Some developers’ questions answered

By PENNY FLETCHER

Developers fear being hit with additional fees above their budgets for homes they have already started to build.

Some say this could lead to half-built homes left standing.

With some 600,000 new residents expected in Hillsborough County by 2040, existing roads and bridges just won’t accommodate the growth and the county is scrambling to figure out what to do.

In fact, all Florida counties have been trying to make up for the state legislature’s dropping requirements for developers and builders to pay for roads, parks and schools, since Tallahassee representatives enacted House Bill 7207 in May 2011.

Counties that were nearly built out — or in the center of the state and solely devoted to agriculture — were not as affected as Hillsborough, where vacant land was still plentiful and near the coast.

The Observer News has been following this issue since August 2015, with more than 10 news stories devoted to the legislation, reactions by developers, concerned citizens, county representatives, and county commissioners.

Many of the URLS of the earlier 2015 stories are listed in the Nov. 12, 2015 online edition.

In the Feb. 18 edition the article “Developer’s question figures, implementation of new mobility fees,” developers and builders discussed their greatest fear; having begun projects under one set of rules and having to finish those projects under a different set of rules that include a “mobility fee” that would (if approved by county commissioners) partially pay for roads and other transportation projects to help alleviate the problems caused by increased traffic from new homes.

While the “mobility fee” will not make up for the legislature having dropped regulations on developers having to build schools and parks, it does address the roads, bike paths, walking paths, sidewalks and other transportation venues.

To explain this proposed change in fee structure easily, take the example  of a two-bedroom home:

The “impact fee” each developer (or builder) had budgeted to pay for a two-bedroom home was about $1,800. The proposed “mobility fee” on that same home could be around $6,800 — more if built in rural areas than if they are built in the county’s “service” area.

These areas are shown as “urban service areas” on the county’s websites, but the more accurate term is just “service area” or even, “suburban service area,” said Lucia Garsys, chief administrator of development and infrastructure services at a developer’s focus group meeting in mid-February.

“It’s just that it costs more to support growth in an area that is not already supplied with these type services,” she said, referring not only to water and sewer, but especially roads and public services.

Even after months of focus group meetings with developers and builders, there were just as many questions at the February meetings as there were in fall 2015.

“When will we be assessed these fees?”

“What about the credits we have already paid?”

“Will my small business be charged as much mobility fee as a business of the same size and square footage that creates 50 times as much traffic on the road as mine?” were just a few of the (still) unanswered questions.

At a county commission workshop Feb. 4, County Administrator Mike Merrill told county staff members they needed to have more focus groups and get clearer answers before expecting the commissioners to vote on enactment of any “mobility fee.”

A mobility fee would replace the impact fee and something called a “prop share” (which is a fee charged for certain types of development) and could only be used for repairs and building of roads, bike paths, sidewalks and any other path of conveyance. No fees could be used for schools, parks and other community amenities developers used to have to pay for before the state changed the rules.

Knowing there is a “critical list” of approximately 400 county projects, those working on solving the problem are trying to get answers as fast as they can.

Since the Feb. 4 meeting, John Patrick, who has been working on the issue with Garsys and Mike Williams, director of the county’s transportation and planning, provided some answers directly to The Observer News.

“Developers pay their impact fees prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy of a building. It is usually in the form of cash and/or right-of-way conveyed by the county. They may also use the impact fee credits that they may have, or have bought from other developers,” Patrick said.

He explained that “impact fee credits are credits given to developers when the transportation mitigation they make is more than the impacts of the development they build.”

Because “road miles” have such a high cost when compared to other needed improvements, roads have been clogged since the state dropped regulations and when residents moved to new communities.

Now developers fear they will end up paying for the backlog the county has allowed to pile up.

To make it easy to understand, if Developer A has platted 250 homes in an area, he has paid approximately $1,800 each, or about $450,000. Under the proposed mobility fee plan, Developer A would pay about $6,800 each, or $1.7 million.

While at the Feb. 4 workshop, Administrator Merrill talked of a possible auction for the county buying back these “credits” from developers at a percentage rate lower than they paid. Patrick wrote in an email Feb. 15 that under “the current proposal, yet to be approved by the BOCC [Board of County Commissioners], the developers will be able to use their impact fee credits dollar-for-dollar to pay their mobility fees.”

People who want to read about all the workshops (not focus groups) on mobility fees that have been held in the county commission board room can visit hillsboroughcounty.org/mobilityfees.

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