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Tallahassee Taylor News for friends and family
City: Build it, or we'll make you

Builders must make affordable houses
By Todd Wright

Tallahassee developers have five months to prove they can build more affordable housing - or they'll be forced to.

City commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt a law that would require 10 percent of a development with more than 50 units to be priced below roughly $160,000.

The new ordinance, which has caused a rift between the city and the development and building communities for the past year, will go into effect Oct. 1 unless the City Commission sees some improvements in the affordable-housing stock.

The commission also added a two-year "sunset" provision, which would allow the city to terminate or renew the law in 2007.

City Commissioner Allan Katz, who proposed delaying the effective date until October, said the time will give developers the opportunity to take advantage of all perks in the incentive-laden ordinance without being forced to do it.

"For all those who have said they would love to build affordable housing and they didn't need to be forced to do it, this is their chance to prove it," said Katz, who would consider pushing back implementation another six months if he saw some positive results. "It's always better to get things done voluntarily, but it's good to keep the sword hanging over their heads."

But with just one piece of the complex affordable-housing puzzle now on the board, commissioners are expected to turn their attention to what some feel is the root of the housing crisis - land-development regulations.

Last month, the city approved a measure to speed up the permitting process by allowing developers to apply for permits simultaneously.

Stan Derzypolski, who has been developing land locally for 15 years, said the city's regulations on slopes and green space shrink the amount of land that can be developed. That drives up the cost of lots, he said.

Derzypolski was one of a half-dozen developers, builders and Realtors who made a last-ditch effort Wednesday at stopping the ordinance. Opponents of the law have argued the ordinance would drive housing prices up, not down, and would eventually pass the cost to build the affordable units onto others in the development.

"What they are going to see is that this is going to get nowhere," Derzypolski said. "What's going to happen is people are going to sit on their land for two years and hope this thing goes away or build outside of the city limits."

For complying with the ordinance, developers are eligible for bonuses that could allow the construction of up to 25% more units on the land in certain areas, faster permitting, fee waivers and fewer design restraints. Staff added allowing developers the 25-percent density bonus throughout the city, and put water, sewer and traffic impact fees to the rebate list.

Alan Katz attempted to do away with a buy-out provision in the ordinance, which will allow developers to pay anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 per affordable unit not built in the development.

His fellow commissioners, however, were not keen on the idea, but said the five-month "voluntary" period might determine whether developers were buying their way out of the requirement of building affordable homes.

That same time will be critical for the review of regulations.

Mayor John Marks said while he was not in favor of a mandatory "inclusionary housing" ordinance, he expected the next five months would give the commission time to tackle the regulatory issues that developers say drive up housing prices.

"I think what we have done is put something on the books that will allow the developer community to address the issue of affordable housing," he said, "but by relaxing regulatory requirements we should be able to free up more land for development, which means more land for affordable housing."