Mobility fees: Moratorium ordinance up for review this fall

By Steve DiMattia

 

While City Council member Jim Love’s proposed moratorium restricting certain types of development has been a hotly debated topic in Riverside/Avondale, there is another moratorium that has been in effect for almost a year that has had a much further-reaching impact on both sides of the river.

“Right now, Love’s moratorium is only a proposal on paper that has no legal standing, “ said Mike Field, a local banker, Fairfax resident and neighborhood renovation advocate. “But the Mobility Plan fee moratorium is an ordinance that has been in effect since October. That means that mobility fees from new development that has taken place in that time have not been collected. That’s money that could have gone toward specific capital improvement projects throughout the city. One of those projects is streetcars connecting Riverside to Downtown.”

The mobility fee moratorium (Ordinance 2011-617) expires October 10, 2012 unless city council grants an extension. It was originally imposed to offset the effects of the recession but whether it has spurred development remains to be seen.

“Our intent is to gather data before October to see if the waiver created jobs,” said Curtis Hart, a developer with Hart Resources and Government Affairs Chairman for the Northeast Florida Builders Association. “The council will want proof that it worked. If it did, then we will make our case for an extension; if not, then we will let the moratorium deadline pass.”

So far, the case is not great: Of 110 mobility fee applications equaling nearly $16 million, only 10 were waived as of July 16 for a total of $911,233. Riverside comprised just over $2 million of the total, waiving $323,571 for construction of a 7-Eleven and San Marco comprised just over $1 million of the total, waiving $62,446 for a CenterState Bank, said Laurie Kattreh, a transportation specialist in the planning department who oversees the Mobility Plan.

Hart pointed out that most developers did not apply for a waiver for the first few months while waiting for legal details to be worked out in Tallahassee. “In reality, the waiver will have only been in effect about nine months,” he said. “I expect a rush on applications as the deadline approaches.”

Riverside/Avondale District 14 councilman Love and San Marco District 5 councilwoman Lori Boyer, each of whom voted for the moratorium, agreed that they would need to see overwhelming proof to justify an extension.

“I was willing to try it for a year to see if it stimulated the economy,” Love said. “You can’t really say without all of the data, but I’d like to avoid an extension.”

Boyer also said she needed to see data to support an extension, but conceded the waiver did not have a full year, so may be willing to extend it to that point. “I would not be receptive to any extension beyond the year time frame,” she said. “There was an implementation delay, so I may be open to another three months so that it can have its full year.”

In contrast, Council President Bill Bishop, who originally sponsored the moratorium ordinance, said that he “suspects an extension would stand a good chance of passing. I’m not aware that the first effort did much and construction is still at depression era levels. One problem is that banks are not granting loans. My gut feeling says it would be extended.”

The 2030 Mobility Plan was only in effect for about two months before the fee moratorium was enacted, but there has never been any doubt as to the benefits of the award-winning plan.

“The Mobility Plan was ahead of its time,” said Hart, a member of the Mobility Plan Task Force.

The Mobility Plan was originally crafted over a two-year period beginning in 2009 and adopted in 2011. It was a response to revisions in Florida’s Growth Management laws and coincided with other city plans that promoted modes of transportation other than automobiles. There was also a general consensus among local developers, city planners and legislators that the concurrency or “fair share” plan then in place was not working.

“The Mobility Plan integrates land development with transportation planning in unique ways and has a tiered mobility fee system that does not burden taxpayers,” said Bill Killingsworth, the plan’s main architect and Planning and Development Director during its creation. “It was good timing for this kind of approach.”

“It’s probably the first time in the history of mankind when developers and the Sierra Club agreed on the same proposal,” Field joked.

The reason for such wide acceptance is that it puts the cost of capital improvement projects on the end-user rather than taxpayers and offers strategies and incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy-efficient land use patterns that may substantially lower those costs.

“It is predictable, fair and efficient for developers and taxpayers alike,” said Ortega resident T.R. Hainline, chair of the Mobility Plan Task Force.

“The plan encourages infill versus greenfield development – reducing sprawl and automobile dependency by ‘incentivizing’ development closer to the city core rather than in less populated areas; it promotes pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit over automobiles,” Killingsworth explained. “We wanted it to affect policy as well as facility.”

Under the plan the city is arranged into 10 Mobility Zones (Riverside/Avondale is Zone 7; San Marco Zone 8) and any new development that takes place within a particular zone is charged a fee based on a calculated sum that measures vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in relation to specified Development Areas. That fee can then be adjusted down if developers apply mobility-friendly land development patterns.

“The fee goes back into prioritized projects within the zone where the development takes place, so there is a direct connection between the development, the fee and the projects,” said Ennis Davis, a former associate with planning and engineering firm Ghyabi & Associates who determined the fee formula. “If developers design projects that use sustainable strategies, then they can lower their cost.”

Some of those strategies include: developing within the city core; incorporating bike paths, sidewalks and mass transit; locating parking behind buildings; mixed use developments; employing larger numbers of people; and building close to retail establishments.

They all go toward meeting the plan’s five objectives: support a variety of transportation modes; reduce vehicle miles traveled; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; promote a compact and interconnected land development form; and improve the health and quality of life for Jacksonville residents.

“We already have the groundwork set to meet all of the plan’s objectives,” said Doug Skiles from Envision Design Engineering in San Marco who advocates ending the moratorium. “The great thing is that community members have a say on what projects the mobility fees go toward in their neighborhoods and it is evaluated every five years so that projects can be reassessed.”

Projects include:  roadway capacity and Intelligent Transportation System improvements; Bus Rapid Transit, commuter rail, and streetcar; Facilities to improve bicycle network connectivity; and Pedestrian improvements design to achieve sidewalk connectivity. Eleven percent of all fees collected in any zone goes toward pedestrian and bicycle projects.

In Riverside’s Zone 7, the top priority project is a streetcar connecting Downtown to Riverside, which some, like Mike Field, feel might relieve some of the parking issues that Love’s moratorium – as well as his proposed ordinance to amend the Riverside/Avondale Overlay – are designed to address. Field believes that beyond providing funding, the Mobility Plan also offers a ready-made philosophical blueprint for moving forward.

“Rather than going for short term parking solutions, it’s important to align all of the area’s transportation goals with the Mobility Plan,” Field said. “It not only provides great short and long term road maps in terms of ideas but also provides the funding to get there. It’s just a matter of us getting it back into place.”

http://www.coj.net/departments/planning-and-development/community-planning-division/transportation-planning/mobility-plan.aspx

 

The top three priority projects in Riverside’s Mobility Zone 7, totaling $81 million, are:

1) A streetcar connecting Downtown to Riverside – $50 million

2) Commuter rail from Downtown to I-295 – $29 million (25 percent local match from mobility fees and 75 percent federal/state dollars)

3) Widening of Harlow Boulevard from Lane Avenue to 103rdStreet – $1.75 million.

 

The top three priority projects in San Marco’s Mobility Zone 8 (which includes a large section of Southside), totaling $149 million are:

1) Widening of Philips Highway – $54 million

2) Widening of Southside Boulevard – $40 million;

3) Commuter rail from Downtown to the Avenues Mall – $20 million (25 percent local match for 75 percent federal/state dollars)

 

Short-term Riverside bike projects include bike lanes on Edgewood, Riverside, and St. Johns Avenues. Long-term bike projects include multi-use paths paralleling the CSX A line between Forest Street and the Clay County line and the FEC (starting in San Marco) between the Southbank Riverwalk and Southside Boulevard.

 

SOURCE: Ennis Davis, Ghyabi & Associates

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