Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sarasota Seeks to Boost Growth

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sarasota Seeks to Boost Growth

Article excerpt

SARASOTA

IMPACT FEES: But critics say that giving developers a break will cost taxpayers

With a downtown building boom on the horizon, the city is preparing to sweeten the pot for developers.

A big discount in city impact fees, favored by the majority of the Sarasota City Commission, would make it cheaper to break ground here.

But it means forgoing thousands of dollars that normally offset the cost of increased traffic and road improvements.

The low fees would be competitive with the county, according to city staff.

But critics call it a giveaway for developers and say that the public will pay the cost. For years, the city and Sarasota County have charged the same fees on new construction, calculating the impact of condos, office buildings and golf courses on public streets.

Now the city is moving to set its own rates and undercut the county, which had already slashed its fees by half during the Great Recession.

In the process, the city will gain the flexibility to spend the money on "multi-modal" transportation projects such as roundabouts, sidewalks and bike paths.

All of the commissioners have said they agree on the roundabouts and bike paths, but Vice Mayor Susan Chapman balked at the discounted fees presented by city staff on May 19.

"I'm all for the multi-modal part," Chapman said. But who will bear the cost of building up the public infrastructure to match the new condos and hotels? "The taxpayer pays," she said.

That is true, according to City Engineer Alex Davis Shaw.

The original impact fees were calculated according to their cost in infrastructure, and the fee schedule Davis Shaw proposed outdid the county by discounting them by 57 percent or, in some cases, more.

A condominium development, for example, is estimated to cost the city $2,828 per unit in transportation impacts. But the city would charge only $1,628.

Developer subsidies?

The cost to the city is unclear, as it depends on what is built and what improvements are needed.

But the impact fees have generated millions of dollars over the years for the county. …

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