A developer hoping to clean out an old landfill through a payment arrangement with Orange County in order to build 1,500 apartments will have to work out a different deal that involves less public money.
The county commission signaled Tuesday that they wouldn’t support a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement proposed by MMI Development that sees the county losing more than $80 million in taxable revenue over the next 30 years to pay back the entire cost of that excavation work. Instead, they’re pushing for a more equitable cost-share deal as part of a plan to bring a mixed-use project and expedited infrastructure fixes to Lake Underhill Road.
Several commissioners also indicated that if they take a chunk out of the general budget to cover some of the site work, they want to see as many as 20 percent of those units designated as affordable housing.
“We want to negotiate the best deal that we can on behalf of taxpayers,” said County Mayor Jerry Demings. “We want to make sure it’s an equitable partnership that puts all of us in a win-win situation.”
Mike Wright, the company’s president, said he’s willing to renegotiate the terms of the agreement following feedback from the county commission.
“This is one of those instances where private industry, local government and local neighbors can come together and agree on a proposal that will be a win for everyone involved,” he said in an emailed statement. “MMI is uniquely suited to bring this idea forward.”
The county leased the landfill between 1964 and 1978, and while it’s been closed for more than 40 years, the county is still responsible for it and pays $7,500 a year for groundwater monitoring and testing to ward off environmental risks.
Residents who live near the landfill support MMI’s project. Not only is the developer promising to clean out the dump’s roughly 400,000 cubic yards of garbage— something the county has no plans to do —but it’s also willing to improve a section of Lake Underhill Road that the county has promised for more than a decade to fix.
The road project was approved by the commission back in 2010. County officials say they’re still $11 million short of the funding goal and don’t expect the widening work to begin until 2026.
Leaders with MMI say they can get it done quicker — a prospect that pleases community members.
“We live on one of the worst roads in all of Orange County,” Vic Lovell, President of the largest homeowners association in the vicinity, told commissioners Tuesday. He was among more than a dozen who spoke in favor of the development project.
“Lake Underhill is too narrow, too crowded, and too badly designed to serve the 22,500 cars that pass through each day,” he continued. “We are waiting around for the government to fix our problems, and I believe we’ve waited long enough. This solution (by MMI) checks all the right boxes for all the right reasons.”
But MMI’s expensive development plan hinges on whether the county is willing to chip in to cover all or some of the cost of the necessary site work through a public-private partnership,
County officials told commissioners Tuesday that the Fieldstream Village project is expected to generate $112 million in general tax revenue to the county over the next 30 years.
Under the agreement proposed by MMI, 75% of that tax revenue within the TIF, or $82 million, would go back to the developer to cover debt services associated with the landfill clean-up.
The development team argues that the county really isn’t losing anything in this deal because the site sits empty and isn’t currently adding to the tax rolls. The county could actually save $225,000 over the next 30 years by no longer having to upkeep the landfill, they note. And the county would start collecting all of the taxable revenue once the TIF expires.
Developers note that the TIF agreement would impact only the county’s general ad Valorem tax and not the other six taxing authorities the Fieldstream Village project would feed, such as ones that go toward schools, the sheriff’s office, and fire services.
“It should be a very easy decision,” David Brim, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, told the commission. “Currently, that property produces under $1,000 in tax revenue versus ($10) million per year (across all millages) once the property is fully developed. ... No money is coming out of the county’s pocket.”
County employees view it differently.
Once taxes are paid to the county, that money no longer belongs to the property owner; it goes into the general fund to serve the entire population, said Jon Weiss, the county’s director of planning, environmental and development services.
Under the terms of the agreement presented Tuesday, the county would keep $30 million of taxable revenue generated within the Fieldstream Village TIF district over the next 30 years.
With more than 2,000 residents expected to ultimately move into Fieldstream Village, the county has to provide services to this growing population.
“There’s a cost to that,” Weiss told GrowthSpotter following the meeting.“Certainly from a staff perspective, we felt that proposal was not entirely equitable. We felt that most of the financial benefits were going to the developer instead of the taxpayers in general. We want MMI to sharpen their pencils and come up with a better deal.”
Commissioner Nicole Wilson called the original agreement proposal “daunting.”
“I was super excited about this development when I first saw the concept,” she said. “It’s just a little daunting to consider how much will be coming out of the general budget.”
Commissioner Mayra Uribe asked County Administrator Byron Brooks how the county would fund services to the Fieldstream Village area to meet the population growth if this deal were approved.
“The other citizens of Orange County would cover that cost,” he replied. “It falls on the rest of the taxpayers in Orange County.”
Orange County employees also raised concerns about where the trash from the landfill would ultimately go if it were removed from the Lake Underhill site. The county’s landfill can’t handle that extra volume without speeding up the need for new cells or raising tipping fees to the general public, officials said.
Commissioner Victoria Siplin said she’d rather the site remain undeveloped, calling the agreement presented by MMI “a bad deal for our residents.”
“The commission should realize that staff and MMI are arguing over money that will never exist if the County’s dump is not fixed, the road rebuilt and the development completed,” he said in a statement.
MMI is one of those rare developers that actively seeks the most challenging value-add properties available.
In 2016, MMI successfully negotiated a public-private partnership with the City of Apopka and the Central Florida Expressway Authority, under which MMI privately developed an interchange on State Road 414.
The new interchange led to the development of a new apartment complex, a school and AdventHealth Apopka, which opened in September 2017.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was updated to correct the percentage of affordable housing units the commission asked for. That number is 20 percent. Also, the president of the homeowner’s association quoted in this story is Vic Lovell.