On unanimous vote, County Commission approves lower park and library impact fees, and lower mobility fees, for affordable housing units

Developer would have to provide documentation that proposed construction would be eligible for reductions

On Jan. 31, following up on discussions they held last year, the Sarasota County commissioners unanimously approved a range of lower impact fees for libraries and parks, as well as a reduction in mobility fees, in an effort to entice developers to construct more affordable housing units.

Florida Statute 163.31801 allows a county to provide lower impact fees for certain types of affordable housing, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, reminded the board members during their regular meeting on Jan. 31. That part of state law also says that a county, municipality or special district that does so “is not required to use any revenues to offset the impact.”

The ordinance the commissioners approved last week defines affordable housing as “multi-family housing offered with a maximum mortgage or rent price” — including homeowners association fees, utilities, “and other non-negotiable housing fees associated with the unit” — that is at or below the 120% AMI value for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). That AMI value is to be updated annually, the ordinance adds.

The ordinance also references the definition of affordable housing in Section 420.9071 of the Florida Statutes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the Area Median Income (AMI) for each Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the United States.

For 2022, the AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton MSA is $90,400 for a family of four. A chart that Osterhoudt showed the commissioners during the Jan. 31 public hearing noted that 60% of that AMI would be $51,780 for a family of four; 120% would be $103,560.

Commissioner Nancy Detert used the occasion of the hearing to voice frustrations about the lack of projects in the county with housing units priced at levels she finds affordable.

Detert said developers should have to demonstrate that they are meeting the AMI requirements before the mobility and impact fees are adjusted. “They have to provide … some sort of evidence.”

When she asked Osterhoudt whether anyone checks on those details, on behalf of the county, he replied that staff provides an annual report to the commissioners about collections of impact fees. If the board members on Jan. 31 approved the proposed changes to the county ordinance, he continued, staff would be happy to provide details about the adjusted impact fees for affordable housing in that report.

“So up till now we haven’t included any type of checks and balances?” Detert asked.

“We check every impact fee,” Osterhoudt told her. “This is the legislation that would enable us to [undertake that action in regard to new affordable housing units],” he added.

During the application process, Osterhoudt said, a developer would have to provide details about the size of the units that would be priced to be affordable, to take advantage of the lower fees.

Then Detert asked him why the county would provide a discount on the library and park impact fees for housing priced up to 120% AMI.

Osterhoudt reminded her that the proposed ordinance was based on direction the commission provided staff last year. The board members could adjust the facets of the ordinance before approving it, he pointed out. “It’s a policy decision.”

Commissioner Michael Moran pointed out, “What concerns me greatly [is that] the free market on this can’t be ignored.”

As he has emphasized in the past, Moran said on Jan. 31 that if a developer plans to make 15 dwellings in a project affordable, out of a total of 100, that developer will price the other 85 to be more expensive.

Moreover, Moran continued, whenever the owner of a unit initially priced to be affordable sells it, “It’s going to be market rate.” Therefore, he said, some people would argue that the commissioners merely were making the affordable housing situation worse by trying to take steps to foster the creation of affordable housing.

“We’re tasked as county commissioners to make an incredible place to live,” Moran said. “People [are] coming from all over the world [to live in Sarasota County],” he stressed. “The demand [for housing] is just super high. … The push against that raging current is just concerning.”

Nonetheless, he continued, he has to believe that some of the steps the board members have been taking will get passed along to buyers.

“I think this is a step forward,” Commissioner Mark Smith said. “Utilities is the big dog in those impact fees,” he pointed out, adding that those need to be addressed, as well.

In 2018, the commissioners did adjust the water and wastewater hookup fees for single-family dwellings of 750 square feet or less space.

“Nobody’s forcing a developer to do any affordable housing,” Detert said. When the board members establish affordable housing policies, she continued, they need to ensure that the county also has checks and balances in regard to those policies.

By lowering the impact fees for libraries and parks, Detert emphasized, the commissioners are reducing the amount of money the county will receive for its libraries and parks.

“It’s not that I’m anti-private property rights,” she continued. She owned a mortgage company for 25 years, she said — a fact she has noted multiple times in the past during such discussions.

“If we’re going to lower impact fees,” she added, “I expect [developers] to just do the right thing.”

Commission Chair Ron Cutsinger pointed out, “Sarasota County has stepped forward really in a leadership way,” to encourage the creation of affordable housing. “It’s an exceptionally challenging thing right now. … Everyone wants to live here. We’re one of the fastest growing regions in the entire country … and Florida is the fastest growing state in the nation.”

“We’re looking at all the potential solutions” to spur the construction of more affordable housing units, Cutsinger added. Each step the board takes, he said, “helps solve the problem a little bit.”

Developers, Cutsinger said, are “not going to build these units out of the goodness of their heart. … It’s going to have to be financially feasible.”

“I think this is a workable solution,” Commissioner Joe Neunder added. “I’d certainly be interested in hearing how this process benefits our community down the road.”

The changes

In approving the ordinance on Jan. 31, the commissioners agreed that the lower library and park impact fees would be available for all complete building permit applications qualifying as affordable housing projects that are submitted to and accepted by the county after March 1.

The ordinance says that eligibility for the reductions “shall be determined by the Impact Fee Administrator.” Tom Polk, a past director of the Planning and Development Services Department, holds that position.

The fee adjustments allowed would be as follows:

  • Multi-family housing offered at 60% AMI or below — 0% impact fees.
  • Multi-family housing offered above 60% and up to 80% AMI — 50% of the impact fees.
  • Multi-family housing offered above 80% and up to 120% AMI — 75% of the impact fees.
  • Multi-family housing offered above 120% AMI — 100% of the impact fees.

Both nonprofit and for-profit housing developments would be eligible, the county staff memo points out.

As for the mobility impact fees: The ordinance says that any affordable housing units offered at or below 60% AMI would not be charged mobility fees.

Affordable, attainable or workforce housing units offered above 60% AMI but no higher than 80% AMI would be charged 50% of the mobility fees.