County will draft transportation fee ordinance, continue discussions


Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 3:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 10:30 p.m.

The last cog in Alachua County’s shift in growth and transportation policies will see more discussion and debate before going to a final County Commission vote.

On Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously voted to advertise a proposed ordinance that, if approved, would enact a multi-modal transportation mitigation fee, while also deciding to hold a workshop session for further talks before a public hearing and vote on the ordinance.

No date is set yet for either the workshop or the hearing. If approved, the new fee would replace the county’s current transportation impact fees for future development applications on projects within the designated urban “cluster” of the unincorporated county, which generally surrounds Gainesville’s city limits.

The new multi-modal fee is the last piece required for the county’s long-discussed policy shift for future transportation and development patterns in urban areas to take effect. It emphasizes mixed-use “traditional neighborhood” or “transit-oriented” developments, with residential, retail and office components, and increased emphasis on transportation alternatives to the automobile, such as bus rapid transit and bicycle/pedestrian paths.

Without the new fee in place, projects planned along congested roadway corridors such as Newberry Road and Archer Road could not move forward at this time. That’s because the Department of Community Affairs would, at least for now, keep them subject to the roadway concurrency requirements currently in state law. Under that requirement, roadways have to have capacity to absorb the traffic from new development projects, and developers have to pay a “proportionate fair share” toward road-widening projects to accommodate the traffic, a cost that could run into the tens of millions of dollars and make some projects financially unfeasible.

Celebration Pointe, Newberry Village, SantaFe Village and SpringHills are among the planned transit-oriented developments — or mixed-use projects with dedicated lanes and stations for the planned bus rapid transit system — that need the change to move ahead.

The new multi-modal mitigation fee would not apply to future development outside the county’s designated urban cluster or to developments such as the Town of Tioga that are within the designated urban area and already have development approval from the county but have yet to be built out. Those developments would continue to pay transportation impact fees for roads.

For some future developments, the new multi-modal mitigation fee would represent a significant increase over what they would pay under the county’s current impact fee schedule.

On a single-family home in an exclusively residential subdivision, county staff’s current proposal would be a 64 percent increase from the current road impact fee of $2,073 per 1,000 square feet to $3,400.

Jonathan Paul, the county’s impact fee and concurrency manager, said those subdivisions are deemed to have a greater impact on the county’s road network and, therefore, higher fees because they have no on-site retail or office space.

“There is no internal capture of trips,” Paul said. “They have a much higher impact on the roadway system. Hence, they pay a higher mitigation fee.”

While higher than current impact fees, Paul said the proposed fee to fund a mix of transportation options that include road projects, dedicated lanes for a planned bus rapid transit system and bicycle and pedestrian paths would be substantially less than the future costs on development if the plan were to exclusively fund and build road projects.

The county’s Growth Management Department projected that a future fee solely for road projects would, for a 2,000-square-foot home in an exclusively residential subdivision, be $13,130. For the same-sized home in the same neighborhood, the proposed multi-modal mitigation fee would be $6,800.

Developers and some county commissioners had concerns about staff’s current proposal. Commissioners Lee Pinkoson and Susan Baird questioned why the new fee would apply across the county’s designated urban area — including areas east of Gainesville where the road network is not congested and road concurrency requirements do not block future development.

There were also concerns that higher fees in urban areas would push development to bordering counties and rural areas and lead to urban sprawl. Alison Cox, a former president of the Builders Association of North Central Florida, said many local developers do not have the financial resources and cannot secure financing to build the mixed-use projects the county’s new policy emphasizes.

More broadly, Baird also questioned if the public would buy into living in mixed-use communities and relying less on the automobile and more on a bus system.

“Gas prices would actually have to go up to infinity for me not to drive my car,” she said.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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