This week, the Bradenton City Council voted 3-1 to allow developers to erect taller residential buildings, ostensibly to encourage the development of more affordable housing. However, they also decided to temporarily remove the requirement that at least 25 percent of a building's units be designated affordable housing to receive additional height downtown.
Only Councilwoman Lisa Gonzalez Moore seemed to appreciate the irony in removing such a requirement, noting that building a bunch of market-rate units that are likely to be purchased by seasonal occupants did not seem to coincide with the needs of Bradenton's downtown whether expressed by residents or the supposed goals of city officials (councilman Josh Kramer was absent).
The changes are temporary and the locations are limited. Projects have to come before the council before December of 2028, and ground must be broken before December of 2033. It applies only to projects on the roughly 300 acres from the Manatee River to 10th Avenue West and from First Street East to Wares Creek.
Given the cozy relationship city officials have had with developers, this suggests that there are some specific projects that builders have in mind and they want to benefit from rule changes allowing both more units (read profit) and the removal of a requirement that might even somewhat mitigate those additional profits. If a significant portion of the remaining space on that footprint is built out during the window, that would also make it far less likely that affordable housing will find its way into the downtown inventory in the future.
There is also the question of how much the additional downtown density will compound the existing traffic woes in the urban core. And anytime that question is raised, it bears repeating that it was the City of Bradenton and its council that long stood in the way of efforts to solve those problems, first via thwarting plans to take "new 301" across the river and then by way of staunch opposition to flyover lanes back when the adequate right of ways were undeveloped.
Bradenton desperately needs workforce housing inventory, units for which the cost is in line with the wages paid not only to teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement officers but all of the other vital employees who earn even less—school bus drivers and mechanics, cafeteria workers, home healthcare workers, EMS, service industry professionals, etc. Easing regulations on density for that purpose would be a trade-off worth discussing.
However, we are a unique economy in that much of the demand for housing in our area comes from those who have amassed wealth elsewhere and therefore are not only unaffected by the relationship between average wages and average home/rent prices but compound the negative aspect by increasing demand for the most profitable units and eviscerating any incentive to add supply elsewhere. Those incentives need to come from the city. Erasing them simply doesn't make sense, and I salute Councilwoman Gonzalez for realizing that.
Manatee County Government has already demonstrated what happens when density incentives are ignored, which is to say no affordable housing gets built. The city, which has long been just as deeply intertwined with developers (even if they are largely ones with different names) seems to be just as unconcerned about where its workforce will live both now and in future generations.
Normally, I would have counted on an angry email choc full of piss and vinegar from Barbara "Brockobitch" Elliot this week, long the city's most dogged public activist and a thorn in everyone's side at City Hall who was content to go along to get along. However, I learned this week that Barbara has passed away (obituary). Her passing represents a huge blow to a city for which political disengagement was already rampant.
I hope more city residents find a passion similar to Barbara's for holding their elected officials accountable. Otherwise, our once quaint "downtown" might soon be unrecognizable from every other overdeveloped Florida city choked off by gridlock while struggling to find people to work in the businesses that all these new luxury high-rise residents will surely expect to be able to patronize only to find that people are unwilling to crawl through traffic to make crap wages in a place where they cannot afford to live.
Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.