County staff facing tight timeline to get new, expedited residential permitting regulations implemented to meet state deadline

Law approved this year by Legislature and signed by governor goes into effect by start of October

The Florida Capitol is in Tallahassee. Photo by Michael Rivera via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the Florida Legislature’s passage this year of a bill requiring expedited residential permitting, Sarasota County’s Planning and Development Services staff will have to work with the Office of the County Attorney to ensure that the necessary new county regulations are in place by the start of October, Matt Osterhoudt, director of Planning and Development, told the County Commission this week.

The commission will have to amend the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.
The new state requirements are detailed in Senate Bill 812, which Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed, Osterhoudt said on June 5.

One primary concern, he explained during his approximately 8-minute presentation that day, during a regular commission meeting, is that the legislation requires building permits to be issued after the preliminary plat has been approved, before the final plat is ready.

(The law defines “preliminary plat” in part as “a map or delineated representation of the subdivision of lands that is a complete and exact representation of the residential subdivision or planned community …” It defines “final plat” as “the final tracing, map, or site plan presented by the subdivider to a governing body for final approval, and, upon approval by the appropriate governing body, is submitted to the clerk of the circuit court for recording.”)

“We do [issue expedited building permits on the basis of preliminary plats for] certain types of homes,” Osterhoudt explained, but to “a much smaller degree” than the new state law specifies.

A slide he showed the board noted that those homes are model residences that meet certain criteria.

The law also says that, during this expedited process that an applicant must be allowed to identify up to 50% of the units in a residential subdivision or planned community, for permits to be issued on the basis of a preliminary plat. The law does allow for the issuance of permits for more than 50% of the homes, Osterhoudt noted.

Moreover, Osterhoudt pointed out, the law also requires that, by Dec. 31, 2027, building permits for at least 75% of the residences in a new community must be issued after a preliminary plat has been drawn up.

A county staff memo included in the June 5 agenda packet said of the law, “The local government may work with local government agencies to issue an address and a temporary parcel identification number for lot lines and lot sizes based on the metes and bounds of the plat.”

(The Legal Information Institute of the Cornell Law School explains, “Metes and bounds are the boundaries of a parcel of real estate that identified by its natural landmarks. Metes and bounds landmarks are often used in a ‘legal description’ of a land. Legal description is the geographical description of a land that identifies its precise location, and is kept with the deed of the land. In legal descriptions, metes and bounds are considered as the most accurate description of a piece of land in some jurisdictions.”)

This is a plat for a community in Washington County, Minnesota. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

Nonetheless, Osterhoudt emphasized, neither transfer of ownership nor issuance of a temporary Certificate of Occupancy or a Certificate of Occupancy will be possible before the final plat has been recorded.

Because of the short timeline and the need to modify the UDC, Osterhoudt explained that he was seeking commission approval that day for staff to work on the UDC amendments outside the normal county cycle for those initiatives.

County staff also will have to create a master building permit process, he added.

He showed the board another slide with details about other facets of the law:

  • The local government is to establish a registry of at least three qualified contractors whom the governing body may use to supplement staff resources, if needed.
  • An applicant will be required to hold a valid performance bond for up to 130% of the expense of the necessary improvements. “That’s a good safeguard,” Osterhoudt pointed out.
  • The applicant must indemnify and hold harmless the local government from liability or damages as a result of issuance of the building permit and the resulting construction.

The potential for ‘many negative implications’

Matt Osterhoudt addresses the commissioners on Feb. 23, 2022. File image

Osterhoudt added that county staff has experienced situations in which circumstances changed from the preliminary plat to the final plat. “Depending on the number of homes built under a Preliminary Plat, and the scale of any such change(s), this could result in circumstances with many negative implications,” another slide said.

Staff has researched how other local governments — including Manatee County — are dealing with the new law, Osterhoudt continued. Additionally, he told the board, staff will conduct outreach to stakeholders who are “frequent customers.”

Following the presentation, Commissioner Mark Smith, an architect, asked Osterhoudt, “Out of curiosity,” what is the department’s experience in regard to preliminary plats proving to be the final plats? “Have there been a great deal of changes to those preliminary plats,” especially regarding size and location of homes,” Smith added.

Staff had not identified any “significant trends,” Osterhoudt replied. Still, he cautioned, an applicant working under the new law will be assuming a “level of risk,” if changes are necessary. Easements and drainage systems, for example, he noted, could be affected. “It can be a domino effect.”

Osterhoudt added, “We would absolutely inform [applicants] of that,” so they can strive to ensure only minimal changes would be shown in the final plats.

Then Smith sought assurance that Osterhoudt was talking about a developer’s being able to start construction on a new community with just a preliminary plat, even with “a certain amount of risk …”

“Yes, sir,” Osterhoudt replied.

Osterhoudt did reiterate the fact that no house could be sold or occupied until the final plat had been approved, because the lots of record would not exist until that time.

When Commissioner Ron Cutsinger asked whether public hearings would be conducted prior to approval of the UDC amendments, Osterhoudt responded that they would. The county Planning Commission first would review the new regulations; then, the County Commission would hold its hearing. “Timing’s going to be a little tight,” Still, Osterhoudt said.

Cutsinger also asked for assurance that stakeholder outreach would be conducted. Osterhoudt replied affirmatively.

Cutsinger then made the motion to allow staff to proceed with the drafting of the UDC amendments outside the normal cycle, and Commissioner Smith seconded it.

Florida Sen. Blaise Ingoglia. Image from the Florida Senate

Smith told Osterhoudt, “I’m looking forward to seeing how we will make this work. Good luck.”

The motion passed unanimously.

State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican representing Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties, as well as part of Pasco County, sponsored Senate Bill 812, legislative records show. State Rep. Stan McClain of Ocala, a Republican representing District 11, sponsored the companion House bill. McClain’s webpage says he is a member of the Marion County Building Industry Association.

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