Planners eye shift in impact fee for roads


Published: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 12:02 a.m.

A new approach by Alachua County to raising money and planning for roads, buses and bikes has grabbed the interest of the state, which will make the county part of a study on the potential transformation of growth management laws.

The county Growth Management Department is proposing to strengthen the bond between land use and transportation, and to replace the current impact fee with a new fee that would be lower for mixed-use development within the urban area and higher for rural car-dependent developments.

Key goals are to lessen car traffic and expand the focus on bus rapid transit.

Florida's Department of Community Affairs will work with the county to make the changes and to study the process as part of an effort to improve state planning, said Charles Gauthier, DCA director of community planning.

"I think what your staff is working on can become a model for the state. That's the direction we want to take," Gauthier recently told county commissioners. "There are important issues to work through, but on our end we are comfortable we can achieve it."

A central issue is concurrency the state mandate that road capacity exists to handle increased traffic from a new development.

The intent of concurrency is to ensure counties and cities have roads to keep pace with growth. But the unintended consequence is sprawl developments built deeper into rural areas because road capacity existed, but now those roads are too crowded.

County transportation impact fees raise some money for road improvements. But county planners are proposing to replace the impact fee with a mobility impact fee based on the number of miles residents in a new development would have to drive for work, shopping and other needs.

Projects in the urban area with a mixed residential/retail design would pay less than a rural home-only subdivision. Money collected from the fees would be spent on roads along with mass transit and other car alternatives.

"We've been coming up with several different elements of the comprehensive plan and revisions to link transit, bicycle/pedestrian, land use and automobile transportation all together," said county senior planner Jeff Hays.

"We are incentivizing the types of land uses that will be transit-supportive and bicycle- and pedestrian-supportive. We are proposing a factor to discount the types of development that meet all of those design standards. It recognizes they have a reduced impact on the road network," Hayes continued.

A number of new roads to expand the street grid are proposed. But the county is increasing its emphasis on bus rapid transit, which it is in the process of developing with money from new development.

Gauthier said DCA has contracted with the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research to study mobility fees and produce several options. He added that a preferred option will be tested in a community.

"We would like to work with Alachua County to see how it would actually work within the framework of community conditions, the comp plan and all the data with mobility needs," Gauthier said. "We see this as a way to bolster your own efforts and to take advantage of your good work and see what we could come up with."

Adam Bolton, president of the Builders Association of North Central Florida, said association members welcome an expanded road network but are skeptical over whether bus rapid transit will work and whether it will be a good use of county money.

Bolton added that the county should poll residents before it invests in a bus rapid transit system to gauge how much ridership it will get.

"There is a general feeling that looking at our traffic issues in as many different ways as possible is positive. The idea that you can solve the county's transportation issues through a rapid bus line there are a lot of people who have some concerns about that and doubts because of the distances involved between employment areas and areas where most residents live," Bolton said.

"The idea of interconnections and creating a gridded network of roadways is well-received," Bolton said. "With some of our roads you just can't go wider. There is going to be a need to improve our overall transportation system. There is a lot of traction within the development community that a gridded network of smaller roads is a good approach."

Hays said a draft of the comprehensive plan changes should be ready for consideration by the commission in March. If approved by the commission, the plan changes would be sent to DCA for approval.

Commissioners have signaled support for the new direction, voting unanimously to have planners continue working with DCA toward a mobility fee.

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