A new state law has made it much easier to develop affordable housing across Florida.
Lawmakers have imposed a requirement on local governments that they must authorize multifamily and mixed-use residential as allowable uses in any area zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed-uses — if at least 40% of the residential units meet the definition of affordable housing. Those units must remain affordable for a period of 30 years.
David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney for Pasco County, explained the new law to members of the Pasco County Planning Commission at their April 6 meeting.
“In this affordable housing bill, the Legislature effectively rezoned a lot of property in Pasco County,” Goldstein told the planning board.
“The concern that’s been raised by staff and some of our board members is that areas you are zoning today for industrial, commercial, mixed-use – under this bill, there is no guarantee they will be industrial, commercial, mixed-use,” Goldstein said. “Literally, you could be zoning the property C2 (general commercial), under this bill, it could become multifamily, not even necessarily mixed-use multifamily, just plain multi-family.”
The law also provides the county grant the maximum density allowed, which in Pasco County is 32 units per acre, Goldstein said. Plus, the county can’t regulate the height of the buildings in these developments.
The affordable housing defined in the bill is typically referred to as low- or moderate-income housing, or sometimes called workforce housing.
“The caveat that 40% has to be affordable might dissuade some folks from doing this. I don’t know because it depends upon the other incentives that were put into the bill. There are some property tax exemptions. There are some direct incentives they can get from the state,” Goldstein said.
The legislation Goldstein is referring to is Senate Bill 102, which he said is commonly known as the Live Local Act.
The law doesn’t require the planning board to recommend a new multi-family development and the county board doesn’t have to approve it.
“But if they locate on commercial, industrial or mixed-use zoning district, they will never come to you,” Goldstein told the planning board. “It (the law) actually says they have to be administratively approved by staff.”
The county will be able to regulate parking, setbacks, stormwater and other typical development requirements, Goldstein said.
It also can ask applicants seeking new commercial, industrial or mixed-use projects to voluntarily submit a deed restriction that requires them to do those types of projects — rather than substituting a multifamily project, with 40% designated for affordable housing.
“If you are approving a new industrial, commercial or mixed-use zoning, you do have the right to ask the property owner if they’re willing to restrict it themselves,” Goldstein said. “It’s a worthwhile question to ask.
In fact, during a recent Pasco County Commission meeting, the county asked an attorney if her client would be willing to voluntarily agree to a restriction. The client is seeking an industrial designation on land near the Suncoast Parkway.
The attorney said she discuss the request with her client.
While the county may be able to get property owners to voluntarily agree to restrict their property with new requests, Goldstein is concerned about the amount of property around the county that’s already zoned for commercial and industrial use.
“There’s no guarantee that you will get what you zoned under this bill,” he said.
He said he understands there’s a need for affordable housing, but he’s not sure this is the best way to pursue it.
For the past few years, the county has made a concerted effort to identify more sites for job-generating uses.
“One might argue that if you don’t have a job, you can’t afford housing. It doesn’t matter how affordable it is, and we’ve reserved some of these areas for job production,” Goldstein said.
The county is also concerned about creating jobs that it has been working to identify large tracts that would be suitable for industrial development, with the hope it could bring more jobs to a county where a large percentage of its workforce commutes daily to other counties.
Planning board members voiced concerns about the automatic approvals creating a situation that could create an infrastructure nightmare.
Planning board member Jon Moody said the new law takes a one-size-fits-all approach.
“This may work for Metro Dade, but it may not work for Pasco County,” he said.
Planning board member Chris Williams agreed: “That’s my concern. We’ve done (zoned industrial sites) to try to plan for the future. Now, somebody comes in and approaches in the middle of an industrial zone and says, ‘Hey, I want to put a bunch of apartments up.’”
Published April 19, 2023