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Multi-Family Residential Developments

Orange County Commission seeks policy changes to speed up development review process

Construction crews work at the Addison Longwood complex under construction that will be a 277-unit garden-style apartment community near the intersection at East State Road 434 and South Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Longwood, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)

Orange County Commissioners said Tuesday they want to explore policy changes that will help multifamily development projects get through the county review process quicker.

The move in this direction comes amid demand for multifamily units and complaints by local developers that the slow permitting process adds costs and contributes to the high rent rates charged to tenants. Commissioners directed staff to bring back ideas for improvement after hearing a presentation chock-full of data about ongoing residential development activity and the wait time that goes along with it.

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Across unincorporated Orange County, 8,456 apartment units are currently under construction while another 17,914 are in the pipeline awaiting final approval.

However, it could be as long as five years before these multifamily projects in the review process are actually added to the county’s housing inventory when you take into account the multiple steps in the county approval process and the fact that there are 50 vacancies across the county departments that handle development proposals.

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Scott Skraban‚ the county’s manager of planning, environmental and development services, told commissioners Tuesday that the county wants to see a total of 10,000 single-family and multifamily housing units added a year for the next five years to meet growing demand. The goal calls for the construction of at least ten new apartment communities per year.

Through the first seven months of 2022, the county has issued permits for 3,176 multifamily units, 1,077 single-family homes, and 360 townhome units.

“I think if we really want to increase the production of affordable and attainable housing, we are going to have to change public policy,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said during Tuesday’s commission meeting.

That doesn’t mean giving developers a pass on safety and design regulations, he added. “We still have a responsibility to hold the industry accountable to make sure that they are not producing a product that’s inferior. We still have to have a process that takes into account the well-being of residents. At the end of the day, we look forward to perfecting this process in order to fix where we have fallen behind.”

To Commissioner Emily Bonilla, the county isn’t the sole blame for the permitting delays.

Data presented at the meeting Tuesday looked at 52 recent multifamily projects from the time of project submittal to the time the county issued a certificate of occupancy. Some of those projects in the review phase have stalled there for nearly four years.

However, another set of data shows that the majority of staff time during the approval process is spent waiting for developers to respond to feedback. The developer response time is an average of 102 days this year compared to 62 days between 2016 and 2018, according to data presented to the commission.

“No one is perfect, and we have some things to work on,” Bonilla said, “But I think they (developers) need to take some responsibility for that as well. It really bothers me that they’re always asking for less regulation and less fees when a lot of the fault is on them.”

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Ahead of the meeting Tuesday, county staff met with apartment builders on Aug. 24 to listen to feedback about the current review process.

Addison Longwood complex under construction will be a 277-unit garden-style apartment community near the intersection at East State Road 434 and South Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Longwood, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)

Among concerns, developers in attendance said suggestions from planners have become more difficult to address since they are sometimes incomplete or deviate from code requirements.

Commissioner Mayra Uribe said it’s not always easy for developers to make the appropriate fixes after hearing from county staff.

“It is an extensive response process,” she said. “Normally when those changes come, whether it’s (development review commission) or internal it is very complicated. If we’re to say we want three stories instead of four, they don’t just get to remove the top and say. ‘here you go.’ It is very lengthy and pricey.”

Rising rent rates have been front and center in Orange County Commission chambers in recent months as officials have hashed out possible solutions. In July, the commission moved to put a controversial rent control measure on the general election ballot in November after a four-hour public hearing. If approved, the proposed ordinance would impose a one-year cap of rent hikes for potentially 104,000 apartments in Orange County at 9.8%, a percentage equal to the increase of the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in the South for a 12-month span, which ended June 30.

No other Florida county has adopted a rent stabilization ordinance, and the apartment association has sued to stop it.

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The county also recently implemented its “Housing for All initiative” which aims to address housing affordability and supply by removing regulatory barriers, creating new financial resources, targeting areas of access and opportunity, and engaging the community and industry, according to its website.

Developers want the review process to be easier, with more predictability and consistency.

A joint study by the National Homebuilders Association and the National Multifamily Housing Coalition in June found that 40.6 percent of the cost of multifamily development is directly tied to government regulation and the delays those regulations cause.

The Florida Apartment Association told GrowthSpotter recently that developers across the state are typically left waiting longer than two years for project approvals, a delay that accrues between $1.5 and $4 million in soft costs.

“Time is money,” Lee Steinhauer, the general counsel of the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando, told GrowthSpotter. “With every delay, every additional hurdle, it’s just costing more and more and that ultimately goes into whatever the rent is going to be.”

While it’s unclear at this point how the county will tweak its review process, commissioners say changes are worth looking into amid soaring rent rates and housing demand.

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“This is such a complex issue,” said Commissioner Nicole Wilson “I’m not an economist, but we do have a role in this, I just don’t know exactly to what extent. ...But I do think that looking at the permitting concerns, there does seem to be some kind of inconsistency.”

Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero agreed.

“We are failing to meet (housing) demand and I agree that we should reduce the process and expedite the review timeframe,” she said.

In the Orlando metro area, 11,338 new apartments are expected to hit the market by the end of this year, according to RentCafe.

Orlando holds the 11th largest number of projected deliveries nationwide, securing a spot among the top 20 U.S. metros by the estimated number of apartments, right behind Los Angeles, CA (11,536 units) and Washington, D.C. (12,176 units).

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at (407)-800-1161 or dwyatt@GrowthSpotter.com, or tweet me at @DustinWyattGS. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


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