What Is The Mobility Plan and Fee

When it comes to city planning, Jacksonville is sometimes known more for its missteps than what it does right. The 2030 Mobility Plan could change all that. This innovative plan provides a framework to integrate rail, pedestrian, bicycle and road transportation planning with land use strategies that combat unsustainable sprawl. Something we are all too familiar with. Many in Jacksonville have come to the conclusion that investing only in roadway construction to transport people about the city will not work forever. Other forms of mobility, or moving around the city, must be considered to create a city that will not collapse under the weight of ever expanding borders and strains on municipal resources.

First, it provides a framework to integrate land development, with mobility (pedestrians, bicycles, transit and roads) and gives the development community incentives to embrace smart growth principles into their project’s design.

Second, it lays out a mobility fee that all new development must pay when starting new projects in the city. Developments further from the city core that put more wear and tear on the streets and infrastructure will result in higher project mobility fees. However, development that embraces financially sustainable features such as infill and adaptive reuse projects results in the virtual elimination of the fee.

For more information on the Mobility Plan & Fee, Click Here.

The Mobility Fee Moratorium Compromise in a Nutshell:

In October 2011, one month after the approval of the mobility plan, the development community successfully lobbied council to place a one year moratorium on the collection of the mobility fee. In October 2012, that moratorium expired. Statistical data from that time period suggested that the subsidy provided to the development community did not create the amount of jobs promised by the development community. However, the precedent of giving in to special interest had been set and shortly after its expiration, Councilman Richard Clark introduced legislation for a new moratorium on the collection of waiver fees. Clark’s bill called for a three year, 100% moratorium on the collection of mobility fees and included provisions that would exempt certain types of developments from haing to pay a fee for eternity.

Due to public opposition, what appeared to originally on the path of approval by council was delayed in an effort to modify Councilman Clark’s request to a more palatable waiver alternative for council members desiring a “compromise.” On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, the council unanimously approved a modified version to the original bill.

Instead of the original 36 month, 100% fee waiver requested by Councilman Rick Clark, an 18 month adjustable waiver period will be allowed by Council:

0 to 9 months = 75% fee waiver

9 to 15 months = 50% fee waiver

15 to 18 months = 25% fee waiver

In addition, due to the passion of bicycle/pedestrian advocates, bicycle/pedestrian projects within the mobility plan (excluding bike/ped projects the are a part of road projects) will be funded at the same dollar value they would have been funded at if they were collecting 100% of the fee.

All context sensitive roadway and transit projects will have to fight for the table scraps left. Furthermore, the part of the original bill that exempted residential lots based on construction of infrastructure was removed.

What This Means For Jacksonville: Winners & Losers

There is a cause and effect with every decision we make that extends beyond 117 West Duval Street. With that said, here is a brief list of winners and losers.

Winners

Commercial Land Speculators

Any resident who has owned property prior to the recent recession has seen their investment sink faster than the Titanic in 1912. Those who made speculative commercial land acquisitions in fringe areas of the city were just provided access to a temporary life raft at the expense of the rest of the community.

New Construction Gas Stations & Fast Food Restaurants on Greenfield Sites

Find a congested roadway in Jacksonville and I’ll promise you, it’s lined with fast food restaurants, drive thurs, and gas stations. These high turnover commercial uses are typically a major culprit in the decline of public roadway infrastructure and traffic conditions. Concepts such as concurrency and the mobility fee attempt to make such generators fund their fair share of improvements needed for the surrounding public infrastructure network to support their existence.

Expect to see the majority of projects taking advantage of the latest subsidy being low wage, high automobile traffic generating uses. However, before we claim unbridled job growth, remember market dynamics are still at play. Thus, it’s not unrealistic to see one gas station open while another existing one closes, leaving established neighborhoods and commercial corridors with additional blighted properties to address.

Peer Communities

Jacksonville is blessed with a natural landscape and a logistical physical location that draws the envy of many peer communities. However, when opportunities arise to take advantage of our assets and resident’s innovation and creative, we’re just as liable to shoot ourselves in the foot as we are to get off the couch and open the door that opportunity is knocking on.

