Wildwood leaders take steps to spur more apartments in area

In a move to spur development of apartments and workforce housing, Wildwood commissioners Monday gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that will allow higher density in the central city area.

The proposed ordinance would allow 24 units per acre, up from the current maximum of 15 units per acre. Commissioners voted to transmit the ordinance to the state for review and then will take a final vote.

Development services director Melanie Peavy said the change would match Sumter County, which recently upgraded its maximum allowable density to 24 units per acre.

“It is not typical to find a city that has a lower density than the county,” she said.

Peavy said the new density standard eventually could be applied citywide and she has received inquiries from developers interested in building high-density projects outside the central city.

Commissioner Julian Green praised the change because he said it will open up housing opportunities for a wider spectrum of people.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

Mayor Ed Wolf said the city should be cautious about raising the density standard so it does not have a negative impact.

“We don’t want to bring big-city problems to Sumter County,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Elliott agreed.

“We don’t want to take steps today that will be problems for the city tomorrow,” he said.

Peavy said the city can address those issues by imposing security standards for apartments and other higher density projects. Requirements may include windows on all sides, landscaping that does not permit concealment and flush entrances instead of alcoves.

Despite the rapid pace of single-family home construction in Wildwood, driven by the massive Villages of Southern Oaks development, a recent study found a significant need for workforce housing.

The 2018 study found that 3,256 new residential units were needed to support Sumter County population growth and about half of those could be addressed by multifamily housing.

The study by Redevelopment Management Associates of Florida estimated 60 percent of the units could be developed for owner occupancy and 40 percent as multifamily rentals. It also suggested targeting 40 percent of the units for households that earn more than $75,000 a year, 23 percent for those earning over $50,000 a year and 37 percent for those with annual incomes less than $50,000.

“As Sumter County continues to grow its job base, additional residential development and investment will be needed to attract a more local workforce,” the study concluded.