Mobility fee moratorium debate heats up

Mobility fee moratorium debate heats up

Groups from both sides taking their arguments to city council

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

Opposing sides of the Mobility Plan fee moratorium debate squared off during the public hearing portion of the Feb. 26 city council meeting. At the heart of the matter: jobs.
“This is all about jobs. These are tough times. When I hear nails being hammered or see a crane in the sky that means someone is putting food on their table. This [the fee moratorium] will expand the economy in the city of Jacksonville,” said Daniel Davis, Florida House Representative (R) District 15, former city council member and Executive Director of Northeast Florida Builders Association.

Many opposed to the moratorium also put forth the jobs argument.

“This mobility fee is about jobs: It will fund transportation jobs; it will encourage downtown revitalization adding more jobs, it will encourage fee development in the urban core and other areas of the city adding home building jobs. Other advantages of the mobility fee is that it integrates land use and transportation infrastructure, it encourages quality growth and development…it provides funding for transportation all over the city and aligns with the recent JAX2025 survey…it doesn’t kill development,” Debbie Thompson said.
Others in opposition emphasized the safety impact of mobility fees, which would pay for construction of bike and pedestrian pathways.

“Pedestrians and bicyclists depend on infrastructure to get around safely… [Daniel Davis] mentioned that this bill is about jobs, and I fully agree with that. However, it’s also about the life and death of the most vulnerable users of our public roadways systems,” said Jeff Hohlstein, First Coast Chapter Director of the Florida Bicycle Association.
Hohlstein and Bert Shaw from North Florida Bicycle Club noted that Jacksonville ranks a dismal 48 out 51 among the nation’s largest cities in most bicycle fatalities and dead last for most pedestrian fatalities, according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

In response, Tom Ingram, a land use attorney in support of the moratorium, suggested separate bicycle studies.

“If there’s this much enthusiasm for cycling, forget about mobility fees, let’s have some hearings and talk about where there are suitable projects to do bicycling improvements and go there rather than talking about doing a mobility fee,” he said. “I urge you to pass the bill and also to reconvene a task force to look again at the assumptions and methodologies that went into the mobility fee…let’s look at how we can fund [bicycling].”

The moratorium is largely supported by developers and builders and opposed by bicycle/pedestrian associations, Citizen Planning Advisory Committees, health organizations, transportation advocacy organizations and merchants associations. A recent poll conducted by the Jacksonville Business Journal showed that, out of 500 respondents, 82 percent were opposed to the moratorium.

“One intent of the mobility fee is to encourage infill urban development and adaptive reuse of existing properties in neighborhoods like Historic 5 Points. Placing a moratorium or optional waiver on that fee is not in the best interest of the merchant’s goal to continue the revitalization of our neighborhood. Further, the revenue that would be paid for new projects in our zone that are subject to those fees would be a useful tool in our effort to upgrade and enhance an already existing infrastructure,” said Allan DeVault, president of the 5 Points Merchants Association, in an email.

District 3 Councilman Richard Clark sponsored Bill 2013-94, which would place a three-year moratorium on fees collected on new development required under the 2030 Mobility Plan, essentially extending a previous yearlong moratorium that ended Oct. 19.

The rest of the council seemed somewhat divided on the issue. Robin Lumb repeatedly asked clarifying questions of the developers that strongly suggested he favored the moratorium. Jim Love, in a separate interview, said that he has not seen strong evidence that the moratorium has been effective enough to warrant an extension. Stephen Joost enquired about possible compromise in the fee amount.

“My concern is that we already did zero and so if it doesn’t work out, next time you’ll just ask for another moratorium and not take us seriously. Is there room for compromise where we’re not completely at zero but we’re not at 100 percent?” Joost asked.

Love noted the $900,000 in fees that would have been collected in his Mobility Zone 7, which includes Riverside/Avondale/Ortega/Murray Hill, during the past year’s moratorium.
“That could have been used for streets, bike paths or sidewalks and added to the quality of life. I don’t think we can afford three more years in lost revenue of roads and sidewalks,” Love said. “When I voted for the first moratorium, I wasn’t well versed in the Mobility Plan. I’ve since educated myself and looked at all of the data. It discourages urban sprawl, which I didn’t take into account before. If you look at it superficially the moratorium might make sense. But it’s a complicated issue and taking all of the facts into account, I think it’s time to let the Mobility Plan work the way it was designed.”

Data provided by the city’s Concurrency and Mobility Management Office shows that the previous one year moratorium waived $4.8 million for 38 projects and possibly as much as $27.5 million in mobility fees.  Bill 2013-94 goes to committee the first week of March and could possibly go to vote at the Mar. 12 city council meeting.

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