DUNEDIN — City officials are trying to encourage more affordable housing projects through a proposed ordinance that will modify some regulations and offer incentives to developers.

City commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance on first reading at their Aug. 6 meeting and asked that city officials discuss ways to ensure that public art is given consideration in such projects.

Joseph DiPasqua, city interim director of community development, said city officials are recommending changes to their codes, such as providing an exemption from parkland impact fees for affordable housing projects through development agreements.

The ordinance also calls for parking regulations to be amended to create a category for affordable housing projects requiring at least one parking space per dwelling unit. The current minimum requirement of 1.5 spaces often is excessive for affordable housing projects, city officials say.

“A lot of these folks have one car. Some of them rely on public transportation,” DiPasqua said.

Among other incentives, they recommend that the maximum density bonus allowed for affordable housing projects be increased from 35% to 50%. The change will put city regulations in line with the county government's.

Another recommendation would exempt the projects from the requirements of the city's public arts program.

City Economic Development and Housing Director Bob Ironsmith said the proposed ordinance has been in the making for several years. It started in 2018 when the city worked with University of South Florida School of Public Affairs graduate students and presented the Affordable Housing Best Practice Study and Report to the City Commission at a work session.

"So we came up with things to make this attractive for developers to do affordable housing," he said. "It's a situation where we needed to have some things in place to be competitive."

The city faces challenges, Ironsmith said, such as the land parcels that are available for development are few. City officials are working with a couple of developers who have been receptive to the proposed changes.

Commissioner Deborah Kynes asked that city officials consider that "we all deserve beauty in our lives and art is part of that beauty."

Ironsmith said fundraising and donations are options to help provide public art.

Commissioner Jeff Gow said he liked the plans but also would like to give similar incentives to residents to encourage them to build accessory dwelling units, saying some cities have ready-to-go design plans to accommodate residents who want to construct them and add market value to their property.

DiPasqua said he thinks touting the tools the city has in place would be helpful, namely the city's accessory dwelling unit ordinance, which provides waivers on impact fees and other incentives in the amount of about $14,000 on a single-family home.

"There are some good things there already sort of in the toolbox," he said.

Kynes asked if city officials can provide incentives for the rehabilitation of older housing stock.

"We just never quite meet that head on," she said.

Ironsmith said county officials have rehab money available for people who qualify, and the more city officials get the word out, the better the chances are of such programs being used.

Commissioner Moe Freaney said she wants to move the ordinance forward, which gives the commission flexibility.

“The ultimate power still lies with us to ensure that what we give up is worth giving up, that the project is a really good project and worth these kind of incentives," she said.

Though she thought the toolkit for affordable housing was good, Commissioner Heather Gracy questioned the extent to which it can be used.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski asked city officials to talk about being creative to address concerns expressed about the need for public art in affordable housing projects. But she also said they were just creating a toolkit.

"We are not spending a single dime. And we are not committing ourselves to spend a single dime," she said. "All this does it gives us a framework if an affordable housing project comes before us, we have a number of different things we can do. Just because they are there doesn't mean we are going to do them. It really depends of what the deal is."

The Planning Board voted July 8 to recommend approval of the ordinance. The exemption on public art has brought comments from Jackie Nigro, chairwoman of the city's Arts and Culture Committee at that meeting.

"There is no reason why affordable housing should not have the same kind of attractive environment art wise as the rest of the city," she said at that meeting.

Also at that meeting, Ironsmith addressed the challenges in trying to deal with affordable housing projects.

"Because the market is so hot, and they are able to sell these townhouses for $450,000 or what have you, affordable housing is just a very difficult thing to put together. That's really why I want to get this toolkit in place. And because we have scarce land. There just isn't much vacant land. It gets snapped up very quickly," Ironsmith said.

The City Commission has scheduled the final reading on the proposed ordinance for Thursday, Sept. 3.