Readers share pros and cons of 'granny flats' in Sarasota-Manatee

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Affordable housing or likely vacation rentals?

Although older urban neighborhoods often include garage apartments and other secondary housing on lots primarily intended for single-family homes, a revival of that concept recently sparked heated debate in Manatee County.

County planners prepared a proposed ordinance to allow “accessory dwelling units” in Manatee’s unincorporated areas. Their intent is to create more affordable housing, at least for single members of the work force who struggle with market-rate rents.

READ MORE: Sarasota-Manatee affordable housing news

Yet numerous homeowners, especially from Whitfield Estates — Ballentine Manor and Bayshore Gardens, objected. They expressed concerns that backyard apartments or bungalows could generate density, parking and other woes.

The commissioners temporarily shelved the ordinance for further discussion and possible revisions.

The Herald-Tribune asked readers to share their thoughts about the pros and cons of encouraging more “accessory dwelling units.” Here are a few of their comments:

Barbara Ames, Whitfield Estates — Ballentine Manor: “I chose to live in the Whitfield-Ballentine Manor neighborhood because it was established with single-family homes. I did not wish to live in an area with rental dwellings. At this current time there are homes in the neighborhood which are rented weekly and on the weekends for those people who are on vacation. They are inconsiderate with screaming kids in the pool, dogs barking, loud music, and party time for them late at night. We have to live with this. The owners are not on the property to monitor these people but are very glad to collect money from them. I do believe that accepting ADUs in this area will increase the current issues which we now experience. I strongly oppose the ADUs. My husband and I have worked hard to purchase a home and feel that the value of our home will decrease. Let them put the ADUs in Lakewood Ranch.”

Larry Ames, Whitfield-Ballentine: “The Airbnb is next door. The cars are backed in so license plates are not visible. Most are from out of state. It’s a ‘daily’ rental in our neighborhood and the noise is 24/7. Kids screaming, dogs barking, and adult late night party time. Maybe they will rent it out for a ‘frat party’ too! Seriously, there is NO accountability for behavior. We’re waiting for the ‘Sauna’ or ‘Massage’ neon signs to go up. Drugs, liquor and lots of fun inside, just look at all the cars parked in the front yard! Absolutely voting NO for ADUs.”

Michelle Switzer, Bayou Oaks, Sarasota: “Anything that makes housing more affordable is a great thing. Look up the average rental for a three bedroom for a family. How many jobs would you have to have to pull that off? My ex-husband pays rent at about $1,700 a month. He is constantly struggling. With four teens and school coming, I’m surprised he does not move out of state. EXTREME high rents and crowds everywhere you look make Florida a lot less desirable than some think. Seems with the extreme price of things we would all move. That is my three-year goal. To get out of Florida.”

Joe Abraham, Whitfield-Ballentine: “In an area such as Whitfield that has been developed for single-family homes, the infrastructure is not designed to support an increase in density that additional housing units will create. Our roads are showing some serious degradation. What would an increase in traffic cause? The arterial streets through Whitfield, specifically Whitfield Avenue, Pearl Avenue, and Ninth Street East are already heavily trafficked and at times dangerous. The sole north-south route, 9th Street East, is especially plagued by speeding cars. When an area is developed, its roads are designed to accommodate a specific speed and quantity of traffic. Additional housing units will only increase the number of vehicles using the roads. Utilities are another factor when designing a development. If there is an increase in the demand for electricity, water and, most importantly sewer service, will the current facilities and systems be able to support any influx in demand?

“I have heard the argument that it is ‘my property and I will do what I want.’ When one lives in a community, that is not always applicable, especially if what is done on your property detrimentally affects your neighbors. The acronym NIMBY has also be used in discussion of this topic. I understand the need for affordable housing in Manatee County, but is the Whitfield area the ideal test bed for ADUs?”

Joanne Soucy, Sarasota: “I do feel it should be allowed. The concern is as we get older we cannot afford to live in these new apartments they are building. We have to depend on our children to take care of their elderly parents. And vice versa. Sometimes children move back home. As mine did with his son.”

