Osceola Commissioners enact 6-month moratorium on new development

A divided Osceola Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Monday to enact a controversial six-month moratorium on new residential subdivisions.

The ordinance stops all approvals for Comprehensive Plan amendments and rezoning applications in huge swaths of the county's urban growth area.

Commissioners Peggy Choudhry and Cheryl Greib voted against the moratorium. Both said they support the intent behind the moratorium -- to raise the standards and quality of development in the county. 

"We all want, in the end, the same thing," Greib said. "But I do not agree with the method to achieve the same end result." 

County Manager Don Fisher said the county would continue to accept and process applications on a staff level during the moratorium, but those cases would not be brought to the commission until it expired.

"There's an impression that this is going to stop everything," he said. "That's not the case."

He said the county already has 65,000 entitled residential lots in the county's mixed-use districts, which are exempt from the moratorium. But when pressed, Fisher admitted that only two mixed-use communities (Kindred and Tohoqua) are in active development, and the latter is seeking annexation into St. Cloud.

The contested vote took place after representatives from the county's business community and developer interests pleaded with commissioners to reject the plan. 

Apex Homes President Eric Marks spoke for several developers when he said the board's decision would "have a material impact on whether we move forward with active contracts." 

Linda Goodwin-Nichols, a real estate broker and board member for the Kissimmee-Osceola Chamber of Commerce, said the commissioners had become too reliant on moratoria as a planning tool.

"The repeated use of moratoria sends unintended message to businesses that the regulatory environment in Osceola County is not reliable," she said. 

The actual ordinance carves out exemptions for any development that already has commercial zoning or land use, approved Planned Developments, mixed-use projects and new Transit-Oriented Developments, as long as they provide for a density of more than eight residential units per acre.

Affordable housing developments would also be exempt, as long as they meet the eight units per acre density requirement. 

Any land owner who already has Low Density Residential zoning would still be able to move through the permitting process. 

Property owners with existing PDs could expand or contract their boundaries, as long as they maintain the same density. They also could apply to rezone to any zoning designation except Low Density Residential. 

William Silliman, president of the Greater Orlando Builders Association, wrote the commissioners on Sunday seeking a compromise. "Continuing this vote and working toward an ordinance versus a moratorium would be wise at this time," he wrote.

He said that issuing the county's third moratorium since 2016 would be an overreaction to some commissioners' concerns, such as the quality of homes being built in the county. 

"Construction quality issues like those shown at the last Board of County Commissioners meeting should be addressed by the prospective homeowner prior to closing," he wrote. "Regardless, the carelessness of one or two tract homebuilders should be addressed with the individual builder, not by a county-wide moratorium." 

Commercial real estate broker Veronica Malolos wrote commissioners to express her support for the moratorium, saying there are enough exemptions to keep the construction industry busy. The biggest problem has been the county's messaging, she wrote.

"I truly believe that this ordinance is a step in the right direction, therefore, I am in full support of the county’s effort to build a sustainable Osceola County in the future," she added.

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