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Are Lower Park Fees Driving Downtown Development?

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2006, at 12:36PM

Today in the LA Times there's an interesting piece that looks at the connection between parks fees and adaptive reuse. It notes that the cut fee to developers is one of the incentives that helped make the numbers pencil out on Downtown conversions. It then draws the conclusion (or simply goes for the attention-getting angle) that taking a new look at these fees would stymie Downtown's redevelopment.

But the mayor may be forced to choose between these visions, both hallmarks of his plan for the city. The pressure stems from a little-known City Hall policy that helps lure developers to downtown by slashing the fees they are required to pay for new parks.

The discount -- offered to builders who convert old, vacant structures into so-called live-work condominiums -- has been credited with helping spur downtown's recent revitalization. But it also has robbed municipal coffers of millions of dollars for parks and recreation facilities in an area short on both.

Basically live-work projects are allowed under adaptive reuse rules to pay 1/3 the normal parks fee. That's just a small part of the changes that reuse made in the code, and probably isn't all that big of a part compared to, say, needing to build more parking spaces.

I have to question this statement:

Since the new rules and lower fees were adopted, 10,000 live-work units have been completed downtown or are in the pipeline.

City officials said they did not know how much money they had passed up, adding that it is difficult to keep precise track of all live-work condos. But they estimated that the lower fees had been paid on about one-third of roughly 3,000 finished units.

10,000 units sure, but 10,000 live-work? If you go to the Interactive Map of Downtown and go to Residential Search you get 247 buildings. If you then do that search again but restrict to live-work buildings, you get only 25. Adding up the totals from those 25 I get 3,696 units. 950 of those units are in completed buildings, which fits really cleanly with the 1,000 estimated in the article.

So sure, the City's missed out on roughly $1.6 million in park fees. But what would that buy us Downtown? Buying raw land, you could get about 3000 sq. feet (at $500/sq. ft). Downtown parks are going to need new sources of funding no matter what developers are paying.

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