A landowner who wants to build affordable housing

2016-12-03 | Venice Gondolier Sun

For Ronald J. Siegrist, making rentals affordable is the only sensible thing to do.

We live in an area of exploding construction and high dollar rentals, which increases the difficulty for service workers to find affordable places to live so they can serve those who can afford the high dollar prices, he said.

With the current building boom, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people earning minimum wages — waitresses, bartenders, landscapers, construction workers, and the like — to be able to afford a place to live that is close to where they work.

Yet with more retirees and people at higher income levels moving into the area, more of the services these people seek will be provided by lower wage earners as a matter of course.

It’s a vicious circle.

Siegrist, a seasoned landlord of 35 years who owns 13 rental properties, recently asked for city of Venice zoning on his 1.699-acre property at Hauser Lane, a place where his rental fees are already lower than most ($1,000 a month plus security deposit only - not first, last and one month’s rental fee for security as most landlords charge).

He applied for the zoning along with his neighbors, George and Noreen Ronald, who own a .8-acre parcel of rental property on Hauser Lane. Neither property had been zoned by the city when they were annexed in 2002 and were still under a county zoning designation.

Both landlords realized that if they ever wanted to build additional affordable units on their land, proper zoning would be the first step. They were considering joining their properties to put together an affordable housing project for the workforce.

They stepped before the Venice City Council Sept. 27 and asked for just that. They requested their properties at 490, 492, and 494 Hauser Lane (Siegrist) and 501 Hauser Lane (Ronald) be zoned RMF4, a multifamily residential zoning designation that would allow up to 18 units per acre.


The city council members praised the property owners for asking for the zoning for affordable workforce housing, and the zoning request was finally approved at the Oct. 11 council meeting.

Mayor John Holic was pleased the measure was approved.

“I thought his request was a reasonable request, and it opens the opportunity to build affordable rental housing in the Seaboard area,” he said. “It didn’t require him to build it (the project), but zoning makes that type of housing a possibility if he wishes to proceed with it.”

The mayor pointed out one caveat: “If (they) did build a higher density apartment building, the road would need to be improved according to city standards.”

According to Siegrist, that would take a lot of doing, because Motel 6 owns the first segment of Hauser Lane, which is paved. The rest of the road is a one-lane base of marl that leads to the residential section of Hauser Lane, which Siegrist refers to as a “private, non-paved road which is not a through street.”

Siegrist has an easement onto the road, and he and neighboring landlords — Don and Irene O’Connell (who already received zoning on their 6.6 acres a few years ago) and the Ronalds would have to participate in bringing the road into compliance with city standards.

“The properties need to have access via a paved road according to city standards, either along Hauser Lane or from any other possible future access from other nearby roads or property easements,” Siegrist said. “Currently, there is only one access easement along Hauser Lane.”

Councilwoman Jeannette Gates, who is also a liaison to the Economic Development Advisory Board and a board member of the Economic Development Corp. in Sarasota County, expressed optimism about Siegrist’s request for the affordable housing zoning.

She said: “It hasn’t happened in a long time (zoning for affordable workforce housing). It is a good step forward for our community. We live in an area where we depend on all kinds of folks to provide service and they have nowhere to live. If we want more of this type of service, we should be able to offer (workers) a place to live.

“It’s not just that, but we want our millennials to live here, and they need that kind of housing to start off with. One reason they leave is because there is nothing affordable for them.”


To Siegrist, the term affordable workforce housing simply means housing that is affordable to locals in the area workforce. In some circles, the term refers to government-controlled housing under the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Section 8.

HUD is not part of the Hauser Lane zoning petition.

“Over the years, probably 20 years ago, I had some Section 8 housing in some of my rentals, but I do not see it anymore. It is up to the tenant to seek a landlord and no one has asked me about that for 15 years,” he said.

Siegrist knows the other side of the affordable housing story. When he first moved to the area and found work in Venice, he had to live a good distance away in North Port, because rents were too high in Venice.

“That’s why I focus on affordable workforce housing, because I lived it,” he emphasized.

Besides having been on that other side, there is a deeper driving force. Character.

He was born and raised at Fort Wright, Kentucky.

His dad, the late Otto Siegrist, was the oldest of nine siblings who grew up on a farm at Fort Recovery, Ohio.

His late mother, Patricia, was “almost the youngest of 12 siblings,” raised in Covington, Kentucky.

