Staff to undertake further research and then set a public hearing on the issue
City of Sarasota mobility impact fee credits tied to buildings no longer in use — or those that once stood — on vacant property will be ending in the near future, city commissioners have indicated.
On March 20, the Sarasota City Commission voted unanimously to direct City Attorney Robert Fournier to schedule a public hearing to repeal a section of the City Code that provides for those credits.
Representatives of two nonprofit organizations that advocate for more controlled growth in the city encouraged the board to take that step. The issue arose on Feb. 21, as the City Commission held a public hearing on new mobility impact fees.
Commissioner Susan Chapman had asked that a discussion of Section 25-24(c) of the City Code be included on the board’s March 20 agenda, in light of the Feb. 21 comments. That section says, “A developer may apply for a credit against the impact fees imposed by this article upon development of a vacant parcel, whereby the new building(s) or structure(s) does not produce a higher trip generation than a previously existing building or structure on the subject parcel. It is the responsibility of the developer to provide evidence to [city staff] as to the highest intensity building or structure previously constructed upon the parcel by which to calculate the reduction in the total amount of impact fees otherwise required for the subject parcel. In the event that this evidence cannot be ascertained, the city shall use the trip generation rate of the last known building or structure on the parcel to determine whether payment of additional impact fees apply.”
“We already give a lot of [impact fee] credit,” Chapman told her colleagues on March 20. “This [section of the code] prevents us from adequately assessing the [impacts of new development].” In some cases, she continued, buildings may have been on a site in “the distant past.”
From her reading of the code, Commissioner Liz Alpert said, it appeared that the credits would apply “no matter how long [a parcel has] been vacant …”
“It appears to be open-ended to me, the way I read it, as to the time frame,” Fournier responded.
If a parcel has been vacant only a year or two, perhaps the impact fees could be applied to the buildings that formerly stood on it, Alpert said. Some people have made the argument, she continued, that developers would refuse to demolish old structures for fear of losing the impact fee credits pegged to them.
During the meeting, Dan Lobeck, president of Control Growth Now, told the commissioners, “This is a big ticket item …” Sarasota County does not provide for such linkage of impact fee credits to old structures, he added. “This was created out of thin air to give an exemption to the Quay.”
Lobeck was referring to the 14-acre bayfront site on which the commission has approved new development. The Quay Sarasota will encompass up to 695 residential units, 175 hotel rooms, 38,972 square feet of office space and 189,050 square feet of other commercial space, based on documents provided to the City Commission last year. The full build-out is not anticipated until 2020. The property borders Boulevard of the Arts on the north and U.S. 41 on the east.
The developer is GreenPointe Communities LLC of Jacksonville, which bought the property after the former owner — Irish American Management Services Ltd. — ended up in foreclosure s a result of the Great Recession. GreenPointe bought the site in December 2014.
The question remained whether the Quay would be “grandfathered in” if the code were changed, Lobeck continued. If the code is amended and the Quay has to comply with it, he told the board, “you’ll get $6.5 million instead of $3.5 million in impact fees,” according to his math.
Lobeck added, “Even if you do have some older buildings remaining in place for some time, giving up millions of dollars for needed transportation impacts seems worth that tradeoff.”
He also pointed out, “There are other incentives for people to demolish buildings,” including the savings on property taxes. Allowing a derelict structure to remain on a parcel, he told the board, is a violation of the City Code that staff can handle.
“You just voted unanimously to raise impact fees to the level you could,” Lobeck said. “You need to close this loophole.”
Bill Noonan, a member of the STOP! steering committee, also encouraged the commissioners to amend the City Code. He pointed out that a representative of Tindale Oliver — the consulting firm city staff hired to update the mobility impact fees — had explained that the revenue from those fees pays only 85% of the cost of new transportation-related infrastructure.
Moreover, Noonan said, the City Commission does not need to provide further incentives to developers, except in regard to affordable housing, redevelopment and the need for daycare centers.
After listening to Lobeck’s and Noonan’s comments, Chapman told her colleagues, “I think that this is certainly in the interest of the city … to repeal [that section of the code].”
Alpert asked about Lobeck’s point linking the language of the City Code to the Quay property. Fournier replied that he believed the provision was designed as an incentive for development almost at the end of the recession, “which we came out of the next year.”
Ryan Chapdelain, manager of neighborhoods, redevelopment and special projects for the city, confirmed that Fournier was correct. The action, Chapdelain said, came “at the behest of a majority of the commission at that time. … I don’t know that we feel strongly about it one way or another,” he added of city staff members.
“One of the concerns [in 2014],” City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw pointed out, “was that there were quite a few vacant buildings that were just standing, such as the old Scotty’s property [on School Avenue].” She advised against a complete end to incentives to developers to tear down old structures. Referencing Alpert’s earlier remark, DavisShaw suggested that perhaps the code could be amended to allow for impact fee credits to remain in place for a year or two after the buildings no longer were in use.
“I think that’s something we could talk about,” Fournier responded.
DavisShaw said she believes property owners are required to maintain tax receipts showing periods of use for structures, so those could be presented as needed if the City Code were amended.
Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked whether GreenPointe already has submitted a determination of entitlement regarding impact fee credits on the Quay site. Chapdelain told her staff would need to research that.
As the discussion wound down, Fournier pointed out that the commissioners could not vote on anything that day because the prospect of changing the City Code had not been advertised for the March 20 board meeting. A public hearing notice, he said, would be required under the state’s Sunshine Laws.
Chapman then made a motion to direct staff to set a public hearing on the issue of repealing Section 25.24(c) of the City Code. Freeland Eddie seconded it.