Broward schools seek $3.4 million to add 4 students

May 28, 2013|By Scott Travis, Sun Sentinel

How much does it cost to add students to the public schools?

The Broward School District is trying to charge a developer in Coconut Creek $900,000 per student — more than 50 times the usual $16,500 rate.

But while even the city and county concede it's too costly, the district for years has refused to budge.

"They said it would open the door for others to come back and try to amend their agreements," said Michael Moskowitz, a lawyer for developer Pompano Imports Inc., which is suing the district. "But they're wrong under the law. Impact fees have to relate to the impact the property has on the schools.''

Pompano Imports said the district wants it to pay $3.6 million in impact fees for adding what may only be four students, according to the lawsuit filed in Broward County Circuit Court.

The district is enforcing an agreement put in place in 2006, when Pompano Imports proposed building Marbella, a 764-unit community of mostly high-rise condos in an area zoned for mixed use development.

A total of 2,700 units were scheduled for the zoned downtown area, and the school district, Broward County and Coconut Creek came up with a formula for impact fees. At that time, the governments anticipated more schools would need to be built.

But Moskowitz said that formula predicted Marbella would generate about 157 students because it failed to consider the units would be mostly high-rises, which don't attract young families. In fact, a capacity study in 2008 found Marbella would only generate four additional students — two elementary, one middle school and one high school student.

Under a 2008 law called concurrency, which set countywide rules for new developments and the schools that would serve them, impact fees would be about $66,000, or $16,500 per student, the lawsuit alleges.

However, the district said the impact fees for Marbella were determined before concurrency took effect. After representatives for the developer unsuccessfully met with the district in 2010, a lawsuit was filed the next year. It has been dragging on since.

None of the projects planned for the downtown Coconut Creek area have gone forward, primarily because the housing market tanked.

"The second reason, and I know because other properties have called us, is that they are unable to develop because of these high fees," Moskowitz said.

In February, the school district filed a motion seeking to dismiss Pompano Imports' lawsuit, but the case is still active.

Superintendent Robert Runcie, who was not in office when the lawsuit as first filed, discussed the matter in closed session with the School Board Tuesday and said he wants to resolve it soon.

"We don't want to stand in the way of economic development, and we need to take a deeper look at this," Runcie said. "We're in a different economic climate than when the original agreement was made. Back then, we had lots of construction going on, and we were growing in excess of 10,000 students a year."

At that time, the schools that would be most affected, Winston Park Elementary, Lyons Creek Middle and Monarch High were all severely overcrowded. Today, they're right at capacity and there are many empty classrooms at nearby schools and throughout the district.

As to whether $3.6 million for four students would ever be justified, Runcie said, "It's a little more complicated than that. You'd have to sit down with the folks that work these numbers. We didn't just make up the [2006] agreement. Someone agreed to it at the time."

But officials in Broward County and Coconut Creek have since reconsidered.

"The City Commission is of the determination that the impact fees would be too high for the particular property and is willing to negotiate a lower impact fee," said Paul Stuart, county attorney for Coconut Creek.

He said Broward County Commissioner Lois Wexler appeared at a December meeting and agreed with Coconut Creek's position. The county and city are eager to get new development and the tax revenues they bring.

But Pompano Imports won't go forward with the project until the impact fees are reduced, Moskowitz said. or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421