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They’re called pocket neighborhoods. Here’s how they’ll help address affordable housing issue

Palmetto Pocket Neighborhood plan

The Palmetto CRA wants to buy up several properties to launch a Pocket Neighborhood project where they either start with vacant land or tear down existing structures and redevelop them in the tiny house concept.
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The Palmetto CRA wants to buy up several properties to launch a Pocket Neighborhood project where they either start with vacant land or tear down existing structures and redevelop them in the tiny house concept.

The term “affordable housing” can be confusing in Manatee County, where the median price for a single-family home has eclipsed $300,000.

The term essentially disregards single professionals making between $35,000 and $45,000 who would like to own a home, but can’t find an affordable one in Manatee County.

There is “affordable housing,” “workforce housing” and the new mantra in Manatee County is “obtainable housing” for those considered to be below the median household income range of almost $52,000.

The Manatee Chamber of Commerce has been holding workshops to discuss the dilemma with local business owners who want to hire, but don’t want to see employees strained with lengthy and costly commutes from more affordable areas.

Palmetto is moving forward with a potential solution.

The Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency is looking to invest about $2.2 million into a housing concept that is growing more popular as part of a substantial infill redevelopment project in areas throughout the city.

CRA director Jeff Burton said a verbal agreement has been reached between the CRA and a prominent landowner for the CRA to purchase 15 duplex properties, which the CRA plans to redevelop into pocket neighborhoods. The concept falls in line with the trend of building smaller homes and cottages averaging somewhere around 700 square feet of living space.

It’s not a new concept as many of the area’s original homes were built cottage style, but Burton said the idea “is to go above and beyond that concept while still returning to that old Florida style of cottage.”

As soon as the sales are final, the CRA has selected the first site as a prototype development in the 400 block of Sixth Street West. All of the sites have one thing in common: The duplexes were built in the 1960s, they are currently vacant and are quickly becoming slum and blight.

Burton has figured out a way to achieve the CRA’s primary mission of removing slum and blight and having that effort pay for itself, as well as providing much-needed housing for young, single professionals or retired seniors looking to downsize from larger homes.

The duplexes will be demolished. The city would do much of the legwork to prepare the lots, bring in a developer that would be required to build what the city wants and ultimately sell off the new homes to pay off the debt.

About half of the homes would be sold at market rate with the remainder being reserved for affordable and obtainable housing rates.

“The timeline is once we purchase, we’ll demolish the units, hire architects and develop estimated costs and benefits,” Burton said. “I don’t know those costs yet, but we may prototype one house first. Will it be net zero energy? There is a lot we still need to look at.”

Burton said he would like to see some activity on the first site in the next six months or so, “But we aren’t going to rush this.”

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The Palmetto CRA is looking to buy up several properties like these to launch a Pocket Neighborhood project where they either start with vacant land or tear down existing structures and redevelop them in the tiny house concept. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The 15 lots across the city vary in size, but Burton said the majority are large enough to develop the pocket neighborhoods when available. As for the smaller parcels, “What if we just started the program with one or two units and the property next door opens up? We’d look at buying that and expand the pocket neighborhood into the next lot.”

Architect Gary Roberts of Architecture LLC said some of the sites present different challenges but can be adapted to the general theme of the pocket neighborhood. Roberts said one of the primary goals is to ensure that each homeowner feels like they have their privacy — unlike in duplexes — and there are ways to accomplish that.

Each “neighborhood” could potentially have parking on the exterior and a common green space in the middle. Burton is considering for the prototype project a retention pond in the center and using the dirt from digging the pond to build the houses well above what is required for sea-level-rise mitigation.

“I’m not the scientist who is trying to figure all that out,” Burton said. “But why wouldn’t we start thinking about that no?”

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The Palmetto CRA is looking to buy up several properties like these to launch a Pocket Neighborhood project where they either start with vacant land or tear down existing structures and redevelop them in the tiny house concept. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

A woman pet sitting for a neighbor across the street from the vacant duplexes didn’t want to be identified, but she said it’s the perfect kind of redevelopment proposal that would likely spur nearby homeowners to want to put more money into their homes.

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the city became aware of the pocket neighborhood concept about six months ago and almost immediately began to figure out how to incorporate the concept into the city’s goals.

“This is the perfect scenario for a lot of people in certain stages of their lives,” Bryant said. “We are hoping to find a developer that will partner with us and get this show on the road.”

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