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Osceola Commissioners considering alternative to 90-day moratorium on rezonings

County staff mulling a requirement for market studies to support proposed commercial-to-residential rezoning applications

The Osceola Board of County Commissioners delayed a vote Monday on a proposed 90-day moratorium on applications rezoning commercial land for residential uses.

The ordinance will go back to the Commission on July 16th. However, County Manager Don Fisher indicated during Monday’s meeting that the county may find a different way to limit residential rezonings.

“We worked Friday through the weekend on some proposed language that would really expedite the issue,” said Fisher. “If we can get that language done, we can move forward faster and not have to do the moratorium.”

Fisher said that the code change would require a market study as part of commercial-to-residential rezoning applications, and that the report would need to provide compelling evidence that such a change is warranted. In effect, this will make it harder for developers to get approval for such rezonings and comprehensive plan amendments.

“If an applicant feels that more residential is needed…they have to demonstrate that there’s a need for residential,” he said.

The proposed 90-day moratorium, if passed, would apply only to land in Osceola County’s urban infill centers and mixed-use districts, and would impact only existing mixed-use and commercial planned developments if the developer wants to convert commercial entitlements to allow more residential. Additionally, it wouldn’t impact Live Local cases since they don’t require rezoning, and wouldn’t apply to residential conversions of existing hotels and motels as long as the property has Commercial Tourist zoning, which allows multifamily uses.

But last week, Community Development Director Ray Stangle indicated to GrowthSpotter that the county was headed toward a requirement for market studies as part of rezoning applications.

“Our land development code is complex. It’s extremely flexible, so we needed to come up with language, that if somebody’s doing something that’s taking away commercial …we want to take a pause so we can establish a proper regulation for determining, is it appropriate to change from Commercial to Residential?”, Stangle said.

The idea of a 90-day moratorium was first floated during the May 20 Board of County Commissioners meeting. During the meeting, the Commission considered a rezoning application from the owner of a 4.4-acre parcel on Pleasant Hill Road just north of the Bellalago community. The application requested a rezoning from Office use to Medium Density Residential for a townhouse project with up to 18 homes per acre. That proposal was tabled until July 15.

This 4.8-acre parcel in blue has Medium Density/Intensity land use and is zoned for Office/Commercial. The owner’s application to rezone the land to medium-density residential sparked the idea for the 90-day moratorium. (Osceola County Property Appraiser)

Osceola County planning staff and members of the Planning Commission each recommended that a different set of conditions should apply to the 90-day moratorium. They both agreed that the moratorium should not apply to any cases where an applicant wants to go from AC Agricultural/Conservation zoning to Urban Settlement or Low-Density Residential.

Staff previously recommended that the moratorium apply to all active applications for land use changes, rezoning cases, and other permitting decisions that would change the use from non-residential to residential. The Planning Commission ignored that recommendation and voted in June to add a condition that the moratorium would only apply to cases that are submitted after the ordinance goes into effect.

However, Monday’s discussion indicates that a moratorium may not be necessary.

“I’m not a fan of moratoriums. I’ve said that before, so I much prefer to come back and bypass [the moratorium],” said Commissioner Viviana Janer.

Commissioners also discussed the need for more commercial space on main roads such as Pleasant Hill Road.

“Having more commercial space is what cuts down on car trips. That’s what helps us with having our roads less congested. Even if it’s service establishments such as a hairdresser or pharmacy, people often have to drive miles away,” said Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb.

“I would be for a moratorium, but it looks like we are moving away from that,” said Commissioner Ricky Booth, who also raised concerns about developers using the Live Local Act to bypass the County and build residential uses on properties zoned as commercial. By state law, Live Local developments do not require any rezonings or land use changes.

“Just so you know, state law would take precedence on some of these properties where [developers] don’t even have to come to us for approval. They’re automatically approved to go build multifamily units on some of these properties without even coming to us,” Booth explained.

While it looks like the Commission now wants to avoid a moratorium, such a move isn’t unprecedented. In May, Orange County voted to pause certain new development applications until the Board of County Commissioners votes on an updated comprehensive plan in September.

In January 2023, the Winter Springs City Commission enacted a three-month growth moratorium while the city implemented a new stormwater policy in response to heavy flooding. After the moratorium expired, the Commission voted to extend the measure by another three months.

Source: Tyler Williams


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