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Commissioners support mobility fee plan to help direct growth

NEW PORT RICHEY — County officials have come up with a fee they hope will lure high-paying businesses, encourage walkable communities and steer growth to where they want it.

The so-called "mobility fee," which earned the County Commission's endorsement Tuesday, would replace the transportation impact fees that developers pay for road improvements.

The mobility fee would raise less money for road projects — officials plan to set aside a portion of future property tax revenue to make up the difference. But the new fee is designed to reward the kind of development that Pasco officials want.

Fees would be higher in rural areas and lower in urban areas where officials want to focus growth. Fees would be eliminated for office and industrial businesses in urban areas to attract quality jobs.

The fees also would be heavily discounted for walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and developments located near future transit hubs.

"This is a culmination of what we've been working on for the last five years in terms of planning," said assistant county attorney David Goldstein, who helped draft the new fee. A final public hearing and vote on the proposal is slated for July 12 in Dade City.

Pasco will be one of the first counties in Florida to implement a mobility fee, and Goldstein said he thinks other communities will follow suit.

"There are certainly a lot of eyes around the state and probably around the country that are looking at us," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.

The plan would cover only unincorporated areas, but Pasco's cities could join in. Goldstein said Zephyrhills and Dade City are strongly considering it because developers who build in their downtowns would qualify for heavily discounted fees.

Beyond the long-term planning goals, the proposal means that some road projects will be delayed. Deborah Bolduc, the county's engineering services program administrator, said the road fund is slated to lose $38.7 million over four years because of a slowdown in building permits.

The fund will lose another $33.1 million over that same period because the mobility fees will bring in less than the transportation impact fees. Increased property tax collections from future growth are projected to raise only $9.7 million for road projects and won't make up that shortfall until 2022.

To make up for that loss, commissioners delayed acquiring land and construction for widening Moon Lake Road from DeCubellis Road to State Road 52, the third phase of the Zephyrhills Bypass extension, and widening of Curley Road from S.R. 54 to Elam Road.

Commissioners also rebuffed a request by several developers who had paid for road projects and received credits for future transportation fees. Now, with a lower mobility fee, those credits could be worth about half as much. Some of the developers asked the county to make up the difference.

"My project falls into a crack or a void," said Craig Weber, whose Seven Oaks development in Wesley Chapel has about $7 million in impact fee credits. "Under certain scenarios, there is a chance we will not be fully reimbursed."

The county road fund could have lost $23.7 million if the county had cut checks to all developers with outstanding credits. Instead, commissioners allowed developers who have completed all of their required road projects to sell their credits to other builders to recoup their money.

Weber, for example, could sell his urban credit to a suburban builder and get a higher amount than he would from the county.

But commissioners said the long-term benefits of the policy will help alleviate those headaches. Commissioner Jack Mariano said the eliminated fees for office and industrial parks gives officials "something to sell" when recruiting businesses.

"This is a pretty critical thing for us," said John Hagen, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "That is a great story and people respond to it."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

.Fast facts

What is a mobility fee?

The mobility fee is essentially a reduced version of the transportation impact fee that developers pay to help build roads. Right now, that impact fee is $10,302 for a new single-family home. That same home under the new "mobility fee" system would pay $5,700 if it's in west and south Pasco, where the county wants more intense development.

There are several differences, though. Residential fees in suburban areas would be $8,515. One projection for rural areas is more than $11,000, but officials say they can lower that amount so it's less than the current fee.

The staggered fees are important. Reduced fees in urban areas encourages more concentrated growth there and discourages developers from building in rural areas.

To help spur job growth, mobility fees are eliminated for office and industrial developments and hotels in urban areas. Fees are heavily discounted for "traditional neighborhood" developments that incorporate a mix of uses and pedestrian-friendly amenities. Fees are also eliminated for developments near future transit hubs.

Another change from the current fee is that the money can be used for transit shelters and pedestrian improvements instead of just roads.

But all those discounts mean less money for highways, bus shelters and bike paths. To help make up the difference, the county will set aside one-third of all new property tax revenues that come as property values increase. That could force commissioners to make tougher spending choices in future years as they decide how to pay for sheriff's deputies, libraries, parks and other services supported by property tax dollars.

Commissioners support mobility fee plan to help direct growth 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 9:59pm]

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