Boyer speaks against another Mobility Fee moratorium

What does it mean for taxpayers?

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

For the hundred or so citizens who deigned to attend the Mar. 11 joint committee meeting of the City Council’s Rules, Finance and TEU committees, the two-and-a-half hour session on Mobility Fees didn’t get interesting until nearly the end.

That’s when District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer spoke. And everyone listened.

Prior to her turn at the microphone, the session heard voices from both sides of the ongoing 2030 Mobility Plan argument: to waive or not to waive. The prior one-year moratorium expired Oct. 11, 2012 on the plan that had been approved in 2009 by City Council to replace the mandated concurrency system.
Subsequently, District 3 Councilman Richard Clark sponsored a proposal (2013-94) that would enact a three-year moratorium on fees paid by developers of residential dwellings (not including apartment buildings).

Developers have been opposed to the 2030 Mobility Plan – at least in its current calculated fee configuration – claiming that the industry hardest hit by the economic recession needs a break. They would welcome another moratorium on paying the fee.
Citizens, community groups and businesses, however, are worried that without the fee, many of the infrastructural niceties – like sidewalks, bus stops and bicycle lanes – would not be funded, to the detriment of the city’s livability.

Those speaking at the meeting in support of Clark’s bill included Curtis Hart, a local builder, as well as Wyman Dugan, representative for Fairfield Residential Development. Some of their points included that the assessed mobility fee often exceeded the cost of the lot; that only 8% of the fee contributed to the infrastructure amenities, and that the calculation just wasn’t fair, based on overestimated traffic counts (which are actually decreasing due to high gas prices and job losses, according to Hart).

The mantle on the bill’s opposing side was taken up by Doug Skiles, EnVision Engineering + Design. He acknowledged that his was an unusual position for a civil engineer and land use architect, but Skiles has been a proponent for positions and actions that work together to make Jacksonville a people-friendly city.
Bill sponsor Clark stated that a mobility fee, at this time, would choke the momentum of the building industry and create one more financial hurdle to get homes built. “I will choose the guy on the backhoe or the one slinging a hammer over the guy who wants a bike path,” said Clark.
But Councilman-at-large John Crescimbeni expressed concern about a three-year moratorium, “I don’t think it’s prudent to land-bank parcels for two to five years when there are over 13,000 lots ready to be developed.”

The original goal of the Mobility Plan, according to City Council President Bill Bishop, was to broaden the base by requiring all developers to pay in and to lower the per capita fees. “The goal was to incentivize infill [developing on previously platted vacant parcels] and dis-incentivize building out [new parcels].”
What does another moratorium mean to area residents? Boyer put it best. “This is a zero-sum game. If we don’t charge the fee [to developers], the public will have to pay. Both developers and homeowners are sitting on properties that have suffered losses in investment, but the homeowner doesn’t get a break. If the fees are not paid, this will be one of those decisions that will require future generations to pay for it,” she said.

Although Boyer, along with District 14 Councilman Jim Love, supported the earlier moratorium, she indicated that she has not seen the expected results and would have “a real problem shifting the cost of infrastructure needs to everyone else.”
Council members in support of the new three-year moratorium, such as at-large member Robin Lumb, felt that the waiver was necessary to move jobs in construction. “No other industry has taken such a hit as construction,” he said. “With a mobility fee, what is the rationale for building more?”
Love said, in a separate interview, “If the fee is not paid [by developers], there are two choices. One, take money from general funds for sidewalks and bicycle lanes and then not have it for something else, or two, don’t build roads. And that leads to over-utilization of current roads.”

At the end of the day the joint committee deferred the vote for the three-year waiver, but two action items were put forward. Bishop offered to convene an ad hoc committee of both council members and community members to come up with a better method of calculating the fees. Crescimbeni would like to work with both sides to negotiate a temporary agreement to the proposed moratorium. The latter item would probably be accomplished soonest. I think the deferral was a good idea,” said Love. “It will give us time to review the plan.”
In the meantime, mobility fees are currently in force for any new projects under development.

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