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Date of Issue: March 05, 2008

Planning commission reviews housing policies

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The Holmes Beach Planning Commission meets Feb. 28 at city hall. The meeting was the first since chairman Sue Normand was shot on Dec. 5, 2007, at her store, Island Mail & More. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The Holmes Beach Planning Commission tackled the subject of affordable housing Feb. 28 as it resumed its review of proposed amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan.

The state requires that the city deal with affordable housing in the plan, though on a barrier island there is little opportunity to provide workforce housing, said city planning consultant Bill Brisson of LaRue Planning and Management Services Inc.

The meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall was the first of the commission since chairman Sue Normand was shot minutes after opening her store, Island Mail & More, on Dec. 5. Before the board began its business for the night, Commissioner Gary Hickerson welcomed Normand to the meeting.

“I’ve very glad that you are here and looking very well,” Hickerson said. “You look marvelous.” The commissioners shared a joke that if Normand had been unable to attend, Hickerson, as vice chair, would have had to chair the meeting - a role he wasn’t eager to play.

Normand thanked Hickerson and then moved the commissioners into the meeting.

The planning commission is at work updating the comprehensive plan based on the evaluation and appraisal report the city commission approved last April.

The EAR summarized the successes and failures of the city’s comp plan, identified key issues and recommended changes to the plan through 2011 for short-term goals and 2016 for long-term goals.

Now the planning commission must work the EAR into the comp plan. The update is expected to take at least several months.

Brisson said he hoped the planning commission could complete its review in April and that the city commission could send an amended plan to the Florida Department of Community Affairs by July. The DCA would then review the amended plan and either OK the document or request changes.

Last week, the planning commission reviewed and accepted Brisson’s suggestion that the mixed-use area in Holmes Beach be generally limited to the downtown rather than apply to all commercial zones.

Normand asked if the commercial area on East Bay Drive should be identified for mixed-use on the city’s future land-use map. Brisson replied, “That’s not an area that really lends itself to mixed use,” and cautioned that the DCA might have problems if the city submitted a plan identifying a “shopping center as mixed-use.”

Next in the review was the discussion of affordable housing in Holmes Beach, or rather, the lack of such housing.

“In Holmes Beach we have a certain number of people who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing,” Brisson said.

But, he added, there is little land remaining for new housing developments and real estate prices can be exorbitant in a waterfront community. Median sale prices for single-family homes have gone from $180,000 in 1996 to $671,000 in 2005.

Therefore, Brisson said, improving access to affordable or workforce housing in Holmes Beach will be a difficult objective for the city.

Under the new affordable housing policies Brisson offered, the city would:

  • Work with the county to identify and pursue new revenue sources to be earmarked for eligible families to obtain low-interest mortgages and down-payment assistance.
  • Consider the appropriateness of allowing an accessory dwelling unit - commonly known as a mother-in-law apartment - on oversize lots in the low-density, residential land-use category.
  • Evaluate establishing an affordable housing fee to be charged to new residential and commercial development, with the fees dedicated to a trust fund administered by the county or state.

“Any money would help,” Brisson said.

Hickerson also emphasized that the mixed-use development the city wants to encourage might provide some affordable housing.

During an hour-long meeting last November, commissioners reviewed proposed changes to the comprehensive plan’s future land-use and transportation sections. Most of the changes eliminate language no longer required by the state in comp plans or outdated information, but the commission did discuss a provision calling for the city to prepare a “streetscape” study. They agreed to keep the provision for a streetscape study in the comp plan, with a review to begin by 2010.

The planning commission will meet next at 7 p.m. March 27 at city hall, 5701 Marina Drive. During that meeting, Brisson said he hoped to review issues related to recreation and capital improvements with the commissioners.