Alina Bracciale, Whitfield-Ballentine: “After a two-year search for a good neighborhood in Sarasota, I settled on and bought a charming home in Whitfield Estates. The neighborhood is eclectic and lovely, the neighbors warm and welcoming and we have access to world-class museums, beaches and many other desirable attractions. I think most of us bought so we would have lots of land around our homes for pools or fruit trees, lush gardens and privacy. A number of the historic homes from the 1920s already have ‘casitas’ on the properties and these are great for in-laws and guests. To allow new unregulated dwellings to spring up on existing home lots, no matter what the reasons given on the permit application, leaves our quiet private neighborhood open to unregulated renters, fly-by-night vacationers and the notorious Airbnb hordes. Living so close to SRQ airport leaves our neighborhood particularly vulnerable to the greed of ‘entrepreneurs’ hoping to make quick turnover cash on tourists, at the expense of our privacy and safety. I am entirely against this, for I truly believe no good could come from it.”

Annie Russini, Bradenton: “I am a founder of the ‘Village of the Arts,’ an 18-block artists community and walk-to-town neighborhood. Many residences here have granny apartments. It IS the character of this neighborhood. It works well here, adds character and doesn’t detract in any way. We’re a tight-knit community where everyone knows their neighbors for blocks and blocks around. Artists tend NOT to live beyond their means, so granny apartments are highly sought after here.”

Todd Logan, Osprey: “Most ADUs will be used one of three ways, each of which addresses real community problems:

“1) Many ADUs are simply rented. Rents are typically much less than stand-alone homes or apartments. Lack of affordable housing is a huge problem here and, while ADUs won’t solve that problem, I believe allowing them will provide more affordable housing units than any other initiative underway, and at no cost to taxpayers. And for some homeowners, income from an ADU is what makes the difference on keeping their existing home affordable for them.

“2) Many baby-boomers struggle to help aging parents and many seniors just need a little help to stay independent. ADUs are often called ‘granny flats’ for good reason. They can be the ideal setup for a successful multi-generational household.

“3) Many young adults are struggling to get established in our challenging economy. ADUs can be a good landing spot for ‘boomerang’ kids as they continue to work on the skills and education they need to be independent and successful.

“ADUs are successfully allowed in thousands of communities across the country. There are plenty of model ordinances that address negative impacts – size limits, occupancy limits, architectural guidelines and parking requirements, to name a few. There is no reason that the allowing of ADUs should lead to significant negative impacts to the residential character of our neighborhoods. The benefits of ADUs are many.”

Warren Skallman, Whitfield-Ballentine: “The ADU proposal as originally brought forward to the Board of County Commissioners of Manatee was not well thought out. I live in Whitfield and agree with some of what the neighbors said at the meeting on this subject. Something like ADU is needed to address housing for the workers who cannot afford the rents or the cost of most homes in this two-county area. However, rules should be established and applied consistently in Manatee County, not by each neighborhood association. There should be a minimum of six-month rental required. If the ADU will be owned, it should follow the same requirements as any single family owner-occupied home is transacted. Bans for parking of vehicles on the front lawn should be up to each association.”

David Molloy, Bayshore Gardens: “I believe if accessory housing is approved, the renter has to be a relative of the homeowner and be limited to one person living there. I think the better solution is having apartment complex developers set aside 20% of their units for affordable housing. Many new complexes have been approved, with rents starting at around $1,100 a month. A person’s rent should be one week’s pay. A person would have to make around $70,000 a year to get a net $1,100 a week. How many teachers and government workers make that much? They need apartments that rent for $500 to $700 a month. Make the developers set aside a percentage of one-bedroom apartments for affordable housing to be permitted to build.”

David Potenza, Whitfield-Ballentine: “If employers are having difficulty finding employees to fill open positions, maybe they need to increase the hourly pay. If the younger generation is finding it difficult to find affordable housing, maybe they need to find roommates. When I was in my 20s I had four roommates. Instead of the county trying to rezone existing properties, the commissioners should be requiring the developers to include as much as 10% of their projects as affordable. I built my home and conformed to many restrictive conditions and I refuse to accept a new home next to my property that has not met the same codes as I had to conform to. By adding more impervious areas, more vehicles, more input to already overwhelmed infrastructure, the county is just asking for a major disaster.”

