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New street impact fee will make development more predictable, ATD says

Friday, August 13, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The Austin Transportation Department updated members of the City Council Mobility Committee last week on the city’s new street impact fee, which developers will pay to offset impacts from increased car trips to and from new buildings.

Council adopted the fee last December, but it doesn’t go into effect until next June because of an 18-month grace period. The SIF replaces the existing mitigation fee that is part of the city’s transportation review for new developments.

“The transition is going to be a major one,” said Nate Aubert, an engineer with ATD who detailed the behind-the-scenes work between Transportation and the development community to ensure a smooth changeover.

The street impact fee will actually help the development community in two ways: It will cost less in many cases than the previous TIA mitigation fee and it’s predictable – which was not the case before. “Folks will be able to understand what they’ll owe on the front end,” Aubert said.

The SIF is based on two simple factors: a development’s intensity and its use (commercial, multifamily, etc.). Through a publicly accessible SIF worksheet, Aubert said, “a developer or their engineers would be able to budget what their impact fee that they could expect to be collected would be.” The fee will be uniform across the city.

How ATD will spend the fee revenue is the biggest decision left. So far, there is not a detailed plan publicly available. “That’s a little bit further out, but that’s obviously a huge portion of impact fees and their successful implementation,” Aubert said. According to a city document, the revenue could be used “to make public, off-site improvements, such as major roads, parks and schools that are needed to serve the development.” The money must be spent on improvements near the development.

Council Member Alison Alter wanted to ensure that multi-stage developments like the Domain, which already have site plans for proposed buildings, don’t avoid the new fees when they get the all-clear to build. The new fees will go into effect when a project gets a building permit. “We have lots of projects that might have site plans without building permits yet – the big Domain project, which is already getting subsidized, which I would say is getting special treatment,” Alter said. “I just want to make sure that our exceptions are not getting so great that we’re losing some of the benefit of the process.”

Aubert acknowledged that such cases are difficult. “It’s not something that I would say we’ve completely ironed out yet,” he said.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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