Orange County’s practice of linking changes in land use to school capacity continues to cause headaches for both residents and builders.

On Thursday afternoon, officials from the Orange County Public School System gave a presentation to the Greater Orlando Builders Association. It was the latest effort for both sides to better understand each other in light of regulations that typically keep pushing them in opposite directions.

The event also comes at a crucial time for the Orange County government, which faces frequent threats of lawsuits and lengthy hearings over the issue.

Controversy rests with the Martinez Doctrine, named after former Orange County Chair and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George W. Bush. Adopted in 2000, the Martinez Doctrine attempts to limit school overcrowding by requiring local developers to address school capacity issues before breaking ground.

However, recent disputes over relief schools in Avalon Park and West Orange County have left all sides frustrated.

Angry residents, who have fought new school construction, are concerned over increases in traffic and population density that didn’t exist when many property owners purchased homes years ago. By 2025, Orange County expects to take a number of new residents equal to the population of Vermont. The influx of new residents leaves builders waiting to begin projects, despite other factors — jobs and infrastructure  — ready to handle the growth.

“If you build a house, there is going to be a child coming out of that house” said one member of the OCPS delegation. “We’re going to have to educate that child for 18 years and we have to plan for that growth.”

Impact fees — paid by builders and developers — make up a large portion of the school construction and renovation budget, yet there are millions left unused and in limbo because of conflict over growth.

“We do have a healthy reserve,” another OCPS representative said. “Frankly, if we would have had county approval of those sites by now, a lot of that money would have been spent already, but because of the delays we’ve experienced this is what we’re dealing with.”

Currently, there are no plans to overturn the Martinez Doctrine or any other amendments to the charter that tie residential development to school construction.

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