Point/Counterpoint Continue mobility fee moratorium or not?

There is an important citywide debate currently taking place regarding the 2030 Mobility Plan, or, more accurately, the mobility fees associated with it. The plan reduces vehicle miles traveled and encourages alternate modes of transportation by “incentivizing” development in the urban core where infrastructure already exists to support growth. It integrates land development with transportation planning and has an impact fee system that funnels money from development back into the same area where the development took place to be used for capital projects.
One month after the plan was approved in September 2011, city council voted for a one-year mobility fee moratorium to stimulate the local economy. That moratorium ended on October 19, 2012. There are some who think it should be continued for another year. Others disagree.
The Resident invited two developers at the heart of the debate to present their perspective. Toney Sleiman, president/CEO of Sleiman Enterprises, is for a continuation of the fee moratorium. Doug Skiles, president of Envision Design + Engineering, is against a moratorium. Their opinion – your decision.

 

Toney Sleiman
Mobility fees, not now

Mobility Fees are significant enough to make a new development infeasible. There are a number of projects that would not have gone forward if the City of Jacksonville did not impose the original moratorium. I have a project that I spent two years negotiating a lease on because of the imposition of taxes and fees, including the Mobility Fee. Simply put, it made no economic sense to develop the property until our city had the foresight to impose a temporary moratorium. This allowed enough relief for an out-of-area business to operate in Jacksonville, while saving me enough money not only to build a new store but also create jobs for local residents.
As part of the development I was required – at my cost – to install retention ponds, water lines, sidewalks, new traffic signals, new turn lanes, even a new roadway which would ultimately be accessible to all area residents. At the time the land was vacant property, deriving minimal property taxes for the city. The costs associated with the infrastructure improvements I was required to provide exceeded $6 million. These costs covered not only the materials needed to build these facilities, but also the salaries of engineers, architects, construction workers and the city inspectors who reviewed the development. Jobs were created and some positions funded simply by this development going forward.
But more than just those construction jobs, real full-time jobs were also created. The company employs more than 150 people. Additionally, revenue for the city was created. A new store can easily generate an additional $1.5 million in taxes and contribute almost $200 thousand in property taxes and fees during its first year. That translates to more than $27 million over a 20-year period. On top of that, the first year wages created exceeds another $6.6 million being funneled into our local economy. That’s over $8 million in revenue for the city in year one alone.
Compare those amounts to a mobility fee and you can see why it makes sense to incentivize private industry to proceed with development. By offering temporary relief from these fees the city can substantially increase its Ad Valorem Tax Rolls, which otherwise continue to decline, as well as capture dollars that are needed for the General Fund and put our citizens back to work.
I believe the Mobility Fee is an improvement over the concurrency system and a step in the right direction.
I do not favor abolishing the Mobility Plan. I advocate the extension of a temporary moratorium while Jacksonville residents recover. It’s actually quite simple, and I have the numbers to prove it. I can pay as little as $10 thousand a year in real estate taxes on a vacant property and let it just sit, or I can develop it and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and for years to come, while creating jobs.  I only hope those that oppose a moratorium do not have children or grandchildren seeking employment during these times.

Doug Skiles
The time is now

Quality never happens by accident.  Quality of living is no exception.
Vital to this quality are the places we inhabit and the ways we travel between them.  Imagine a city that fosters a strong sense of community, where we have more reasons to help each other than to isolate ourselves and fight each other.
It seems that Jacksonville is heading in the opposite direction.  We have become a city entirely dominated by automobile travel, with neighbors battling over where we park our cars.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The Mobility Plan was created to achieve the Neighborhood Vision Plans of 2003-2010, which spoke to strengthening neighborhoods and providing reliable, safer travel in our city.  Where we spend our lives and how we get there are inextricably linked.  It is difficult to have “walkable” neighborhoods that rely entirely on automobile travel.
As the mobility fee gains momentum we will see new bike lanes, safer pedestrian ways and road improvement projects.  The plan fully funds a streetcar connecting Downtown with Riverside/Avondale, reducing the need for automobile use.
The enforcement of the mobility fee gives developers reason to rebuild in existing areas.  With abundant vacant office space and outdated shopping centers needing complete redevelopment, we can bring life back to struggling neighborhoods.  These projects would have very low, if any, mobility fee required.
A developer choosing to locate at the fringe of the city will have considerably greater impact on the road system in the future and will be subject to a higher mobility fee to fund future transportation projects.
Those who want another mobility fee moratorium argue it has created jobs by making otherwise impossible projects possible.  The city lost over $3 million during the moratorium period.  Should we continue to lose revenue so a handful of developers can build projects while we forego the revenue from the majority of projects that could have paid the fee?
The St. Johns Town Center area has its own transportation fee and it hasn’t stopped development.  New projects paid a combined $647,620 in transportation fees.  Why were these projects able to pay the fee, and those outside unable to pay the fee?
St. Johns County exceeded Duval County in single-family home building by 50% during the moratorium period.  This was accomplished while charging an average impact fee of $11,795 per home.  Homebuyers paid this fee because of quality.  Most felt St. Johns County had better schools and safer neighborhoods.
Infrastructure construction creates jobs too, and has a multiplying effect into the future by encouraging development in strategic areas.
Hard decisions are easily deferred; however, history does not forgive laziness.  There will always be a reason to wait, until we find ourselves here again, wondering why we wasted so many years.  It comes down to quality of life.  What type of community do we want to live in?  And when is the time to do something about it?
I believe the time is now.

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