Sarasota Ponders Future of Rosemary



A special district designed to spur development in the Rosemary District has been so successful Sarasota officials expect to reach a goal on new residential units more than a year earlier than expected. Now, city commissioners have started to explore whether to allow construction at up to three times the normal density to occur on more properties in the area.

“The Rosemary District has the potential and, I firmly believe, could be the most exciting, diverse, inclusive neighborhood in Sarasota, and perhaps the state of Florida,” says Howard Davis, director of the Rosemary District Planning Initiative. Davis and other leaders in the Rosemary spoke to city commissioners Monday night about a hope to continue the redevelopment renaissance happening north of Fruitville Road.

But while city commissioners say the success of an overlay district in spurring development certainly proved successful, they also want to explore whether needs like the opening of parks and creation of affordable housing will be met in the future. “The idea was to increase density by allowing smaller units and units that were more affordable—not attainable levels that we have been talking about, just affordable,” said Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch. “In my mind that has not happened.”

The city in 2014 approved an overlay district where some developments could build up to 75 residential units per acre, while the normal zoning allows just 25 units per acre. That resulted in construction of rental housing like that found at CitySide Apartments. Officials elected then not to include requirements for affordable housing, in hopes market forces would keep prices of smaller units low. 

The district ended up working faster than anticipated. While there were 386 units in the district when the overlay got approved, the city now calculates that 1,525 units have been built or have building permits or site plan approvals issued. The original plan for the district capped the entire area at 1,775 units, and set an expiration date for the district in December 2018. With nearly 86 percent capacity achieved already, commissioners on Monday voted to have the district terminate whenever the cap is reached. 

Bruce Weiner, developer for CitySide, says he would like to see development continue in the Rosemary. Site plan approval for the apartment complex’s second phase triggered the city looking at the district’s future. While Weiner notes he owns no more property and might benefit from being one of the only developments in the neighborhood with so high a density, he says continued development will benefit everyone in the area. “It’s really turning into a viable downtown neighborhood,” he says.

City Commissioner Hagen Brody says he would like to see activity continue in the district. “I love what’s happening in Rosemary,” he says. But other commissioners say they want to make sure other needs get met. 

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie says she’d like to see an affordable housing requirement implemented. The Sarasota Housing Authority owns three acres in the district, and officials there would like the ability to develop at higher densities. Eddie wants that need considered. Ahearn-Koch says the city needs to consider roadways, greenspace and a number of other issues now as the district matures.

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