St. Johns Commission Approves Impact Fee Change

While the mantra “location, location, location” may apply to economic development as much as it does to real estate, when it comes to attracting new business development it also extends to “housing, housing, housing.”

Earlier this month the St. Johns County Commission took a step to bring that housing equation into clearer focus with the passage of a measure to defer impact fees on construction of affordable housing, also known as workforce housing.

The measure was spurred by the Villages of West Augustine affordable housing project under development by Ability Housing, a Jacksonville-based organization dedicated to creating affordable housing options.

In her presentation to commissioners, Lisa Brown from the St. Johns County growth management department, outlined the reasons for the requested change to the impact fee structure.

She said the proposal would “provide criteria and procedure for the allowance of impact fee deferrals for qualifying affordable housing projects” in the county and among other things, require developers seeking the fee deferral to record deed restrictions on the property to limit the rental amount for a minimum of 30 years.

Brown said the impact fee deferral would not apply to school impact fees, which are the purview of the school board.

While acknowledging the need for more affordable housing in St. Johns County, members of the public commenting on the measure expressed concerns about the proposal.

St. Augustine resident Doris Taylor said her biggest concern was that the county’s need for more revenue for infrastructure projects would not be helped by an impact fee deferral program.

“We haven’t been collecting enough impact fees from developers,” she said.

Calling it “favoritism to developers,” Taylor said she “did not think there is any excuse to take exception to impact fees.”

Local businessman Greg Matovina, who is also on the Ability Housing board of directors, said the developer faces an “emergency” because there are specific deadlines to secure appropriate financing for federal housing dollars to flow to the project.

Referring to the planned 92-unit apartment complex in West Augustine, Matovina said it is “badly needed housing for this county.”

Asked by County Commissioner Christian Whitehurst about “guardrails” for the change to the impact fee schedule, Brown said there are “very strict parameters” in the proposal to ensure only qualified developers can take advantage of the deferral.

Whitehurst said he supported the measure and acknowledged other infrastructure needs in the county.

“I know we’ve got to take care of our roads,” he said. “But we also have teacher shortages in St. Johns County. The essential workforce in St. Johns County cannot afford to live in St. Johns County.”

The motion to approve the impact fee deferral program and waive a second reading of the measure was approved unanimously.