El Dorado County builders, developers and do-it-yourselfers may have caught a break last Tuesday when the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to reduce Traffic Impact Mitigation fees.
Interim Department of Transportation Director Kim Kerr delivered a slide presentation titled “2012 TIM Fee Update” which described actions taken by DOT and the Chief Administrative Office in response to a board directive in December to find a way to lower the fees.
Kerr, who doubles as the assistant CAO, explained that the board’s action would reduce the TIM fee by 14.1 percent in traffic zones 1 through 7; 13.3 percent in zone 8 (El Dorado Hills Community Region) and 18.1 percent along the Highway 50 Corridor development area.
“The TIM Fee reduction will take effect on April 13, because it requires a 60-day waiting period,” Kerr and Chief Budget Officer Laura Schwartz said via e-mail Tuesday afternoon. “These fees apply to all applicants based on the property location and zone.”
Several members in the audience praised supervisors for their decision, including Mike McDougal of MJM Properties. Speaking particularly of the El Dorado Hills area (Zone 8), McDougal pointed out, “Home values are about one-half of what they were five years ago, but the TIM fee is still based on the old value.”
Kathye Russell, a planner who worked with Gene Thorne and Associates for years expressed “total support for this. It should make a big difference in the short term.” Russell also called the reduction “step 1 in what DOT is studying for the long-term process.” (That is long-range analyses of traffic impacts resulting from development.)
Jack Borba of Straight Line Construction, speaking on behalf of the Builders Exchange, echoed other positive reactions to the proposal.
A portion of the whole traffic mitigation issue revolves around state requirements for jurisdictions to plan for housing in “Age Restricted Categories” — senior housing in layman’s terms — for both single-family and multi-family dwellings. Based on some traffic studies widely accepted by those in the development field, residents of senior housing are projected to make five vehicle trips compared to other residents’ 10.5 vehicle trips in the same period.
That conclusion by International Traffic Institute engineers is considered highly reliable in the world of traffic analyses, according to Jim Brunello, a member of the El Dorado County Economic Development Advisory Committee. Brunello spoke at length by phone to the Mountain Democrat last Wednesday morning.
In an effort to deconstruct an extremely complicated issue, Brunello acknowledged that based on those calculations, developers of senior housing projects should pay less in traffic impact fees, because fewer traffic-related improvements would be needed to service neighborhoods heavily devoted to senior housing. Lower fees would consequently lead to a reduction in the cost per unit for construction of such projects, especially considering the current slump in the building industry.
Brunello was also quick to point out, however, that such projections are somewhat speculative and not “based on real money.” The hard science won’t come until the completion of the General Plan’s Traffic Model Update anticipated about a year from now.
Sue Taylor, a frequent critic of what she feels is inappropriate development, was the only negative voice in the hearing.
“I’m offended that you think people 55 and older don’t drive (that much),” Taylor said. “If developers are happy with these reductions, the public should be really worried.”
Supervisor Ray Nutting expanded the discussion to include fees charged by school districts and other special districts. He noted that there are local schools that are now empty due to loss of enrollment, and that if the traffic models are reasonably accurate, fee reductions are completely warranted. After the vote, Nutting called the action “historic” and said the public has been expecting the board to do something substantial toward enacting fee and regulatory reform in the county to encourage development.
Supervisor Jack Sweeney said, “We’ve set a precedent and showed leadership” and he hoped other jurisdictions would follow the example and reduce fees.