Affordable Housing Plan Withdrawn



Discussions of a proposed apartment complex to serve low- and middle-income families swirled into disarray Monday evening as Sarasota City Commissioners were in disagreement about inspection requirements on the project. Developer Harvey Vengroff ultimately withdrew an application for a land-use designation change on property on Fruitville Road, but city officials will ask Vengroff to reconsider and enter further negotiations.

“I’ve never seen so much sand put in the machinery as tonight,” said Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell. 

Vengroff sought a change to the city’s future land-use map regarding property at Fruitville and Audubon Place. He had plans for a 393-unit apartment complex on Fruitville Road. Changing the zoning on the property to a downtown core designation was the first major step in Vengroff’s plans for the property. His team on Monday night showed plans for a five-building complex, and came with floor plans for units ranging from 350-square-foot efficiencies to 842-square-foot units with three bedrooms. Vengroff agreed to certain concessions on the property, most notably limiting building heights to six stories even though the new designation normally allows buildings as high as 10 stories. But he had no interest in a proposal from city staff to require annual inspections on the units to ensure they were being kept up to saefty standards. Vengroff said letting his project be singled out with such a restriction would be unfair and force an invasion of privacy for tenants. “It’s silly,” he said.

But City Manager Tom Barwin said the suggestion was simply to avoid a development intended for working class people to turn into a slum. “There are landlords, and this is not a shock, who do not do a good job of keeping properties up,” Barwin said. But Joe Barnett, a managing member for the development project, said Vengroff has a strong reputation of maintaining properties. The new development would have operated under the One Stop Housing system Vengroff successfully employed in the region for 25 years. At various projects, including Hillview Apartments in Sarasota and El Patio Apartments in Bradenton, the team boasted One Stop Housing was responsible for more than 1,500 affordable units in the region. “You say you want safe and affordable workforce housing,” Barnett said. “[Vengroff] is without question the largest provider in the area.” 

Atwell and City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie favored approving the zoning change without requiring inspections. The other three commissioners, though, favored putting the inspection requirement in place. A change to the city’s comprehensive plan, though, requires at least four out of five commissioners to support the change. While the board unanimously favored changing the designation of the property to downtown core, the board could not agree on the extra requirement, so no amendment was approved.

As commissioners discussed the matter, members of the audience booed. Mayor Willie Shaw asked for one person to be escorted out, and Vengroff left the room while debate ensued. When the board proved unable to reach a decision on how to handle the project, Joe Barnett, a managing member for the development project, informed the city the application was being withdrawn. 

City Commissioner Liz Alpert said it was unreasonable for the developer to walk away because of a mere discussion of imposing a requirement. “This could have gone in a whole different direction,” Alpert said. “It sets the wrong precedent to encourage that kind of behavior.”

« View The Tuesday May 3, 2016 SRQ Daily Edition
« Back To SRQ Daily Archive

Other Articles in Government

Feb 1, 2018Jacob Ogles

Ripples in the Water

Dec 28, 2017Jacob Ogles

Sarasota, How Does Your City Grow?