Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thanks, Mayor Shaver, For Supporting Affordable Housing

St. Johns County to explore impact fee adjustments for workforce, affordable housing
Posted: April 23, 2016 - 11:40pm | Updated: April 24, 2016 - 7:52am

St. Johns County staff have begun the process of revisiting the county’s impact fees and how they’re implemented, the ordinance for which encourages an update every five years.

The last such update was adopted by the Board of County Commissioners in 2011.

According to a county memorandum dated April 18, a consultant contract with University of Florida emeritus professor James C. Nicholas to perform the update is under review. That contract is expected to be executed next month.

Once executed, Nicholas and the Growth Management Department will begin acquiring data, including operational and service information, the county’s latest annual financial report, proceeds used to fund capital improvements, capital revenue sources and countywide projections for a number of criteria by development type.

The St. Johns County School District is concurrently contracting with Nicholas for an updated analysis of school impact fees. The county’s Parks and Recreation Department is preparing a master plan to assess recreation needs and demands that will also be considered.

It is anticipated the data acquisition phase of the impact fee update will continue through the end of 2016. Formal assessment is expected to take several months. A final study will be presented to the County Commission through a schedule of workshops and public hearings in spring 2017.

In her closing comments at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Rachael Bennett said she hopes to explore modifications to the ordinance that can help “alleviate the excessive burden the impact fees put on workforce housing and affordable apartments.”

For example, she suggested a mechanism through which impact fees on such housing types could be phased in rather than required up front.

County Administrator Michael Wanchick on Wednesday said the ordinance currently requires impact fees on such housing to be paid all at once, when the units are done and “energized.”

“Maybe there’s something that still requires them to pay their impact fees but gives them a little bit of a break,” he said. “We’re certainly not opposed to looking at that.”

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver on Wednesday said there’s a critical need for change.

“At the rate the county’s growing, it’s really important for us to have a mix of housing stock, housing pricing, so that the people who work here can live here,” she said. “We need that mix of housing badly.”

She said making the fees due when the apartment complex or multi-family unit is completed and ready for occupancy puts a strain on developers as it isn’t based on sales or occupancy but, rather, existence.

“That really makes it not as attractive for a developer as they’re looking for how they can have a profitable development,” Shaver said. “It winds up being something that needs to be recovered as part of your capital costs and it’s going to make your apartment rents higher.”

Wanchick echoed those concerns.

“The more affordable housing becomes less affordable, the higher the impact fees become,” he said.

Impact fees and the process through which they are collected are based on state law, albeit in a complex manner.

Wanchick said the county would have to see what the law says relative to when the fees are due, whether it’s left to the county’s discretion or if they’re due at the time of demand.

He said the state tells counties what they can charge an impact fee for, but it also prescribes a certain methodology and legal test.

“There’s got to be a rational nexus between any fee you charge and the payment for public improvements,” he said. “You can’t just collect the money without having an identified need.”

An impact fee is “a one-time charge applied to new construction,” according to a county document. “The purpose of the fee is to fund capital projects such as roads, parks, schools, jails, fire stations, and other infrastructure that are needed because of the new development. The funds collected cannot be used for operation, maintenance, or repair of capital facilities.”

The county assesses impact fees for several types of construction, including residential, commercial and office.

Wanchick said large developers aren’t the only ones paying up; individual property owners and home builders constructing just one single-family home still have an impact that needs to be accounted for.

“We give people a break or waive their impact fees for a legitimate public purpose,” he said. “The county has to pay those fees, they can’t just be waived. They have to be paid by someone.”

As an example of when those situations arise, Wanchick said sometimes an economic development deal will come before the county asking for a waiver of impact fees up front in exchange for return on investment later.

Shaver said she is hopeful some incentives for affordable housing developers will come out of the county’s impact fee discussion.

She cited a recent residents survey conducted by the City of St. Augustine identifying a need for quality affordable housing.

“We’re at a real disadvantage in terms of having a healthy, thriving community, which is what we all want,” Shaver said. “It’s not a community if everyone looks the same, does the same job and earns the same amount of money.”

St. Augustine does not currently levy impact fees, although it has proceeded with a mobility fee study that will examine impact on roads and transportation throughout the city.

Shaver said completion of that study could pave the way for the city to be able to levy those fees.

The county’s impact fee update plan includes monitoring of the city’s exploration of that option and an intention for both governments to coordinate assessments.

Morris1 04/24/16 - 02:25 pm 00Good, but...
... I don't have much faith in "consultant studies" that originate in academia. In general, their track record of offering actionable insight is mediocre, at best. They tend gloss over the finer-mesh stuff as it exists on the ground in favor of weird statistical interpretations that may not be particularly insightful or relevant to the question we hope they can answer. In the worst case scenarios, they can be contorted to fit specific agendas.

Here's the short of it, study or no study.
Right now, we have a completely flat impact fee system.

A developer who puts together a 200 home PUD pays the exact same per-unit rate as a guy who puts a mobile home on a lot in Flagler Estates. To the developer, it's an annoying cost of doing business that is simply rolled into the mortgage and forgotten. To the lower income individual trying to build a home for himself, it's an enormous (in most cases, insurmountable) up-front regulatory barrier. As a result, workforce housing in SJC has become non-existent.

I am all for an owner-builder exemption (such as we already have in other FL counties) but if the people here insist on keeping a flat impact fee system and nailing everyone equally, at least offer non commercial owner-builders the chance to phase their impact fees into their annual property taxes over a period of 10-15 years. From an accountancy standpoint, this wouldn't be hard to do. Divide their impact fee by 15 = (y), assign (y) to their annual property taxes for 15 years.

Mr Wanchick asserted that "the impact fees cannot just be waved". That's ridiculous. Of course they could be. Putnam County abolished them all together (which made perfect sense there and should be continued for a while but wouldn't be wise here, given that there are vastly different economic forces between there and here). Change the damn statute to wave them for certain classes of construction most applicable to commercial workforce housing and/or owner-builders of modest homes that meet specified criteria.

Lake County has a waver program that knocks them down up to 75% for eligible low income homes.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the impact-fee issue as it relates to commercial development and what amounts to the looting of our towns existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, there are legal constraints on just how high impact fees can go, which means that the extortionate and punitive impact fees I'd gladly see applied on large scale commercial develop wouldn't withstand legal challenges. Bummer. At the other end of the spectrum, we have impact fees choking out normal people from building modest homes, we have impact fees exerting a huge pressure on allowing affordable housing to be built. Lets hope that whatever the "study" concludes, it addresses these issues with some degree of local understanding.

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