Two local districts model trendy development tool

House construction

It sounds simple. She bought a house. He built an additional room. They developed a neighborhood.  

But the housing and construction market also contains agreements, cooperations and multimillion-dollar projects that surpass the understanding of many a layperson.  

For example, in a July meeting, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) worked to understand how Buchanan Trails Inc. sold a piece of property to itself but couldn’t give itself an easement on its adjacent parcel. The applicants fleshed out the details of the arrangement after some confusion.  

A Community Development District (CDD) represents another development option that can prompt head scratching. The BOCC approved two new CDDs in May that will be built around the I-75 and NW 39th Avenue intersection over the next 10 years.  

The Springhills CDDs will cost an estimated $100 million over the next year—including a 10% contingency. The CDDs — Springhills North and Springhills South — could construct up to 3,296 residential units and just over 1.6 million square feet of non-residential floor space.  

Jeffrey Hays, Alachua County principal planner, speaks before the county commissioners
Courtesy Alachua County Jeffrey Hays, Alachua County principal planner, speaks before the county commissioners.

“They’re a very, very popular tool,” Jeffrey Hays, principal planner for the county, said in a phone interview. “More so in other counties. We don’t have a ton of them in Alachua County.” 

Hays said CDDs benefit both developers and the county. The structure creates a special purpose government and allows developers to access the tax free, municipal bond market—just like a Florida city. For counties, the CDD provides infrastructure, wastewater systems and offsite mitigation without using county dollars.  

Springhills North and South will join just three other CDDs in Alachua County.  

The residential Parker Road CDD started in 2006. Celebration Pointe contains a mix of residential and commercial facilities and began in 2012. The City of Gainesville approved another residential CDD in 2019—Finley Woods. 

Developers have formed CDDs since 1980 when Florida statutes first included them under Chapter 190, and now Florida has around 847 active CDDs in 38 counties. 

Top Seven Counties with CDDs: 

  • Hillsborough: 100 
  • Miami-Dade: 87 
  • Pasco: 75 
  • Polk: 68 
  • Manatee: 55 
  • Lee: 54 
  • Osceola: 45 

Of the counties adjacent to Alachua County, only Clay and Marion contain CDDs with 17 and 8, respectively. 

Developers choose CDDs in order to access a tax-free bond market. The structure also allows borrowing and issuing assessments and taxes to those living within the CDD. So residents within the special structure will finance some of the cost. 

“One of the benefits to the developer and then, ultimately, to the county, as well, and the ultimate residents of the development is that typically the financing costs for that infrastructure is less for a CDD than it would be if the developer tried to go out on the private market and get that same kind of financing,” Hays said. 

Jere Earlywine, attorney for the Springhills developments, told the BOCC that residents prefer living in a CDD because of the extra powers it contains.  

Jere Earlywine, attorney for the Springhills developments, speaks before the county commission.
Courtesy Alachua County Jere Earlywine, attorney for the Springhills developments, speaks before the county commission.

“It’s a much more powerful structure from a resident’s perspective if they’re sitting in those seats and they have the ability to access that tax-exempt bond market, which they do, to renovate their facilities, go on the tax roll to pay for it and they really do like it,” Earlywine said. 

CDDs become their own special districts, ruled from within by a five-member commission. This commission is subject to the Sunshine Law and made up of CDD members.  

Hayes said the county still interacts and supports the CDD with police, fire and other services. But for the most part, the system runs itself.  

Springhills North plans to spend $26 million on offsite roadway improvements and almost $15 million on water and wastewater systems—both of which will be turned over to Alachua County and the Florida Department of Transportation. The county will also split control with the CDD over the roadways.  

Counties can choose not to approve a development. Florida Statutes provide some considerations for counties: is the area amenable to a CDD, will a CDD be the best development option and will the CDD violate a county’s comprehensive plan?  

Hays said the Springhills CDDs form a key part in Alachua County’s comprehensive plan by creating mixed-used, walkable developments.  

“Ultimately, especially with these sorts of transit-oriented developments, these are the kinds of developments our comprehensive plan is sort of pushing and trying to incentivize,” Hays said. 

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