Benderson needs to Follow Vengroff

BENDERSON NEEDS TO FOLLOW VENGROFF CONCERN 
FOR AFFORDABLE WORKFORCE HOUSING IN SARASOTA

BY JON SUSCE

With the property values rising around the upscale Benderson University Town Center (UTC) project, the possibility of getting Randy Benderson to agree to build affordable workforce housing as once promised is highly unlikely; unless public pressure is placed on Benderson to fulfill his previous commitment.
Sarasota County Commissioners need to insist that  Benderson follow the example of another multi-millionaire, Harvey Vengroff, who is proposing to build affordable workforce housing in the City of Sarasota for working families without asking one penny in pubic assistance.

Sarasota County Commissioners, who have approved numerous Benderson projects that necessitated $millions in public funding for infrastructure costs, in addition to the appropriated $millions of public expenditures for Benderson projects, should require Benderson to follow the example of Vengroff who recently made this public statement:

“We are not asking the city to change the building codes, compromise safety or security. We are asking for a permit to build 400 apartments on an 8 acre parcel. We have always used our own money to provide affordable housing for our own employees and the community. We plan to build a mix of studios, one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom apartments ranging in rents from $600-$950/month.”

Vengroff continued, “Try to look at the project for what it is: A privately financed enterprise that pays taxes and accepts no subsidies. Our employees work long hours trying to help tenants find employment, make doctors’ visits, maintain a safe clean environment and try to treat everyone with respect.”

THAXTON SHOULD HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH BENDERSON
This Bederson commitment is one that former Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton expected to be fulfilled when he made it clear in 2007 that housing needs to be included in Benderson’s new plans.  When Thaxton voted to allow Benderson to remove workforce housing from his project, he stated “I expect to see residences in the very first development phase. If it’s not there then we have a very serious problem.”

 BENDERSON PROMISES 750 TO 1,750 AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS BUT HIS PROMISES ARE WORTHLESS 

In 2007, Randy Benderson committed to a New Urbanist, pedestrian-focused design, centered around his 306 million dollar University Town Center Mall. The 2007 agreement that Sarasota County made with Benderson required Benderson to have constructed the first 110 affordable priced homes by the time he had finished construction on the first 350,000 square feet of the University Town Center.

To win approval for the project, Benderson agreed to price 25% of his homes at a cost affordable to an average wage earner. The original plans also called for at least 750 homes and as many as 1,750, south of the mall.  One quarter of those, or 437, were to be affordable.

MATHES AND BENDERSON: “NO NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING”

Four years later Benderson official, Todd Mathes, told the Sarasota County Planning Board that times have changed since then. Benderson’s plans now were for the New Urbanist concept to be replaced by a “plan that will become more traditional in design.”

According to a Sarasota Herald Tribune (SHT) article on June 20, 2011, Randy Benderson stated that there is no longer a need for affordable workforce housing and that the 2007 requirement he has with Sarasota County hinders his mall plans.

Benderson officials argue that times have changed since their 2007 agreement. Benderson’s logic is that in 2007, people with average incomes couldn’t afford to buy a house in Sarasota County, but now they can.  Plus, with all the empty homes on the market, building affordable workforce homes is simply a business that doesn’t interest him.

  BENDERSON CORPORATE WELFARE SCAM
This is just another example of the Benderson corporate welfare scam.  Benderson promises the Sarasota general public a “New Urbanism” concept  with affordable workforce housing, but once he gets approval from his lackeys on the Sarasota County Commission, he shortly thereafter excludes the “New Urbanist” concept, inclusive of affordable workforce housing, from their multi-million dollar University Town Center Project.
BUILDING AFFORDABLE WORKFORCE HOUSING A “DRAG”
Contrary to what Benderson believed about the housing requirement in 2007, which at the time was sold as a plus to building the mall (since mall workers could basically afford to live on the site), it has now become a “drag.”  It was Benderson’s contention that the county’s requirement to build homes that might not sell, will raise questions with prospective tenants about the viability of the mall project.
SARASOTA PLANNING COMMISSION VOTES 7-0 TO HOLD BENDERSON TO WORKFORCE HOUSING COMMITMENT
The Sarasota County Planning Commission disagreed with Benderson’s assessment nine years ago and voted  7-0 against waiving the community workforce housing requirement for Benderson’s project. They were unwilling to waive the promise or predict that affordable housing would not become a local issue again in the coming years. The planning board also disagreed with Benderson’s argument that the original concept of building workforce housing, which would have mall workers living on the site, had become a “drag.”

