County planners on Tuesday indicated support for increasing fees on builders and developers in Albemarle County.
On Tuesday, the Albemarle Planning Commission gave feedback on proposed Community Development Department fee increases and new fees.
The proposals would increase fees around building regulations, the county’s short-term rental registry, subdivisions and streets, water protection and zoning. They would also create new fees related to architectural review, water protection and building-related services, as well as a new technology fee.
Steve Allshouse, the county’s manager of forecasting and performance, said most CDD fees have not increased since November 2015.
“The issue that we’re facing in CDD is that due to this lack of an increase since that time, we’re seeing an increasing disparity between our revenues and our costs,” he said. “In other words, CDD is providing services in 2021 and charging the 2015 price.”
In January, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution of intent to amend the Community Development Department fees, and voted to schedule a public hearing to consider amending zoning fees.
At that time, an executive summary said that approximately $215,000 in additional revenue would be generated by changes in existing fees, about $88,000 from a proposed technology fee and about $40,000 in revenue from the various proposed new fees.
Money generated through the proposed technology fee is “envisioned to go toward replacing the county’s County View software system,” which is about 16 years old.
Allshouse said emails about the proposed changes were sent to those who are on the county’s email notification system and to anyone who has done business, either in building or planning, with the Community Development Department in the last two years. It linked to a webpage where people could read more information, including the fee changes, and provide feedback.
“As of the end of January, we’ve had on that page approximately 650 visits, and, unfortunately, only one comment,” he said.
The deadline for feedback is Feb. 26.
County staff also met with two different groups of people to get feedback. Staff met with representatives of the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association, the Free Enterprise Forum, Southern Development and Great Eastern Management, and with representatives from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Piedmont Environmental Council.
Allshouse said those groups wanted fee comparisons with additional jurisdictions, to know the impact of fees on affordable housing and the cost recovery percentage.
He said the county is currently doing a comparison with other jurisdictions. They are also going to do case studies looking at actual projects that have been done and what the projects’ total fees would be if the proposed fees were in place. Staff will also document the cost recovery percentage for the proposed fees, and Allshouse said that he doesn’t believe that the recovery percentage will change.
“I won’t get into all the math behind that, but for the time being, my thinking is that it would not change from existing fees,” he said. “We want to make sure that our proposed fees are consistent with the cost recovery that exists.”
There could be potential revisions to the proposed fees, he said.
Commissioner Rick Randolph said the proposal is “just asking people applying for applications to pay their fair share.”
“When you look at the minor adjustments here, you cannot fathom how there could be any impact here on affordable housing,” he said. “… With an additional $1,000 in all the applications that one might have to make for a special use permit, that that’s going to jeopardize a commitment to affordable housing … The affordable housing card is being played in many games currently, not always with high stakes and not always with clarity of purpose.
Commissioner Julian Bivins said the costs were “de minimis.”
“If we’re talking about a $2,000 fee for a $20 million project … I’m pro-business, I’m like a business guy, but I’m having a hard time sort of figuring out how that’s a really hard thing,” he said.
Bivins said he disagreed with charging a technology fee for the new community development system, as the county hasn’t done that for other departments’ technology upgrades.
“If we’re committed as a community to do this, then we should say, ‘We’re gonna invest in technology, and that’s just part of what we do … we invest in our people so our people can do their jobs,’” he said.
Amelia McCulley, the county’s deputy director of community development, said the county is also going to be working on process improvements and working on an improved customer interface.
“We’re looking at a front-end software that will help us process applications as they come in and make sure that they are complete before we take them,” she said. “Changes like that can allow you to go from review in series or sequentially to parallel review. That alone, where you have all your reviewers looking at the same plans at the same time, can save time.”
Allshouse will give a presentation on the proposed fees to the Board of Supervisors on March 3. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed fees on March 23, while the Board of Supervisors has a public hearing scheduled for April 21.
More information is available at albemarle.org/government/community-development/community-development-fees.