Affordable housing development project abandoned

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SARASOTA – A much anticipated affordable housing project planned on Fruitville Road in Sarasota is being abandoned.

Father and son affordable housing advocates and developers Harvey and Travis Vengroff have been planning to build a 368-unit apartment complex for years. Increasing building costs and impact fees have no longer made the project affordable.

After years of planning and paperwork and over $300 thousand spent on fees and studies, the Vengroff’s emailed the city saying, “I quit.”

“Every step of the way,” Travis Vengroff said, “we’ve been met with resistance, we’ve been met with fees. People saying they just don’t want the project to happen, they don’t want affordable housing in Sarasota. The same people who will be serving them lunch and dinner to be living next door.”

Travis Vengroff and his father say they couldn’t spend any additional funds on the development application or fees,and still turn a profit.

“They asked us to do a study and identify every tree that had grown on the property over an inch in height,” Vengroff said. “And this includes invasive species, and we’re not allowed to take them out, we’re not allowed to do anything like that. We actually have to number each tree, label each tree, take a picture of each tree, and go through a very expensive process for what essentially amounts to a bunch of weeds.”

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin says they did everything they could to make the development easier.

“We’ve exhibited the maximum flexibility here in terms of lessening the parking requirements,” Barwin said. “We waived the mobility fee, the only impact fee that we’re capable of waiving we zeroed it out, so we were working very proactively with him to get this done.”

Barwin says every development follows permitting process.

“We’ve got 1,700 apartments, 1,400 condominiums, over 1,000 hotel rooms,” Barwin said. “The math there is well over 3,000 units under development, so they’re not prohibiting others from developing, but we’re it is a problem and a legitimate problem is in the area of affordable housing because the profit margins are so thin.”

Barwin says there is nothing more the city can do unless the laws are changed to make it easier to waive impact fees for affordable housing.

“Doing more would start with giving the county and our cities in the state of Florida,” Barwin said. “Some legitimate flexibility in terms of being able to waive these heavy duty impact fees to affordable housing developments.”

Travis Vengroff says there is a toxic mindset toward affordable housing in Sarasota and they’re going to develop in the cities that are welcoming them.

“I’m packing my bags and going North,” Vengroff said. “There is zero willingness for them to help out or even concede on things to make this happen and it’s infuriating.”

City Manager Barwin says they are looking forward to getting more feedback from the Vengroff’s on what. They can do to help make the development process easier for affordable housing in the city.

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Samantha Sonner
Multimedia Journalist Samantha Sonner comes to the Suncoast from Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she worked as a reporter and host for KRWG TV/FM reporting on local politics, immigration, and border issues. Samantha grew up on Long Island, New York. She received her Bachelor of Science in Broadcast and Digital Journalism from Syracuse University. At Syracuse, she worked at WAER, the campus NPR station and interned at television stations in Central New York. Samantha is excited for the Florida Sunshine, and to be living so close to fantastic beaches. Feel free to follow her on Facebook and Twitter for story updates and news, or to send her story tips and ideas. You can also email her at samantha.sonner@snntv.com.