By: Tony Veldkamp, 2022 RASM President

On February 15, the Commercial Real Estate Alliance (CREA) of the Realtor® Association of Sarasota and Manatee (RASM) hosted their 8th Annual Downtown Horizons breakfast. This annual event has always provided fantastic information on the developments in our downtowns to local commercial real estate agents, residential agents, their guests, and members of the public. This year’s program was no exception.

Steven Cover, Director of Planning for the City of Sarasota, and Paxton Kinol with Belpointe, a mixed-use developer currently redeveloping the site of the former Main Plaza, participated in a discussion of attainable workforce housing, zoning, and the overall development process within the City of Sarasota.

In this robust real estate market fueled by low inventory and escalating prices, attainable housing, or housing that professionals at a lower income level can afford, is now on the forefront of everyone’s minds. The possible solutions for attainable housing appear to be within the City’s grasp with a new proposed Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Four changes to current zoning regulations were discussed as being needed to increase the amount of attainable housing in the downtown area. The proposed zoning changes include 1) an increased height of buildings than what is currently allowed within the downtown core, 2) increased residential density bonuses based on a percentage of attainable housing to be constructed, 3) decreased parking requirements as studies show the current residential parking requirements are excessive, and 4) a streamlined administrative approval process for development projects. Through Steven Cover’s direction, the City Commission gave approval to pursue changes to the City’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, that could allow some or all of these changes to occur. The Planning Department’s next step is to present the plan to the City Commission in April for approval.

At the rate at which Sarasota is growing, it’s important to support this smart growth effort to meet the needs and desires of our current and future residents.

Other changes coming to downtown Sarasota include the ongoing redevelopment of the Bayfront project including a new performing arts hall. This multi-use park is considered a “game-changer” for making downtown Sarasota an even better place to live, work, and play. It will also encourage more redevelopment and private investment north of Fruitville Road, as those areas will be walkable to the new park.

With increased density forecasted for the downtown area, transportation is on everyone’s mind as well. The City is instituting a new trolley system to run free of charge with pick up spots all along Main Street and then taking you out to St. Armand’s Circle and Lido Beach. There will even be a mobile app that you can use to track the trolley so you know where and when you can hop on. Electric scooters are also coming soon as an additional transportation alternative, and more electric vehicle charging stations are seen as a need in the coming years.

Downtown Horizons is just one of many educational opportunities that CREA and RASM provide their members to better serve their clients. When looking for a commercial real estate agent to represent your needs, ask if they are a CREA member. Not only do they have access to great education opportunities like Downtown Horizons, but also networking opportunities to sell and lease properties within their group. They are also held to a higher standard as agents through the Realtor® Code of Ethics, just like their residential counterparts.