W.A. and Inge Phillips, Whitfield-Ballentine: “We oppose these units, as they will generally overcrowd a neighborhood with people, cars, pets, noise and generally lower the desirability of an area. We have seen the shipping container units in Germany, and they add absolutely nothing to the community. Remember more people, more problems in a given area. More traffic, more utility demands, not to mention law enforcement problems. If you want to create a slum go for ADUs. Why not zone an undeveloped area or a blighted area that need redevelopment or revitalization for low-income housing and then go for small homes at affordable prices? I know, the builders will fight such a project due to lesser profits!”

Harris Silver, Whitfield-Ballentine: “ADUs are among the worst ways to provide affordable housing. They will increase traffic and create unaesthetic congested housing that will reduce the values of the neighboring one-family homes. Their uses will be impossible to police and likely lead to people utilizing them in BnB rentals which will change the character of our neighborhoods. We and like-minded people bought our home in reliance of the belief that we would live among single-family homes built within the requirements of existing zoning. The goal posts should not be moved to our detriment.”

Barbara and Darrell Jackson, Whitfield Country Club Heights: “We would like this area to also be EXEMPT, but that is doubtful. Stipulations therefore should be made as to have them look like the residence somewhat. … Also stipulation for parking needs to be addressed and followed. And possibly limit how many residents can live there (six or fewer residents deemed a single-family unit for residential use). Stipulate to have them look compatible with the existing residence, as to not be an eyesore and devalue the area.”

Daniel Young, Whitfield-Ballentine: “It is more than convenient that developers would encourage ADUs. They might benefit from single-family homeowners selling out and moving to new restricted developments in order to avoid their new ADU neighbors beside and behind them. Affordable housing advocates call this FILTERING.”

Marnie Matarese, Whitfield-Ballentine: “Placing them in backyards is not going to solve the affordable housing situation. Manatee County should utilize all of its existing vacant land and build container or tiny home communities and manage them. Trying to shoehorn these homes into the backyards of existing neighborhoods is a crime against homeowners who thought they were buying in a single family neighborhood. And isn’t it convenient that none of the developer neighborhoods with HOAs will be affected? This plan has no merit and no way to be implemented that would make it a plus for those of us who live in Whitfield Ballentine Manor or provide homes at an affordable price in backyards. Our convenient and near the airport and beaches location has already caused us to suffer many Airbnb and vacation rental by owner stays and some homes are being run like motels. A big thanks to our Manatee County Commission for turning it down for now. They realized it does not meet its goals. There is something very unsettling about this plan and I would love to see an investigation done into who is going to benefit the most, financially, from it passing.”

Louise Gergowicz, Whitfield-Ballentine: “The simple fact is that we purchased homes in a single family area and that is exactly what it should be.”

Clare Kirchman, Whitfield-Ballentine: “It is acceptable to me that the county allow ‘mother-in-law” type accessory housing with the unit being the same type of construction as the main home (concrete block or wood frame) in my community. What is not acceptable is the ‘tiny house,’ mobile home nor the storage container-turned-home styles. Our community features standard sized lots. Homes are close together. Extra housing means more noise and more cars at the very least. It also might mean an Airbnb next to you where tourists stay one or two nights at a time. This neighborhood is meant for single-family style homes – not vacationers. I don’t have a problem with the addition of a mother-in-law type backyard home made out of similar construction as the main home with the same style and paint intended (and restricted) to a full-time occupant. Having said that, I would worry about code enforcement if these mother-in-law ADUs were allowed. This neighborhood is in a special overlay district due to the airport. We have extra rules that the county is supposed to enforce. They do a very good job for only having a handful of code enforcers but it already is a huge job for them to enforce the few rules we already do have. The county would need to hire, at minimum, a new full-time code enforcer who would be dedicated to enforcing ADUs codes only. It is unlikely the county would be able to find the money to hire a full-time code enforcer for enforcing the rules for ADUs. Thus, I am against ADUs at this point. If the county comes up with some strict regulations- including that the ADU must be similar in style and color to the main home, requiring approval to put in an ADU and money to hire a permanent, full-time, dedicated ADU enforcer, I might change my mind.”

Robert Baime, Whitfield-Ballantine: “Please be advised I am unalterably opposed to accessory housing. It will turn our development into a slum.”

Elaine Ehrhardt, Whitfield-Ballentine: “For most of us our homes are our greatest asset. ADUs would greatly diminish our return. I purchased a home in this area so that I had some room. The county needs to find another way to bring affordable housing to the county without penalizing the rest of us. These are single-family home lots.”

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