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Hillsborough County could charge developers more for sprawl to encourage redevelopment from within

TAMPA — Hillsborough County wants to entice developers into building up existing communities and urban hubs instead of building farther out.

Doing so means updating an antiquated tax known as impact fees, a sum paid by developers at the completion of a project. As it stands, the county actually charges less for new developments, even though that kind of growth costs the county more in support roads and infrastructure.

Hillsborough commissioners on Wednesday gave the county planning staff the okay to explore a change to "mobility fees" as part of a larger comprehensive plan for future growth.

Mobility fees charge builders more for the roads and transit needed to support new development, especially if they build outside the urban core. A final proposal is expected in December.

Under that system, the county could also lower the mobility fee in certain existing economic corridors. That would give builders an incentive to explore new projects in places the county is hoping to spur redevelopment.

It could also raise more revenue. In 2014, transportation impact fees netted the county just $2.4 million.

"We're trying to turn the paradigm around," said Lucia Garsys, chief administrator for development and infrastructure services. "This is a new way of looking at these fees that can transform our community."

Commissioner Sandy Murman stressed that the fees need to be used "as a tool in the toolbox for economic development" and "not just raising fees to help fund our transportation needs."

"We collect these fees, they go right back into economic development areas to really support the infrastructure and all that needs to take place," Murman said.

The conversation is not occurring in a vacuum. The county is also weighing a half-cent sales tax increase in hopes of raising $3.5 billion for roads and transit projects over the next 30 years.

Many residents want to see developers pay for sprawl and a plan for smarter growth before the county raises taxes. In theory, a shift toward mobility fees would accomplish that.

That could make mobility fees an important piece in persuading the public to support the half-cent sales tax increase in a 2016 referendum.

"I do think we need to solve that mobility fee option irrespective of what happens with Go Hillsborough," Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. "Yes, we can tie it some to Go Hillsborough, but we need to get that figured out, I think, really, before we go into a full referendum."

One area where the county wants to incentivize redevelopment is a new innovation district planned for Fowler Avenue near the University of South Florida.

The innovation district would link existing economic engines in the area, like the medical centers, USF, Busch Gardens and University Mall, with new office buildings and collaboration space for businesses to start up and grow. It would also include apartments, bars, restaurants and retail that would create a live-work-play atmosphere to attract well-educated millennial workers.

Commissioner Victor Crist disclosed for the first time that a jai alai arena could come back to Tampa in that area as, well.

The county budget includes $2 million to create a master plan for the innovation district. While Hillsborough owns 80 acres of land near USF, Tampa and Temple Terrace overlap with the potential planning area.

Ron Barton, assistant administrator for Hillsborough County, hoped to soon present an interlocal agreement for a joint planning area with Tampa and the Tampa Innovation Alliance so all stakeholders are on the same page. Commissioners emphasized the importance of cooperation.

"What's the level of commitment from the city of Tampa, from Temple Terrace? We need to consider these things on the front end," Commissioner Ken Hagan said. "Our dollars are the only public dollars in play now. We're not investing all these monies without the appropriate expectations from the other jurisdictions."

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

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