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Stafford weighs fees for developers

BY KATIE THISDELL

Proposed impact fees in Stafford County could bring in nearly $9 million over 10 years to help with transportation improvements, but that’s little compared with a $206 million wish list of road projects.

Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors will discuss implementing transportation impact fees on residential growth, while waiving the fee for projects already in the furthest stages. They’ll also consider reduced fees for other projects that could affect both developers and residents.

Recently, the board eliminated transportation impact fees in the George Washington District, while keeping them in the Hartwood District.

The proposed new fee, paid by builders or developers at the building permit stage, would cover the entire county to help pay for ongoing transportation projects.

Commercial development isn’t affected, and the county will absorb its impacts, along with existing residential development, said deputy county administrator Keith Dayton. But the infrastructure committee, made of supervisors Cord Sterling, Gary Snellings and Paul Milde, is recommending that developers that already have approval for both subdivision construction and plats—the last steps before building, once infrastructure is put in—be grandfathered in and not subject to the proposed fee.

At that point, “essentially developers have made a considerable investment in that property,” said Dayton. “It’s difficult for them to absorb an additional fee and still be able to keep the project economically viable.”

Based on modeling exercises, there are 3,100 lots in the county that fit those two stages of development. If they were exempt from impact fees, the program would still bring in an estimated $15.2 million over 10 years from projects in earlier phases of development.

Meanwhile, about 7,200 lots have a preliminary plan approval, an early phase of development that is more speculative. There are 15 years’ worth of lots at this stage in Stafford now. Exempting those lots would shrink the county’s revenue from impact fees to $1.5 million, so the committee doesn’t recommend that option.

For future developments, the committee recommends fees between $3,066 per unit for multifamily projects and $5,465 per unit for single-family detached homes.

But members also asked staff to look at the financials if the fee was a flat $2,999 for all types of residential units. With that lower amount, and a delay of one year for the program to start Jan. 1, 2014, staff wrote that the estimated cumulative 10-year revenue would be $8.9 million,  rather than the earlier estimated $15.2 million.

Aquia Supervisor Milde believes it’s reasonable to phase in the fees.

“I think you have to start somewhere, with something that’s affordable that doesn’t unfairly punish people who are holding land or have construction plans,” Milde said. “If you want to look at it in a 10-year window, that’s shortsighted.”

A one-year delay would give the development community a chance to adjust, such as building the fee into pricing structures, Dayton said. Development plans may speed up to take advantage of the exemption.

“They have the opportunity to advance their plans in recognition that this will take effect,” Dayton said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we did see some increased level of activity.”

Originally, $80 million worth of revenue was projected to come from impact fees, based on total projected growth and if there were no exemptions in place, according to a memo from Dayton in September. To fill the void, money for transportation projects could also come from bonds, revenue sharing funds with the state and service district funds, all of which are currently in use. The list of transportation projects could also change, or improvements could be delayed, Dayton said.

“There’s a number of options,” Dayton said. Impact fees are “another source of revenue—it’s part of the total picture.”

Impact fees are re-evaluated every two years.

Supervisors will also hear from the public at 7 p.m. on three other types of fees in the county: cluster plan applications, lot consolidation and tent permits.

When the board passed a new cluster ordinance earlier this year, the workload for county staff decreased.

The existing fees didn’t match the changes.

Cluster projects, which allow for small lots while conserving a large tract of open space, are by right, requiring no public notice or public hearings. Applications are currently billed at a base fee of $1,975 and $125 per lot. The new recommendation, put together at the request of attorney Clark Leming, is to charge $250 plus $5 per lot. Staff have said that’d be a more accurate estimate of the work involved in the applications.

Lot consolidations typically cost close to $1,000, but could be reduced to $150 after Tuesday’s public hearing. Dayton said that removing lot lines takes little effort, and the reduced fee would benefit residents.

Eliminating the fee for inspections for temporary tents and canopies—such as those for weddings—could also benefit residents. The current fee is $200.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com

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