In addition, the planning board gave little credit to  Benderson’s argument that, “the housing component requirement to build 437 community housing units will raise questions with prospective tenants about the viability of the mall project.” Planning board commissioners said their task was to plan for the long-term needs of the county and that they were unwilling to predict that affordable housing, a dominant political issue just five years ago, will not again become an issue in Southwest Florida.

“We’re supposed to be doing long-range planning for the county,” Planning commission member, John Fellin said, “I strongly suspect that no one here or no one within earshot five years ago could have predicted what happened in the last two years.”

Planning commission member, Roland Piccone stated, “If the county abandons the planning it did regarding affordable housing, it would be, in effect, adopting a different strategy for the next time homes become unaffordable: Let’s just wait for the next collapse.”
BENDERSON SEEKS COUNTY COMMISSION TO EXCLUDE WORKFORCE HOUSING
Not deterred by 7-0 vote of the Sarasota County Planning Commission, Benderson took his plan to exclude affordable workforce housing from his University Town Center project to the Sarasota County Commission. Benderson once again argued for his new “traditional” plan to replace the New Urbanist plan he had agreed upon in 2007, which would exclude affordable workforce housing.

Ed Vogler, a Benderson spokesperson, came before the Sarasota County Commission and presented Benderson’s  objections to his previous agreement. Vogler stated, “there is no longer a need for such housing and that the requirement to build these homes could hinder Benderson’s mall plans.”

AFFORDABLE HOUSING “HAMPERED” BENDERSON’S  UP-SCALE DEPARTMENT STORES 

Vogler told the county commissioners, “Benderson has been hampered in his talks with his partner in the UTC Mall—Taubman Centers.” According to Vogler, Taubman’s ability to bring upscale department stores to the mall, due to the affordable housing requirement that Benderson had with Sarasota County to build workforce homes, “makes them nervous.” Vogler said,  “This is about bringing department stores in the near term”

Taubman did not want affordable, workforce housing surrounding their $306 million UTC Mall, anchored by five star restaurants and retail stores. Taubman Centers is an owner of regional malls in the United States, and has headquarters in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The Taubman Asia subsidiary is headquartered in Hong Kong. It has the highest selling portfolio of malls of any mall company in the United States.

SARASOTA COUNTY VOTES 5-0 TO APPROVE BENDERSON SCAM PROPOSAL
According to an SHT article, “Vogler’s references to its advanced talks with elite department store chains for its proposed University Town Center (UTC) mall swayed Sarasota County commissioners to vote 5-0. The approval would lift what Benderson said was a ‘negotiation-chilling’ requirement to make affordable priced homes a part of its project.” The county commission vote eliminated the requirement to build homes first. Benderson could now build the mall before it builds any homes.
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS BOUGHT OFF WITH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS
In describing the difference between the Sarasota County Planning Board vote of 7-0 against Benderson’s proposal not to build affordable housing, and the Sarasota County Commission vote of 5-0 in favor of Benderson’s new “traditional” plan, Lobeck stated, “the only difference is planning commissioners don’t get campaign contributions.”
BENDERSON HAS LITTLE CONCERN ABOUT CORRUPTING SARASOTA COUNTY GOVERNMENT
The Sarasota Phoenix documented Benderson paying off Sarasota County Commissioners with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Case in point, Benderson entities stuffed (50) $200 campaign contributions into Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines 2011 campaign for County Commission.

The method used by Benderson to “stuff” (50) campaign contributions into Hines and other politicians campaign coffers gives clear evidence that Benderson has little concern about corrupting the local political process.

In addition to Hines, Benderson gave Commissioner Carolyn Mason (6) $200 contributions, Commissioner Joe Barbetta (19) $200 contributions, Commissioner Christine Robinson (5) $200 contributions. All of these listed with a 7978 Cooper Creek, Sarasota address.

