June 14, 2024
Osceola commissioners delay vote on massive impact fee hike – Orlando Sentinel


Osceola County commissioners balked Monday at approving a controversial proposal to more than double the fees levied on new development, expressing concerns the hike will undermine efforts to construct more affordable housing.

The proposal to increase so-called “impact fees” is intended to generate desperately-needed money for transportation and fire safety projects. But confronting angry developers and housing advocates, commissioners chose to delay consideration of the issue for another month while they study ways to ease the cost for certain types of construction.

“We have to find a way to pay for roads,” Commissioner Viviana Janer said at the meeting. “We hear this from residents all the time. But we also need affordable housing.”

If approved, the plan would make Osceola the county with the highest impact fees in the state. The fees added to a single-family home would jump from $10,000 currently to $25,000 once the plan is fully implemented, while the cost for a grocery store would rise from $21,000 to $63,000.

Commissioners agree that a massive hike in the fees is essential to fund some of the estimated $2 billion in needed road improvements for the fast-growing area, home to some of Central Florida’s worst congestion.

A consultant’s study found that Osceola saw a 30 percent increase in travel across the county from 2011 through 2022, and predicted a growth rate of 60 percent through 2045.

“Current mobility fees are not adequate to address the traffic impacts caused by new developments due to the increase in construction costs,” said Max Sheets, a consultant with HNTB who conducted the study.

The county is getting millions of state dollars to fund road improvements but it’s still not enough, commissioner Ricky Booth said.

“Where’s all that FDOT money at? Where are all the new state roads coming this year?” Booth said. “My point is it’s not there and here we are.”

Booth said the county school board already has the highest impact fees in the state, but the expense hasn’t slowed development: Osceola County is on track to remain the fastest growing in the state.

“I’ve been hearing this for ten plus years,” Booth said who used to sit on the School Board. “I was at the school board and we raised impact fees twice and I haven’t seen it slow down yet.”

Some commissioners argued the massive hike should have already been implemented. Commissioner Brandon Arrington asked how much money the increase in fees could have generated if it had been implemented two years ago.

Between $50 and $60 million would have been collected if the hikes had started in 2022, Deputy County Manager Tawny Olore said.

But while the board seems to agree that a big increase is called for, it hesitated in the face of passionate arguments from those who filled the public comments section.

The over two-hour workshop session drew in developers who argued that higher impact fees would boost costs for homebuyers and hurt development. Affordable housing advocates also said the increase in fees make it next to impossible to keep housing costs reasonable.

Lucie Ghioto, growth management officer for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando and Osceola, said the nonprofit affordable homebuilder is already having a difficult time funding construction due to high costs and the current impact fees.

“With this proposal it’s a nail in the coffin for affordable housing in Osceola County,” Ghioto said.

 



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