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HAINES CITY – Elected officials and Winter Haven developer Rennie Heath discussed how impact fees work during a Haines City Commission meeting July 2.

On March 2, 2020, Heath applied to have 130 acres of old citrus groves and pasture land rezoned into residential land that could fit up to 585 houses near the intersection of Baker Dairy and Powerline roads.

The project has been a topic of public debate several times since.

Vice Mayor Anne Huffman recently said commissioners had already approved around another 1,000 houses in that neighborhood over the past year. She asked city staff how impact fees work and where kids in this neighborhood will go to school given that Haines City High and Shelley S. Boone Middle School – two of the schools this neighborhood is currently zoned for — are at capacity.

“I'm concerned about a lot of homes being built in this little area,” Huffman said.

Heath is not the only developer asking the commission to build more houses near city limits, northeast of the downtown area.

During a city commission meeting May 7, City Commissioner Jayne Hall motioned and Mayor Morris West and Huffman voted to agree that the city should host a workshop with developers to alert them that rules to develop inside city limits may become more stringent than what the county requires to develop a piece of property.

At the workshop, held on May 21, a majority of the commissioners challenged Rennie Heath, who later agreed to change out a PVC fence along a busy road into a more sturdy wall with landscaping.

At the city commission meeting July 2, there was more discussion between the commissioners and Heath – starting with where new students will go to school and what happens when nearby schools are already full.

During public comment, Heath identified himself as the developer of the property and explained impact fees. Heath said no house can be built unless Polk County Public Schools staff say there are enough school seats available for the children who will live in a proposed new house. Heath said when nearby schools are at capacity, the developer has to pay impact fees as mitigation.

According to city documents, Polk County Public Schools staff said there are open seats but did not specifically state where those seats are located.

Huffman speculated Haines City students may be assigned to schools in nearby Poinciana some day.

Haines City Development Services Director Richard Greenwood and Haines City Economic Development Council board president Paul Senft both said that impact fees can cost a developer millions of dollars that can be used to build new schools, hire more police officers and account for more water.

Traffic was another expressed concern. Currently there is no traffic light at the corner of Baker Dairy Road and Powerline Road. Heath said a traffic study is being done and that either he or another developer may have to pay impact fees to help offset the cost of upgrading the intersection.

The Polk County Board of County Commissioners is responsible for raising and lowering impact fees outside of city limits.

According to other reporting, in 2006 Heath decided to try and get elected to the county commission while president of the Polk County Builder's Association. At the time, he reportedly opposed an increase in impact fees, saying they limit growth and ought to be lowered.