Sarasota County voters have voted to stop multimillion developers like Benderson from buying off local politicians with campaign contributions by voting to limit (1) $200 donation per entity.  Benderson has made a mockery out of that decision and used over 500 LLC’S with his Sarasota and Buffalo addresses to get around the wishes of Sarasota County voters with respect to buying off politicians like Hines and other local political figures.

Not only does  Benderson use his numerous LLC’s to violate the letter of the law, he uses PAC’s managed by his “Bag Man,”  Eric Robinson to move money around from one PAC to another and funnel money into the campaign coffers of  handpicked politicians being favored by him and his cronies. SEE ATTACHMENT 

Benderson, with the same Buffalo, New York address—570 Delaware Avenue, funneled (10) $200 contributions from various Randy Benderson controlled LLC’s into Sarasota County Commissioner Al Maio’s campaign. In addition, Randy Benderson, Shaun Benderson, Loni Benderson and Gina Benderson each gave a $200 campaign contribution with a 570 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, New York address to Maio’s 2014 campaign for Sarasota County Commissioner.

PATTERSON PART OF BENDERSON’S “PAY TO PAY” SCAM
Benderson was included in a PAC managed by local political operative and convicted felon, Bob Waechter that raised over $42,000 for Commissioner Nora Patterson’s re-election campaign in 2011.The Waechter managed PAC included fellow multii million dollar”Pay to Play” developers Pat Neal, Carlos Beruff and Henry Rodriguez.
$MILLIONS OF PUBLIC MONEY FOR BENDERSON “PAY TO PLAY” PROJECTS
In addition to releasing Benderson from his commitment to build work force housing as part of his project, the county commissioners have appropriated $millions of public money to increase Benderson’s profit margin at his various projects.

For example, $20 million for construction of the Benderson rowing facility, and $19 million for the Cattlemen Extension, that Benderson stated was needed to build his mall. In addition $20 million in public funds from the State of Florida. Hundreds of millions more in public funding have been appropriated for the US 1-75/University Parkway Interchange  needed to alleviate the sprawl created by Benderson projects, in addition to further costs to complete Benederson’s rowing facility.

With all of these millions of dollars in public money used to increase Benderson’s profit margin, not one penny has been appropriated by the Sarasota County Commissioners or Randy Benderson for affordable workforce housing.

SARASOTA COUNTY BENDERSON DECISION HAS CAUSED  SERIOUS PROBLEMS
The decision by the Sarasota County Commission in 2007 to appropriate $millions of public funding for Benderson projects, while allowing Benderson to renege on his affordable workforce housing commitment, has contributed to the serious problem working folks in Sarasota have finding housing.

Officials at Sarasota’s Salvation Army, for instance, say they have families who have been in a shelter, received assistance and are ready for transitional housing. But, says Major Ethan Frizzell, the Salvation Army’s area commander, those families are unable to move out of the shelter due to the lack of affordable workforce housing.Today, 56 percent of Sarasota County residents are “rent-burdened”, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. A new report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that Florida leads the nation in the percentage of renters who are paying beyond what they can afford for housing. Household income in Florida is low and rental rates are high compared with what workers earn. 

The supply of affordable workforce apartments has not kept up with demand in an area where many people work service-industry jobs for low wages. According to the SHT, Sarasota County residents are also extremely rent-burdened, with 56.2 percent paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. “Housing is very expensive, either to build it or keep it affordable,” said Bill Russell, who is the director of Sarasota’s public housing authority. “It’s tough,” said Russell

 $MILLIONS OF PUBLIC MONEY FOR BENDERSON PROJECTS
In addition to releasing Benderson from his commitment to build affordable  work force housing at his project in 2007, the county commissioners have  recently approved additional Benderson projects to increase Benderson’s profit margin centered around the Benderson/Taubman $320 million UTC Mall—–BUT NOT ONE PROPOSAL FOR AFFORABLE HOUSING THAT BENDERSON ONCE PROMISED TO BUILD.
AFFORDABLE WORKFORCE HOUSING 
BUILT BY BENDERSON UNLIKELY UNLESS PRESSURED
According to Thaxton’s statement in 2010, it’s now the time for the Sarasota County Commission to inform Benderson that there is a “serious problem.” Sarasota County Commissioners need to “bite the bullet.”— Not one penny of public funding goes to any of his projects, until Benderson fulfills his commitment to build affordable workforce housing.
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