinks there should be public input. “How can I do my job without their input? ” she asked.

Lobeck: “Administrative approval is indefensible, except for the developer, because what it replaces is public approval,” he said.

Rich: “I’m totally against administrative approval because I think it excludes citizens, their voice, from the process,” he said.

Salem: He believes that administrative approval should be “very limited”. “Any time you have a development that is going to significantly affect a neighborhood, administrative approval is not appropriate,” he said.

Stall : He said he thinks administrative approval for accessible housing is necessary. He believes there should be a streamlined process for developers when they want to create affordable housing, including expedited permits.

Trice: “I think any extension of administrative review is bad,” she said. “I mean, the administrative review needs to be canceled even where it’s already in place.”

What do you think of the city plan for the Sarasota Performing Arts Center?

Another contentious topic that has come before the Municipal Commission this year is the Sarasota Performing Arts Center. The city is partnering with the Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation to build a new arts hall in Sarasota Bay, expected to cost $350 million. The project has criticism drawn many members of the Sarasota community.

In a 3-2 vote in April, the municipal commission approved a partnership agreement with the foundation for the planning, financing, design and construction of the SPAC.

Ahearn-Koch: She voted against the April deal. “That dollar amount just, it can’t be,” she said. “I mean, I don’t know how we could fund this. I don’t know how a city of our size could carry out such a project. And if it’s possible, maybe we can. I would like to see how, and I would like to have it all spelled out: what is this plan, what is the strategy and how are we going to get there?

Lobeck: He lambasted SPAC’s proposal at city commission meetings and in the Herald-Tribune. Among his many concerns with the plan is that the Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation is expected to pay half the cost of the new center. “No way they find that money,” he told the Herald-Tribune. “They don’t have a track record for raising that kind of money.”

Rich: He said it would be “wonderful” for the city to have a new performing arts center in Sarasota, but he doesn’t think the city can afford it. He fears a hefty surcharge will be added to center tickets to help pay for the new building.

Salem: He noted that Florida has the luxury of not having state income tax because it has attractions. “If the opportunity arises to build a state-of-the-art performance hall that can attract visitors from all over the world to come here and leave tax revenue behind – and the cost-benefit ratio is there – then I am all for it,” he said. He would like the city to do a cost-benefit analysis for the center.

Stall : He said he was not against a new performing arts center, but that the city needed to have a plan to fund it. “And I don’t see that much at the moment,” he said. Shoffstall also thinks the city will need to monitor the SPAC project to ensure the money is used responsibly.

Trice: “I think the city got ripped off,” she said. She has several concerns with PSPC’s proposal, including that the center will have to compete with The future concert hall of the Sarasota Orchestrawhich is going to be built near Interstate 75.

Anne Snabes covers city and county government for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_snabes.

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