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Free ride could be over for 'no-fee zones'

With revenue from transportation impact fees decreasing, city officials are wary about the expiration date.

By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published April 16, 2005


CLEARWATER - Six months ago, Pinellas County gave in to protests from city officials and held off making developers pay for traffic improvements in three business districts.

The debate resumes Tuesday, and this time county commissioners are expected to allow the "no-fee zones" in St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor and Pinellas Park to expire at the end of the month and increase transportation impact fees countywide by 13 percent.

Developers in the no-fee zones won't likely pay the full fee because the downtown districts will be eligible for discounts.

For county leaders, the decision is part of a broader transportation policy aimed at rewarding developers who build projects that reduce the number of cars on Pinellas roadways.

City officials are not thrilled about the zones ending. But they say the discounted rates are the best option.

Also, the debate over impact fees resumes just two weeks after county commissioners pledged millions of tax dollars toward St. Petersburg's renovations to the Mahaffey Theater and the Pier.

Brian Smith, the county's planning director, said the county collected $4-million in impact fees last year and could generate as much as $4.5-million in the coming year with the increased rate. He's not certain how much would be generated in the no-fee zones.

By increasing fees, the county hopes more developers will take advantage of a new system of credits against those fees for building what officials call "livable communities."

The broad development concept includes mixed developments with homes, retail shops and office space, projects with pedestrian-friendly amenities such as sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and connecting parking lots so people can go from one shopping center to the next without driving on major roads.

As Pinellas County approaches build-out, its revenue from impact fees has dropped in recent years because builders are focusing on previously developed land, which carries reduced impact fees.

"What I think is important is it addresses some transportation problems with some creative ideas," said County Commissioner Karen Seel.

County Commissioner Ken Welch, who represents a district that includes a large part of St. Petersburg, asked fellow commissioners last fall to postpone their decision on the no-fee zones after hearing protests from the cities.

He's leaning toward supporting the proposal now because all three cities would receive downtown designations that offer developers significant discounted fees - as much as 50 percent. He's also pleased that commissioners have committed to support other incentives, which have yet to be determined, in midtown St. Petersburg through the county economic development department.

Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4162 or sandler@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 16, 2005, 01:24:50]


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