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Builder road fees set to rise

Fees that developers pay to help fund new roads are likely to rise 18 percent, Pinellas County commissioners said Tuesday night.

Road costs have risen and developers need to pay when their buildings add more people, and thus more cars, to the roads, commissioners said.

"It needs to be done," said Commissioner Bob Stewart, who also heads the road planning board. "Look at the costs that have gone up, look at (traffic congestion) and tell me we're in such great shape . . . that we don't need to tell developers to pay."

Five commissioners said they support the change, but didn't take a final vote Tuesday. Instead, they sent the proposal back to a road board to review one part of the plan. Approval, though, is likely within three months.

Developers pay the transportation impact fee when they build new buildings, or when they redevelop with larger buildings. Fees vary, depending on the type of construction. The plan calls for the fees to increase 18 percent over two years.

County staffers say the cost of building roads has increased from $1.7-million for each mile of one-lane road to $2.2-million since 1997. But the fees haven't gone up in more than a decade.

"We've already had some roads postponed" because they cost more than originally budgeted, said Commissioner Karen Seel.

Chairwoman Barbara Sheen Todd was the only commissioner to say she opposed the increase.

"I still think 18 percent . . . is excessive in such a short period of time," she said.

Commissioner Ken Welch also disliked the large increase. The fees should have risen more slowly over the past several years instead, Welch said.

But he and Commissioners Susan Latvala and John Morroni also said they would support the change. Only Commissioner Calvin Harris did not take a stand.

Morroni voted against the plan at the road planning board, but he said he was changing his vote because the increase didn't seem to be much of a problem for developers. Business groups have spoken against the increase in the past few months, but nobody came to Tuesday's meeting to speak against it.

"If this were such a bitter pill to swallow, this room would be loaded with builders," Morroni said.

Resident Thomas Nocera said such fees are needed in Florida's most densely populated county.

"Maybe it does need to get a little more expensive for developers to come in and build out the rest of the green space," Nocera said.

Commissioners didn't take a final vote because they want the road board to review the ordinance rules that allow cities to create zones without the fees to encourage redevelopment.

Downtown St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor and Pinellas Park have such zones. County staffers have suggested changing those rules, but the road board has not reviewed their suggestions.

Also Tuesday night, commissioners delayed changing the county's noise ordinance to make it easier to cite people for violations.

Changing from rules based on decibel readings to banning noise that is "unreasonably loud and raucous" would be too strict, some commissioners said.

Commissioners envisioned sheriff's deputies citing teenagers for playing basketball or practicing a musical instrument in the evening. People mowing their lawns or cutting wood at dusk could wind up with $156 fines, they said.

"It reeks of Big Brother to me," Latvala said. "This scares me to death. It's a great way for one neighbor to get another."

Other commissioners said the ordinance needs to be tougher. Several pointed to the trouble the county has had in citing a homeowner who set up a cannon in the front yard and began firing shotgun blanks from it during football games.

"People have the right to live in their homes in peace," Welch said. "It's the habitual offender who makes the neighbor's life a living hell" whom the ordinance should target.

Commissioners asked staff members to change the hours in the proposal, find out whether sheriff's deputies could carry decibel meters and get other information before coming back with a revised plan.

Pinellas County's transportation impact fees

Type

of development Current With

fee proposed

two-year

increase

Single-family house $1,632 $1,923

1,000 square feet of

office space (0 to

49,999 square feet) $2,471 $2,912

1,000 square feet of

general industrial space $1,061 $1,251

Hotel (per room) $1,322 $1,557

Source: Pinellas County.

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