Osceola commissioners postpone vote on massive development fee increase – Orlando Sentinel

Osceola County councilors on Monday refused to approve a controversial proposal to more than double fees on new construction, citing concerns that the increase would undermine efforts to create more affordable housing.

The proposal to increase so-called “development fees” is intended to generate much-needed money for transportation and fire protection projects. But with developers and housing advocates angry, commissioners decided to delay consideration of the issue for another month while they study ways to reduce costs for certain types of construction projects.

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

If the plan is approved, Osceola will become the county with the highest environmental fees in the state. Fees for a single-family home would rise from the current $10,000 to $25,000 once the plan is fully implemented, while the cost of a grocery store would rise from $21,000 to $63,000.

Commissioners agree that a massive toll increase is essential to fund some of the estimated $2 billion in needed road improvements for this fast-growing region, which has some of the worst traffic congestion in Central Florida.

According to a consultant study, Osceola saw a 30 percent increase in countywide travel from 2011 to 2022, with a growth rate of 60 percent projected by 2045.

“Current mobility charges are not sufficient to manage the traffic impacts of new developments due to rising construction costs,” says Max Sheets, a consultant to HNTB who conducted the study.

The county receives millions of dollars from the state to fund road improvements, but that's still not enough, Commissioner Ricky Booth said.

“Where is all the FDOT money? Where are all the new state roads being built this year?” Booth said. “My point is, it's not there and here we are.”

Booth said the county school board already charges the highest tuition fees in the state, but those costs have not slowed growth: Osceola County is on track to remain the fastest-growing county in the state.

“I've been hearing this for over 10 years,” said Booth, who previously served on the school board. “I was on the school board and we raised development fees twice, and I haven't seen a slowdown yet.”

Some commissioners argued that the massive increase should have been implemented already. Commissioner Brandon Arrington asked how much money the fee increase could have raised if it had been implemented two years ago.

Between $50 million and $60 million would have been raised if the increases had started in 2022, said Deputy District Manager Tawny Olore.

Although the board appears to agree that a significant increase is appropriate, it hesitated in the face of passionate arguments from those who commented in the public comments.

The workshop session, which lasted more than two hours, included developers who argued that higher development fees would increase costs for homebuyers and hurt development. Affordable housing advocates also said the fee increases would make it nearly impossible to keep housing costs reasonable.

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

“This proposal is the nail in the coffin for affordable housing in Osceola County,” Ghioto said.

Anna Harden

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