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- 2013 - March - 4th -
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James F. Bailey Jr.

Mobility fee will not make or break Downtown

From the publisher: James F. Bailey Jr.

One of the questions on the table for the City Council is whether a three-year moratorium of the City's "mobility fee" will damage the future development of Downtown Jacksonville.

An initial one-year moratorium on the fees expired in October.

Council member Richard Clark introduced legislation Feb. 12 for the three-year waiver of the fees, saying the bill would create jobs.

"I think we are at the point now where people are making decisions not to develop based on the fees … whatever little momentum we had we are quickly losing," Clark told the Daily Record.

Moratorium proponents, like builders, also say if the moratorium is not implemented and the mobility fee continues to be applied to the cost of new construction, it will stall development and cost needed jobs.

The mobility fee is intended to motivate developers to build in areas of Duval County where infrastructure exists, instead of in areas where new infrastructure is needed.

The funds generated from the fee are used for basic transportation infrastructure.

For me, all of this debate about a mobility fee versus a moratorium extension seems to be another case of Jacksonville participating in a circular firing squad. We just keep shooting at ourselves, while areas around us grow and prosper at our expense.

A case in point is right next door in St. Johns County. When it comes to residential and commercial construction, St. Johns County is eating our lunch. Why is that?

Our weather is the same, our beaches are better and Jacksonville is the business, arts and entertainment center of Northeast Florida. Plus, we have the Jaguars.

Let me tell you what St. Johns County has that we don't.

First, St. Johns County charges impact fees on construction, adding as much as $12,000 to the price of a new home in excess of 1,800 square feet. This money is used to pay for roads, schools, law enforcement, parks and fire and rescue.

These impact fees don't seem to be slowing anybody from building in St. Johns County, where there has been a construction boom.

The second advantage St. Johns County has that we don't is a superior public school system.

St. Johns County's good schools are an asset being used as a big magnet to attract families to buy homes (and pay impact fees) even though they may work in Duval County.

Let's start looking at the bigger picture.

If Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti does what we all think he will and improve our schools, it will help create the best place for people to live. They will come and build in Jacksonville despite a mobility or impact fee.

From October 2011 to October 2012 when the moratorium was in place, the City reportedly waived some $3.3 million on 28 projects. Through mid-February almost $5 million in mobility-fee revenue has been lost.

Opponents of the mobility fee moratorium claim many of those building, including 7-Eleven, Waffle House and Dollar General, would have been built anyway.

Even those who favor the moratorium say waiving the mobility fee has not triggered, as was hoped, an onslaught of new construction in Jacksonville.

Finally, I don't believe having a fee or the absence of a fee will have any impact on the future of Downtown.

Mobility-fee proponents say a moratorium will stunt the development of new housing Downtown because developers will be incented to invest and build in outlying, less dense areas.

A person's decision to live Downtown is more about lifestyle and convenience than anything else. You live Downtown because you prefer the environment of Downtown compared to living in one of our many outlying communities.

I've been a strong Downtown advocate for more than three decades.

The collective commitment to Downtown is as strong right now as I can remember, starting with Mayor Alvin Brown and including political, business and civic leaders.

Heavy lifting is being done for Downtown, as evidenced by Mayor Brown's recent pledge of $9 million for Downtown projects.

Downtown will not live or die on the status of the mobility fee.

Maybe the opponents of the moratorium should offer a compromise, something to the effect of a gradual reduced fee over the three-year period.

When we create a Downtown that attracts people who want the urban lifestyle, the market will demand the construction of more Downtown housing, thus creating more residents.

jbailey@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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