The Sarasota 2050 plan offers generous development options in exchange for taxpayer and community protections. But what began as a compromise is being finagled into a free ride.
Sarasota County established an Urban Service Boundary (USB), roughly along I75, in 1997. Lands west of the USB are designated for higher density development and urban services. Urban services investments include public infrastructure (roads, civic buildings, sewer, utilities) and public employee salaries, benefits and pensions (police, fire, librarians, teachers, etc.) Lands east of the USB are to remain rural, with little need for urban services. This provides a range of rural to urban lifestyles in Sarasota, and efficiently concentrates public investment and liabilities west of the USB.
Not surprisingly, some big rural landowner/developers were not happy with rural zoning. They put pressure on the County to allow more lucrative development options outside the USB. Sarasota 2050 was born. Created with years of community input, fully adopted in 2006, Sarasota 2050 is a 73 page optional overlay district which offers higher density development standards for rural lands. Even so, a handful of big rural landowner developers persistently insist that Sarasota 2050 is not “fiscally viable”. These special interests lobbying for 2050 changes would have us believe 2050 is a complicated mess that impedes their business. Does it?
Sarasota’s baseline rural zoning permits one dwelling for every 5, 10 or 160 acres. The 2050 optional overlay permits 5- 6 dwellings per acre, resulting in lush density increases from 2500 – 100,000%. For example, the 3500 acre Villages of Lakewood Ranch South parcel was originally zoned for 54 dwellings. Through Sarasota 2050, the project received approval for 5,144 units. That’s a density increase greater than 10,000%. Sure seems good for business!
In return for this lucrative development potential, Sarasota 2050 requires developers to protect the environmental and fiscal interests of existing residents in three ways: 1.Pay for the development’s infrastructure (aka “fiscal neutrality”), 2. Develop in efficient, walkable village design, and 3. Provide generous parcels of preserved land, or open space.
Still dissatisfied, six development firms want to reduce or eliminate 2050’s community protections. These firms – Schroeder Manatee Ranch, Neal Communities, Rod Krebs, John Cannon Homes, Hi Hat Ranch and Palmer Ranch – want greater density and the reduction or elimination of fiscal neutrality, environmental and design standards. They want to have their cake, eat it, and have us pay for it.
If Sarasota’s housing supply were too low to meet demand, it would make sense to move our USB further east and pay for increased infrastructure. The 2050 overlay would be moot. But inside the USB, in the unincorporated County, total potential housing unit supply is 34,700 units, 200% more than projected 10 year household demand of 15,300. Those numbers don’t include inventory from North Port, Venice, and the City of Sarasota (North Port’s inventory is over 70,000 units, the City of Sarasota over 10,000 units ). We have an immense potential housing inventory inside the USB, where public infrastructure already exists. Market conditions rule out taxpayer funded infrastructure east of I75.
The County Commission has already approved weakened design and open space 2050 standards. This summer the Commission plans to undo fiscal neutrality. Sarasota County residents can attend the following meetings to protest this assault on taxpayer protections:
June 18, 2014 Robert L. Anderson Administration Center, Commission Chamber, 4000 S.Tamiami Tr., Venice, FL
June 26, 2014 County Administration Center, Commission Chamber, 1st Floor, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, FL
June 30, 2014 Twin Lakes Park, Green Building, 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota, FL Time: 6:00 p.m. for all the above dates.
The deal struck with Sarasota 2050 is this: If you want to develop rural land at high density before we need to move the USB, then you pay for the infrastructure and develop in an efficient, environmentally friendly way that creates enough tax revenue to pay for the services the development requires. Now 6 firms want to keep increased density and welch on the rest. This isn’t about the free market, this is about a free ride.