Vengroff Project Wins City Approval

Development

BY SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY MAY 17, 2016

It took a couple volatile meetings, but a major hurdle has been cleared for a 393-unit rental apartment complex for low- and middle-income tenants to open in North Sarasota. But developer Harvey Vengroff said it will likely be another year and a half of navigating city processes before he can break ground on the construction project.

Sarasota City Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a change to the city’s future land-use map, classifying almost eight acres at Fruitville Road and Audubon Place as “Downtown Core,” the first time any property north Fruitville has been zoned as such. While the approval comes with stipulations like a height limit of six stories—most properties designated "Downtown Core" can be built as high as 10 stories—there will not be a requirement to allow annual city inspections of the units. “We agreed to give them a copy of our insurance inspections each year,” Vengroff said.

It has been a tough process to get the property approved, even as a hunger grows among community leaders for more affordable housing near Downtown Sarasota. Studio apartments at Vengroff’s development will rent for $650 a month, he said, while three-bedroom apartments will cost $950. Demand for units in this price range remains high, according to Vengroff. The landlord says he has a waiting list of more than 300 applications to live in low-income properties he manages in the Sarasota-Manatee area. “We have a whole lot of people we turn down because we can’t find them apartments,” he said. “What normally happens is people move out every once in a while, but right now they don’t because they can’t find another place.” Vengroff has agreed to reserve 20 percent of units at his Fruitville property for those making less than 80 percent of area median income, but he figures everyone living in this development will meet that requirement.

Two weeks ago, a last-minute proposal by city staff to require annual inspections of the development led to a divided board, and when a majority voted for the requirement, Vengroff stormed out of the meeting and chaos ensued. City Manager Tom Barwin, though, said the requirement had been proposed to help guarantee a required super-majority of commissioners would accept the change in the land-use designation. He met with Vengroff privately and the developer and city staff worked out differences, most notably in dropping the inspection requirement altogether in favor of allowing an insurance company to check on safety standards instead.

Vengroff said Monday night that he was satisfied to get a unanimous approval, but wished for a more streamlined process. He has owned the land on Fruitville for a decade already, he said, and just now has been able to move forward with a plan, and he still has to get a site plan approved. “Ultimately, they did approve it, and that was the important part,” Vengroff said. “The winners here are the working people in Sarasota.”

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