Nationally, for the foreseeable future, the so-called millennials (currently ages 18-30) will drive both the housing market and the fast-growing innovation economy. It’s a huge cohort of about 70 million people. The cities that are slow to attempt to cater to this group, place themselves in an economic disadvantage to those that do. The quote below by William Fulton, the mayor of Ventura, California, sums up this situation:

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Most people settle down by age 35, and usually don’t move from one metro area to another after that. And the demographic group behind the millennials is a lot smaller. Just like baby boomers, the preferences of the millennials will drive our society for two generations. They’re making location decisions based on their idea of quality of life. And they’re going to make all those decisions in the next few years -- by the time they’re 35. So if you’re not one of the hip places today, you have only a few years -- the length of one real estate cycle and the time horizon for planning an infrastructure project -- to become hip enough to keep your kids and attract others. This might seem like a daunting, if not insurmountable, challenge, but frankly I’m encouraged by what I see. Over the last six months I’ve been to many second-tier cities -- Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Richmond, Va.; Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.; and Manchester, N.H., among them -- that would not to be good candidates for a hip urban core. Yet they’re all developing one.

http://www.governing.com/columns/eco-engines/col-are-cities-ready-for-millennials.html

The mobility plan and fee structure is a policy that advances Jacksonville in a direction of creating a strong environment that’s attractive to millennials. Continuing to neutering the impact of this policy in favor of squeezing out an extra 7-Eleven or Family Dollar does the exact opposite. Consider this an economic win for the Charlotte’s, Salt Lake City’s and Charleston’s of the country.

Next Page: Losers

Losers

Taxpayers

Despite not having an opportunity to be a part of a “compromise” that calls for them to assume the greatest risk, Jacksonville’s taxpayers will be forced to subsidize and assume the long term financial burden of all future infrastructure needs associated with unsustainable new private development. We can add this bad deal to a long list of money losing propositions the council has forced upon its constituents.

Downtown

The major impetus of the mobility plan and fee structure is to incentivize market rate infill development by leveling the financial playing field for areas, such as downtown, where sufficient public infrastructure investment already exists. By providing an additional 18 months of subsidies for unsustainable low density growth, the incentive for smart fiscally sustainable development in Jacksonville continues to be delayed.

Transit

Nearly everyone in Jacksonville agrees that our mass transit system is unreliable. The mobility fee is the only local source that generates funding for the future implementation of fixed streetcar and commuter rail projects. It’s roadway projects are also intended to help improve high frequency bus corridors throughout the city. Instead of continuing to utilize the excuse of having no funding to do necessary to enhance mobility (a political tradition in Jacksonville), the mobility plan and fee was structured to do just the opposite by serving as that innovative funding solution. Instead, the 18 month staggered subsidy further delays those quality-of-life improvements and the economic impact they would have on the City of Jacksonville.

Remains to be Determined

Bicycle and Pedestrian projects

On the surface, mass transit and roads appear to take the brunt of the fee reduction, due to an olive branch being handed out to the vocal bicycle/pedestrian community that stormed city hall in opposition to Councilman Clark’s original bill. However, a significant portion of mobility fee funded bicycle and pedestrian projects are included as a part of road construction costs. For example, widening Normandy Boulevard to six lanes between I-295 and Cecil Commerce Center included over five miles of new sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the street as a part of the $54 million road construction estimate. Those facilities were not included in the mobility plan’s bicycle (+$36 million) and pedestrian (+13 million) budget. Other examples of this include complete streets road projects along Southside Boulevard, Dunn Avenue, Trout River Boulevard, New Berlin Road and Philips Highway. All of these major bicycle and pedestrian projects will still lose millions in funding over the next 18 months.

Lessons Learned

After being tossed out of Tuesday’s Council meeting, some residents raised concerns that this 18-month mobility fee subsidy may be a small step in a larger long term effort by special interest to kill the concept of the mobility plan and fee for eternity.

Others wondered if our council would actually go as far as killing off the potential of high profile concerts at Metropolitan Park. Everyone wants to know what’s the next step for active residents to take in this high stakes game of chess overlooking Hemming Plaza. Well one thing is clear after being a part of this convoluted process. There’s an election coming up before this latest round of subsidies expire. With that in mind, a post from fieldafm in a Metro Jacksonville discussion board serves as a good closing statement for this editorial:

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For everyone reading, remember this when these smart people step up to the plate and run for office. There were quite a few last year that never got past the primary. Being proactive instead of apathetic, is the only way those people can make it happen. This isn't North Korea, those smart people you speak of have to be elected into office in order to make a difference. Otherwise, status quo will reign supreme.

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com