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Commission to vote on controlling growth Nov. 6

Posted on Friday, October 20, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
Osceola County residents deserve top-quality housing that retains its value built on roads to handle it.
It’s common sense, but County Commissioner Fred Hawkins said it’s thinking that’s gone by the wayside in recent years.
At Monday’s commission meeting, he laid out a plan to clamp down on quickly-built developments without regard for local impact to roads and schools.
Following a 4-1 vote Monday — Commissioner Cheryl Grieb voted no only because

The Osceola County Commission

she’d like more time before the final vote — staff will draft a plan for a Nov. 6 vote affecting developments that will come to the county’s Planning Commission starting in December (those on the Nov. 2 docket will not be affected).
Hawkins said he’d been working toward a plan for new building and permitted standards, and finally unveiled them Monday.
His idea of a plan would include a few things: an increase in mobility fees charges to developers to cover actual costs, and pay them when the project’s approved and before the impacts of development occur; put time frames on when construction begins on approved developments so they fit into any code changes; develop a county-wide standard street design that accounts for street parking, bike lanes, sidewalks and emergency vehicles; and update design standards that would not allow for sub-par “express homes” to be built.
Hawkins showed pictures Monday of a new home being built near NeoCity with uneven baseboards and gaps between them and the carpeting that he said is priced at $289,000.
“We can put things in place to keep this from happening. Why we do allow the lower type of standards, this would not happen in other places?” he said. “During the hard times, I waived impact fees to try to keep people working and moving us forward. Now the economy is much better, and we’re seeing a rush of developments I don’t think we want to see as a board. We owe it to ourselves to not allow this kind of development.”
If the plan passes, only natural resource permits and Qualified Targeted Industries as defined by economic development standards would be processed after Nov. 2. County Manager Don Fisher said it would take five to six months to incorporate standards for affordable housing and commercial developments.
“If we take everything off the board, staff can get it done quicker,” Hawkins told fellow commissioners. “It won’t slow down in six months. Work with me now that times are good. We’ve come to the point where we have to do something. If we do, property values will go up, we’ll have better quality construction, citizens will be better informed on development near them and it will get us ahead of the impact.”
Hawkins said the action comes after years of unchecked growth locally following a period when developers needed help digging out of the recession.
“We’ve done nothing about it. It’s a call for extreme measures,” he said. “I’ve heard this will hurt the building industry. I don’t think developers can complain if they want a better product, roads that public services can get down when they need to and allowing the fees paid up front so we can have the schools and services in place ahead of time.”
Commissioner Peggy Choudhry said the word “moratorium” made her nervous and asked for incentives, rather than mandates, for developers be included.
“They want to bring good product. Investors look at the end game for profitability, otherwise, why do it?” she said.
Commission Chairman Brandon Arrington agreed with Hawkins, saying this move will make growth more manageable.
“We’ve got to be demanding more. Standards will only create demand in a market that’s sustainable, and demanding more of new product coming in is appropriate,” he said. “I can’t think of one citizen in my daily life that’ll be upset if we slow down development. The biggest concern is our growing congestion and the amount of incoming residents. I’ve seen what unmanaged growth looks like and if we don’t put in those controls we’ll continue to see that. Our community doesn’t need to be the piggy bank for development.”
While some residents lauded the board for considering this, developers and their representatives felt lumping all developers together is unfair.
“During the downturn, a national builder bought a bunch of lots at rock bottom,” said engineer Shawn Hindle. “But are we talking architectural standards? My son is a builder in Osceola County, and how is he going to keep his family fed by stopping his ability to build a good house? You can’t punish a county for what one builder is building.”
Local attorney Jo Thacker represents developers, and said it would be “unfair” for developers not to know the rules.
“If they play by the rules, you should consider the application,” she said. “I’m aware of people who have invested a lot of time and money in engineering designs. Don’t just react; plan, and have good decisions. What does this mean for NeoCity?”