Builders, bicyclists at odds over mobility fee

Council members' mailboxes filled with blocks of wood asking for vote

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's become a showdown between builders and bicyclists.

The City Council is now deciding if it should keep letting developers off the hook for special fees for bike paths and other amenities.

It's called the mobility fee. There's been a moratorium on the fee for a year, and the plan is to extend that moratorium for three more years.

But local cyclists have been asking the council to lift the moratorium.

Builders are now taking an unusual approach to get their message across. They've filled council members' mailboxes with blocks of wood that say "Vote yes on 94."

The blocks of wood began arriving about a week ago, and now City Council staff has to include them in the mail they receive every day.

Looking closely, the blocks are from local builders and their associations. They are asking the council to vote yes on the ordinance that would keep the mobility fee. The fee is for developers and is charged when building on land away from downtown, with higher fees being charged the farther they develop from the urban core.

The group behind the mail campaign is the Northeast Florida Builders Association. Its executive director is state Rep. Dan Davis, who says the blocks are symbolic.

"Well, I think the blocks represent people that are working," Davis said. "It represents members of our association trying to hold it together in these tough times. We thought there was not a better way to get our point across to City Council. We think if we pass this waiver, we will continue to grow jobs in northeast Florida."

There has also been an outcry against the moratorium. Some runners getting ready for Saturday's Gate River Run say Jacksonville is a dangerous city when it comes to outdoor sports. Runners and cyclists say the fees will make the city safer, and extending the moratorium is wrong.

"I don't want to see another three years," Larry Clark said. "We need it. Jacksonville is the worst city in the nation for cycling, and we got to turn that around. And without this, we are not going to be able to do it. That's it."

Even though there has been a small increase in building, Davis said the mobility fee would kill that. But is there ever a time the fee would be acceptable?

"I think we want to do whatever we can not to hamper progress and hamper people creating jobs, but when times get better, we will have that discussion," Davis said.

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