“Dad is considered uncle of Fort Wright,” Siegrist said. “Another uncle, George Kreutzjans (who was married to his sister Barbara Siegrist), is considered Father of Fort Wright. He encouraged my dad and his brothers, Urban and Odilo, to move to Fort Wright to help build it.”

One of his dad’s brothers was the first constable in Fort Wright, and his dad’s station wagon was the first ambulance (a Plymouth). His dad and another brother were volunteer firemen, he said. And when there was an emergency, the siren would go off and all volunteer firemen headed to the fire department.

Siegrist said there is an old photograph of him sitting on top of the firetruck when he was two.

“I came from a very typical family of the late ‘50s,” he said. “The town was full of patriotism; there was no crime. The 4th of July parade went up and down the streets and people rode their bicycles in the parade. It was a very nice town to grow up in.”

He talked of attending Catholic grade school and an all-boy Catholic high school where “values were instilled.”

He has fond memories of his mother — “a wonderful lady who volunteered at the school cafeteria and was active in the ladies auxiliary firefighters of the fire department.”

He said both parents instilled an ethic of hard work.

“Dad was an independent carpenter by trade, and I went out on job sites with him and was on my first roof at age 10. I learned roofing and more. Dad grew vegetables and fruits, and we canned.”

Fast-forward to his arrival in Venice.

In 1977, Siegrist came into town on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He said he was going to do a nationwide trip from northern Kentucky around the perimeter of the United States. But those plans changed when a blizzard covered his dad’s driveway.

“That’s when I knew I was meant to go south on I-75,” he said.

He came through Venice and it was pouring rain. He remembered a high school friend — Phil Jansen and his wife, Sue, and that they lived in Venice (Jansen Shutters & Windows). He called Phil and was told to “Stay where you are. I’ll be there in about 20 minutes.”

Over coffee, the two friends talked, and Phil asked Siegrist to house sit while he and Sue went to Kentucky to be in his brother’s wedding.

“I did, and I fell in love with Venice, and that ended my motorcycle trip. I decided to make it my home,” he said, smiling.

He took a job in construction with Carlson Roofing in Venice, and that was when he lived in North Port. Eventually, he worked two full-time jobs, working at Honey Bear Health Food store by day and bartending at night at a few different bars.

“I was saving money so I could move to Venice and be closer to where I worked,” he explained.

Then he took a job at Venice Yacht Club as beverage manager and worked 70 hours a week between the Yacht Club and Honey Bear.

While working at the Yacht Club, he met local doctors and lawyers as VYC members, and they convinced him to get into real estate. He bought a home in 1981 and built his first rental in 1982.

“I still own it today and still live in my home on Hauser Lane,” he said proudly. “I raised my kids there.”

He bought a four-plex in 1983 in Nokomis. And in 1984, he bought three more duplexes in Nokomis.

While working at the Yacht Club, he fell in love with a cocktail waitress, Janet Parke, and they married.

After they had their first child, Adam, Siegrist left the Yacht Club and concentrated on the rental properties (13 rentals and other property), and went back into construction with his brother-in-law, framing houses.

“I could not work at the bar with the baby. It was not the right thing to do, even if it was the Venice Yacht Club. I needed to be home evenings,” he said.

As his family began to grow — his son, Jordan, was born in 1988, and daughter, Alina, was born in 1990 — he took a job with Babes Plumbing as a service plumber.

“Then, I decided with my wife to start our own plumbing company. We named it Absolute Plumbing and Pump Repair of Venice Inc., and I still maintained the 13 rentals.”

He owned it for 18 years.

The couple divorced in 2002, and he liquidated assets but retained Hauser Lane properties, where he raised his kids as a single dad at their ages of 12, 14 and 16. (They are all grown up now).

Siegrist grew pensive as he talked about his children, stating that he visits with them every chance he gets.

“That is what defines me ... my kids.”

All three children attended Venice Christian School during their elementary years and all went to Venice High School. The two boys enlisted in the Army. Both served in Afghanistan in the Army Air Division, and both were honorably discharged.

“During that time, 2010, I had chemotherapy for six months,” Siegrist said. “It played havoc on me, and I had about every side effect you can have. I’m proud to say I have been cancer-free for five years.”

