Mobility fee numbers don’t add up for moratorium extension

Deadline one month away

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

The deadline for the year long moratorium on the 2030 Mobility Plan fee is October 10, 2012 and to date the figures would not justify an extension, according to many – but not all – involved on both sides of the issue.
“We don’t have any intent at this time to lobby for an extension of the waiver,” said Curtis Hart, Government Affairs Chairman for the Northeast Florida Builders Association and a member of the Mobility Plan Task Force. “The question is: Did the fee waiver work to stimulate development? And the answer seems to be, ‘no,’ based on the data we have so far. We may get a big push of applicants in September and change our minds. But right now, it doesn’t look like it.”
However, not all builders agree: At press time, Tony Sleiman, CEO/President of Sleiman builders, indicated that he does intend to push for an extension of the moratorium.
“I will lobby for an extension. It’s important that we get it done. People need to get their heads out of the sand and let’s figure out a way to create jobs and income for the city. Would you build, say for example, a $6 million building that created both construction and permanent jobs that would bring in $100,000 a year in real estate taxes plus sales and revenue tax for 50 years. Or would you want to charge an $180,000 fair share and it not get built. Which is the better option?”
Sleiman cited L.A. Fitness on Atlantic and Kernan boulevards, one of about 19 developments approved for a waiver that moved ahead for development, as one example.
Many groups advocating for an end to the moratorium feel that, regardless of some specific examples, the overall numbers do not warrant an extension. Representing one such group are Doug Skiles from Envision Design Engineering in San Marco, Ennis Davis from Metro Jacksonville and a Mobility Plan Task Force member, mortgage banker and Fairfax resident Mike Field, and Janet Stanko and Linda Bremer, both local Sierra Club committee
“The numbers do not seem to support the claim that the moratorium stimulated growth. But there’s still time left and we want to make sure that we get word out to the public about what is at stake,” said Skiles.
What is at stake, according to the group, is a way to pay for new capital improvements that is fair to developers, does not burden taxpayers and provides incentives for redevelopment in the city core, where the infrastructure already exists to support growth. The Mobility Plan integrates land development with transportation planning and has a tiered fee system that funnels a percentage of money from the developments in a particular zone of the city back into the same zone.
“This is not a tax, it is an impact fee that affects the developers who are impacting an area,” noted Davis during a recent appearance on WJCT’s First Coast Connect that he shared with Field. “We [general taxpayers] are paying the tax right now.” He and Field also noted that developers helped to create the Mobility Plan and supported the fee at the time.
It was enacted in 2011 to replace the concurrency or “fair share” system, but the moratorium (Ordinance 2011-617) was placed on its fees soon after in order to help stimulate growth.
Under the moratorium, all mobility fees are waived, but the developer still must submit an application to the planning department and sign the waiver. The mobility fee is calculated and then the developer determines whether to proceed with a permit.
Laurie Kattreh, a transportation specialist in the planning department who oversees the Mobility Plan, and Mike Field provided data that indicates the moratorium has not had the desired effect.
Of 104 mobility fee applications equaling just over $14 million, developers chose to move forward on only 19 waivers (18 percent) as of August for a total of just over $2 million. Zone 7, which includes Riverside/Avondale/Ortega/Murray Hill, comprised just over $2 million of the total, waiving $396,472 for construction of a 7-Eleven, CarMax, Blanding Blvd. Medical Office and Waffle House on Roosevelt. Zone 8, which includes San Marco and much of the Southside, comprised just over $1 million of the total, waiving $229,567 for a CenterState Bank and Medtronic Surgical Facility Expansion. [Note: Mike Herzberg, Director of Development for Sleiman, pointed out that the L.A. Fitness project, and perhaps others, are not on the city’s mobility fee list for reasons unknown at press time.] In comparison, $3.7 million was collected under concurrency last year on 11 projects, according to Field.
Curtis Hart speculated developments were not moving forward because funding was not available. “That’s one of the things we need to track. But it certainly wasn’t because the mobility fee wasn’t saving them enough; there’s a lot of money involved.” Normally between 2 to 3 percent, said Field.
“Had I seen 50 percent of projects move forward then I would conclude the moratorium worked. If lowering the fee to zero didn’t get them to build, then there are deeper funding issues,” Hart said.
Field, the mortgage banker, agreed: “If you are scrounging in your couch cushions to fund that final 2 to 3 percent of your project, then you didn’t have a financially viable project to begin with.”
Hart also pointed out that the city has not granted waivers for single-family subdivisions and estimated that “destroyed about 50 percent of probable waivers. You have to build the lots first so they are ready for homes, which do get the waiver. If you can build now, then when the market does turn, the subdivisions will be ready.”
Moving forward, Hart plans to look into having the subdivision stipulation reversed and each side will keep a close eye on the data. Those in favor of ending the moratorium are encouraging people to contact the city council.
Davis also plans a series of articles on Metro Jacksonville describing how different zones will benefit from mobility fees, and Riverside resident Linda Bremer said the group has joined forces with the health community, bicyclist and others who have a vested interest in seeing the moratorium ended.
“The question is: Do we want smart growth that is paid for by smart development and leads to smart business; development that is paid for by the developer and not the taxpayer?” said Bremer.
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