TAMPA — The last time the city of Tampa updated what it charges developers for the burden they place on its strained transportation network, George H. W. Bush was president and gas was $1 a gallon.
Since 1989, the city has grown by more than 100,000 residents. Transportation impact fees haven’t budged and now are “significantly lower” than neighboring jurisdictions and others across Florida, according to a report drafted for the city.
The fees need to increase by more than 50% to pay for city needs, according to the draft by transportation consulting firm Fehr and Peers.
The report is an “initial step” as the city considers a fee update, said Tampa Parking Planning Coordinator Austin Britt.
Between 2004 and 2017, the city collected at least $42 million in transportation impact fees from developers. If the fee established in 1989 had been adjusted annually for inflation, the city would have collected about an additional $2 million each year, according to the draft.
While some say higher fees pay for the infrastructure costs needed to accommodate an anticipated 100,000 more Tampa residents by 2045, others fear developers will simply shift the added costs to homebuyers and tenants or take their business elsewhere.
“Higher fees provide an opportunity for waiver incentives for ‘good development’ that aligns with our planning goals for affordable housing and safe, walkable communities,” said Nathan Hagen, co-founder of the Tampa chapter of pro-housing group YIMBY Action.
At the national level, the group generally opposes increased impact fees if they will be a major contributor to the cost of housing, Hagen said. But in Tampa, he added, one-time fees charged to developers are “one of the few opportunities” to raise revenues for transportation purposes.
“Fee structures that are waived for affordable housing, and which are increased for low-density, exclusionary development, and which discourage car dependency are examples of fees we would support,” he said.
Tampa adopted its first roadway impact fee program in 1986, updating it three years later. In 2014, the roadway impact fee was converted to a program that paid for bicycle lanes and pedestrian safety measures, not just road expansion. The money can’t be used to pay for existing deficiencies unrelated to the development, such as the more than 1,300 miles of sidewalk gaps across the city.
The city charges fees when a new project agreement is signed in any of its six impact fee districts. There are four zones — East Tampa, West Tampa, Ybor City and Drew Park — where no fees are charged.
City officials don’t have a centralized database on who pays, according to the draft report. Compliance is tracked manually.
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The road ahead for change is long. State law dictates that a fee increase of more than 50%, which the report says is necessary to meet city needs, is allowed only under “extraordinary circumstances” and requires two public hearings and two-thirds approval by the City Council.
Tampa’s fee model uses the same “consumption approach” as Hillsborough County. It’s based on the proportion of person miles traveled that new development would consume per lane mile of the transportation network.
The draft explores another option for the city, called a “project list approach.” This uses a set of priorities the city has identified as necessary to support growth. Cost estimates for those projects then are allocated to specific developments.
The draft report recommends the city consider establishing a way to adjust the fee for inflation without requiring city council approval and to update the project list every five years.
The development of a new mobility fee in Tampa is contingent on a plan unveiled this summer, which detailed $2 billion in transportation needs, and the city’s updated comprehensive plan, which formalizes growth projections and is set to be completed next year.
During this year’s budget cycle, Tampa City Council rejected the double-digit property tax rate increase Mayor Jane Castor had pitched as a “critical investment” to pay for an ever-growing backlog of maintenance projects.
Some council members had pointed to updating fees as among the alternatives to a property tax hike.
Though supportive of fee updates, Hagen cautioned against viewing them as a single solution.
“It must be crystal clear to everyone,” he said. “There is no scenario where impact fees materially address our multi-billion dollar infrastructure shortfalls after decades of underinvestment.”