Since August, The Observer News has carried a four-part series on “relaxation of rules on developers” causing urban sprawl. This story will briefly recap those stories and at the end, give web addresses where they can all be read.
This is a follow-up to those articles, yet it takes a whole new turn as the county begins to address the problems in a new way, so it is not labeled as part of that series and will contain the last recap.
As previously reported, developers of new homes and retail space were under directives referred to as “concurrency” to build schools, parks and roads, until House Bill 7207 was passed by the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee, May 6, 2011.
This bill was the second attempt to remove rules for developers, after the first — 2009’s Senate Bill 360 — was declared unconstitutional by a circuit court judge.
Left to fund these projects themselves, the counties have felt a huge burden that used to be picked up by developers —especially Hillsborough, which is considered “coastal” and is not yet built out.
A source close to those events who asked to remain unnamed said in an interview last week that this action was taken because of a downturn in the economy and was supposed to spark jobs.
Instead, the source confirmed it led to building of what are referred to as “ghost houses and apartments,” built while the building was cheap and now standing vacant.
“It was supposed to spark the slow economy,” said Mike Williams, confirming the information from the unnamed source. Williams is director of the county’s transportation and planning.
Planners have long projected 330,000 new residents will come to Hillsborough County by 2020 and had plans in place to prepare for them. The Tallahassee bill thwarted those efforts.
In an effort to offset the problems caused by that action, a series of community meetings around the county in spring and summer 2015 — conducted by Williams’ staff and Bob Clifford, vice president of the engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff — identified more than 400 projects that are considered critically necessary by Go Hillsborough, the county’s transportation leadership organization and planning group.
In previous stories, Commissioner Stacy White confirmed that relaxation of these developer’s rules has “been a major factor in traffic gridlock and state disrepair of roads.”
He continued by saying that “land use practices over approximately three decades have allowed, even encouraged, dense development far from the urban core of the county and have had a detrimental effect on our traffic infrastructure system.”
This was confirmed last week – again – by Williams, who said the county is now concentrating on fixing the transportation issues ahead of anything else.
In October 2015, Commissioner Sandra Murman proposed a “mobility fee” on new development which, if adopted, would cover all aspects of transportation.
This proposal has been honed by county staff and is being taken to focus groups of concerned citizens and (in other meetings) to builders and developers.
Meetings will be held in the coming weeks at Hillsborough County Center to hear concerns of the focus groups. Those concerns will then be submitted to a workshop in the County Commission boardroom Thursday, Feb. 4, at approximately 1 p.m., although it may start as late as 1:30, Williams said.
“It has not yet been determined whether there will be public comment at this meeting because this proposal is in such early stages,” Williams said. “But certainly it is open for anyone to come and listen to what is being proposed.”
This will be followed by other meetings – possibly around the county and possibly in Tampa; it is still too early to tell. But nothing can be set in stone until a county commission vote, Williams confirmed.
“We need to meet with the two different groups of stakeholders and see what the major concerns are, and what is the best way to alleviate problems,” Williams said. The two “stakeholder groups” he referred to are developers/builders and concerned citizens.
A mobility fee would be imposed on new development to cover any mode of transportation, not just roads, but sidewalks and other ways to move people and vehicles, he said.
“This fee would have a lot wider spectrum than an impact fee would have and would only be directed at transportation issues,” he said. “It would replace the impact fee that has been in place since the mid-1980s.”
Impact fees are different from the “concurrency” that had affected the developers until it was removed in 2011.
Impact fees vary with the size and location of each property built and pay for fire protection and other vital services. They are only charged when a home or retail space is built on land that was never “impacted” by [any form of] development before.
Readers who wish to read the series referred to at the beginning of this story may do so online.
The first, published Aug. 27, County struggles with transportation issues after state changes developer’s rules, can be found at tinyurl.com/observer-traffic-background; the second, published Oct. 22, Developers favored as congestion worsens, is found at tinyurl.com/observer-traffic1. The third, Commissioners draft letter to state legislature was published Nov. 5, and is found at tinyurl.com/observer-traffic3; and the fourth, published Nov. 12, Relaxation of rules on developers results in study group urging tax proposals may be found at tinyurl.com/observer-traffic4.
This story ends this series and is the beginning of close-up views of new proposals now being discussed.