Alina graduated with top honors from Venice High School and graduated magna cum laude from Stetson University with a double major in international business and Russian studies in 2013. She served in Africa in the Peace Corps for nearly three years in Kenya and Tanzania. She speaks four languages and now travels while deciding about graduate school.

“I admire her fortitude,” Siegrist said, explaining that she is a kind, gentle person who is adventurous. She recently hiked Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Son Jordan is married to Cambridge and has a stepdaughter, Winter. They live in the Boston area. They travel around the country as his job dictates. He is a supervisor for a renewable energy company.

Adam is married to Emily, who was raised in Venice. They live near Boulder, Colorado, and are just starting out after his honorable discharge from the Army in January.

More family ties help to keep him grounded. For seven years, before he married Janet, he helped his then significant other raise her child. They all still keep in touch, he said.

“Alisa Wagley, now Alisa MacNicol, married to Kevin MacNicol Sr., a Sarasota Sheriff deputy, have a son named Dylan, 8,” he said. “All are an avid drag racing family and IHRA champions. Dylan won $250 for second place in the IHRA Pro-AM Division 2 Junior Beginner race.

“Dylan and Winter are friends and both call me ‘Pappy.’”

Why affordable workforce housing?

“I do it to help two segments of society — professional and the blue collar service industry,” Siegrist said. “There is no affordable place they can rent in Venice, although they work here, and it’s been like that since 1977 when I moved here.”

“It’s tough. You either work one job and die dead broke, or go to college and get into a well-paid profession, or start your own trade, and that is not what the masses can do.

He made the point that most development in Venice is high dollar for retirees to put in $200,000 - $400,000 or higher condos or houses. High rental fees accompany high-priced housing.

Marlene Merkle, CEO of Venice Area Board of Realtors (VABOR), said she has known Ron Siegrist for over 30 years. He is a neighbor, right next door to the VABOR.

“He is working on a project of zoning that was approved for RMF4 zoning. We are in full support of his project because we need affordable housing in this community. It is difficult to afford to live in this community.

“He will build affordable apartments that will serve workers, such as landscapers and other service workers. and I think it’s a great thing he is doing.”

Laura Kopple of Kopple Realty talked about the current monthly price range of rentals in the Venice area. She said that now (Oct. 24) they have some in the $1,500-$1,950 per month range. They have had some in the $1,000 - $1,500 range in the past, but not now.

All of those rentals require first month, last month and one month’s rent as a security deposit before moving in.

“There are slim pickins for affordable rentals now, and it is an issue,” she said. “I do wonder where we are going to put our families who are moving here, both in Venice and North Port. Rental prices are going up.”

Siegrist said he is pleased his petition won a unanimous favorable vote for multifamily zoning, RMF4.

“This is only the first step. I needed proper zoning before I could even think about development,” he said. “It did not have any (city) zoning for 15 years (the property had been annexed into the city in 2002 but never received a city zoning designation). For now, I will continue my life as it has been, working my rental business and LegalShield business. I have no immediate plans for the property.

“If there is development, that will be sometime in the future; not immediately. I have no architect or engineer, no building plan or site plan. It would be foolish to spend money to prepare without zoning. Now, with zoning, I can move forward, but not in the immediate future. That may change in six months or six years; it is all speculative at this point. This chapter of my life is closed; we have the zoning. Now I can go on to the next chapter.”


Siegrist talked briefly about that other interest of his: LegalShield, which also stems from his desire to provide affordable services.

LegalShield has been around for over 45 years offering inexpensive prepaid legal services for problems that arise with motor vehicles, possible trial defense, and IRS auditing help.

It can also help with wills and other legal areas, including writing demand letters on a person’s behalf, reviewing contracts, representing clients in traffic court, lawsuit representation, access to a 24/7 hotline for covered emergencies and more.

Siegrist gave an example of how it can help.

“The zoning process is very expensive if you hire an attorney, $10,000 or $15,000. And you should have one advise you,” he said.

He had the help of an attorney at LegalShield for his zoning situation, and believes he saved a lot of money. He offers the service now, showing the concept of affordable legal services and identity theft to local individuals and professionals, small-business owners and their employees.

“For the last four years I’ve been going to companies like Absolute Aluminum and some AC companies and small businesses where it can be part of employee benefits with group enrollment discounts.

He said his identity shield services are offered at a much discounted rate than what other companies offer.

For more information, Visit www.AskRonNow.net.

Email: ablackwell@venicegondolier.com