More than 30 percent of community and business leaders attending Wednesday’s Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance luncheon were most interested to hear Manatee and Sarasota counties’ plans for affordable/attainable housing and development.
But when Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer asked the more than 200 attendees at the luncheon whether they would want “an affordable housing project right next to their home,” barely any hands went up.
“There is that stigma that is associated with affordable housing,” Harmer said at the luncheon at the Fete Ballroom at Polo Grill. “It’s hard to be a commissioner because when you have those public meetings and you have 100 people show up in yellow shirts or red shirts or whatever the theme is and they are saying, ‘Not here. It’s a good idea but not here.’ It’s very hard to deal with that.”
Harmer, along with his counterpart in Manatee County, Ed Hunzeker, addressed a number of issues facing both counties, including affordable housing, transportation and the possible $25,000 increase in homestead property exemptions. Attendees were able to vote in an interactive poll about which topics they wanted to hear the administrators address, and affordable housing and traffic/mobility topped the list.
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“There are places that maybe make more sense than others,” Harmer said. “Infill is a good opportunity because of access to infrastructure and transportation, but not everybody is excited when you talk about building affordable housing next to them.”
With respect to transportation between the two counties, Hunzeker said it’s important to keep the grid network operational, noting that the 44th Avenue East extension will require another $100 million before it connects to Lakewood Ranch.
Other road projects, including the extension of Lorraine Road down to Fruitville Road in Sarasota County, are closer to completion.
“Lorraine is basically done,” Harmer said. “It should be open by July. It’s closed off right now, but it’s 90-some percent complete.”
For Manatee County, one of the biggest challenges is its own workforce, Hunzeker said. On Tuesday, the commission will have a discussion about the stress in the workforce in the transit system.
“We lose about every profession we have,” he said. “It’s a tough sell. We are seeing a lot of turnover.”
While both counties collect impact fees to build roads and parks and address public safety issues, a ballot measure going to the Florida voters in 2018 to increase the state homestead property tax exemption by $25,000 could equate to millions in revenue lost for the counties, Hunzeker said.
We build a library and then it’s bring your own book.
Ed Hunzeker, Manatee County administrator
“We have a library impact fee,” he said. “We will be able to build a library in Lakewood Ranch, and then we will all vote for a reduction in property tax revenue for the government. ... We build a library and then it’s bring your own book.”
It will have a service level impact, Harmer said.
“It’s a struggle sometimes when the residents say, ‘We like the level of service but we don’t want to pay for it,’” he said. “We just have to sometimes figure that out.”