Osceola County presented several different studio apartment floorplans to illustrate the type of units that would be eligible for the reduced school impact fee.
Osceola County presented several different studio apartment floorplans to illustrate the type of units that would be eligible for the reduced school impact fee. (Osceola County)

Osceola School Superintendent Debra Pace is recommending the district revisit its school impact fees -- the highest in Florida -- but said the school board should reject a request from Osceola County to reduce impact fees for studio apartments.

The board is scheduled to vote on the matter at its July 30 meeting.

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Susan Caswell, the county’s assistant community development administrator, met with the school board during its April 16 workshop to ask that the district consider reducing school impact fees for studio apartments. She presented the findings of a report that estimated only a small fraction of families with school-age children live in zero-bedroom housing units.

The Osceola County School Board will vote July 30 on a request to reduce school impacts for studio apartments to about 4 percent of the rate charged to other multifamily units.
The Osceola County School Board will vote July 30 on a request to reduce school impacts for studio apartments to about 4 percent of the rate charged to other multifamily units. (Osceola County)

But developers still must pay the $11,362 per unit school impact fee for multifamily construction, which discourages them from offering the smaller, more affordable units. The impact fee also applies to motels that are proposed to be converted to affordable workforce housing, and it could add millions to the cost of those projects.

The county’s alternative study recommended reducing the impact fee for studios by about 95 percent, to $552 per unit. Caswell told the board back in April that less than 1-percent of all housing in Osceola County could be considered zero-bedroom, based on U.S. Census data, so the financial impact to the district would be minimal.

The District’s consultant agreed, and recommended accepting the county’s alternative study. In a memo to the board, Steven Tindale wrote that limiting the size of zero-bedroom units to 550 square feet, as the county suggested, would provide the necessary physical characteristics to produce lower student-generation rates.

During the April workshop, School Board member Tim Weisheyer acknowledged the demand for smaller, more affordable apartments.

“The market is looking for this type of unit, and that is a real component and what I think should drive this conversation," he said. “So a part of me says you’re making a great point. What concerns me is what happens when you open this box?”

Several board members worried that such a provision would open the door for apartment developers demand fee reductions for one-bedroom units. The board’s attorney, Frank Kruppenbacher advised the district against changing the fee schedule a year after the latest impact fees went effect.

“My biggest problem is adjusting impact fees without a study,” he said. “It really worries me to start slicing the thing up midway through the cycle... You’re embarking on something that’s unknown territory."

The district typically updates its impact fee study every three years. Chief Financial Officer Sarah Graber told GrowthSpotter that Pace is recommending they begin a new study that would consider unit types and number of bedrooms in 2020. But she wouldn’t elaborate on Pace’s rational for rejecting the Tindale-Oliver recommendation.

“This will all be discussed with the board Tuesday night,” she said.

Caswell said she hoped the board would add a citation or footnote to its ordinance that would give developers the ability to apply for the alternative rate. It could be the deciding factor on a number of pending applications to convert vacant or under-utilized motels on W192 into affordable housing for theme park workers.

“The motel conversions are just not going to generate kids,” Caswell said. “There’s a fundamental difference between renting a hotel room and renting an apartment.”

Plus, for all the publicity surrounding “motel families on W192”, the actual data shows that only 568 of the county’s more than 67,000 public school students actually lived in hotels and motels.

And she said the increased property taxes that could result from motel conversions, and from high-end luxury apartments, would more than outweigh the impact fees.

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“Balancing the taxable value and impact fees, especially for units we know aren’t going to generate kids, can be beneficial,” Caswell said.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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