Vote Nears on De­vel­oper Fees

Builders Say Kaine’s Plan Would In­crease Home Prices

The Washington Post Sunday - - Weather - By Ti­mothy Dwyer

In a his­toric change, Vir­ginia Gov. Ti­mothy M. Kaine (D) has pro­posed giv­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments in fast-grow­ing ar­eas the right to im­pose fees on res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

The money raised from the fees would be spent on im­prove­ments to roads serv­ing the de­vel­op­ment. Be­hind the change is the idea that de­vel­op­ers whose projects con­trib­ute to traf­fic con­ges­tion should help pay to un­tan­gle it.

“What this im­pact fee leg­is­la­tion does is al­low us for the first time to make de­vel­op­ers pay for their own trans­porta­tion im­prove­ments to sup­port de­vel­op­ment,” said Corey A. Ste­wart (R), chair­man of the Prince William Board of County Su­per­vi­sors.

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly will vote Wed­nes­day on the fee pro­posal, which is part of the statewide trans­porta­tion plan that Kaine amended last week. De­spite op­po­si­tion from the state’s home-build­ing in­dus­try to the im­pact fee, leg­isla­tive lead­ers pre­dict the plan will be ap­proved.

The im­pact fees, which are un­usual in a state that reveres the rights of prop­erty own­ers, would not be re­stricted to new hous­ing sub­di­vi­sions and com­mer­cial projects in ar­eas that have been re­zoned. Lo­cal gov­ern­ments also would be al­lowed to as­sess the fees on de­vel­op­ment that can oc­cur un­der ex­ist­ing zon­ing, known as byright con­struc­tion. Cur­rently, most Vir­ginia coun­ties can seek money for roads, schools and li­braries only from de­vel­op­ers in the form of prof­fers for re­zon­ing re­quests, not by-right de­vel­op­ment.

Kaine can’t take all the credit for the fees. House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) first in­cluded the im­pact fees in the statewide trans­porta­tion plan, much of which he wrote. But the Repub­li­can plan al­lowed only six large coun­ties to im­pose im­pact fees and only if they agreed to take over main­te­nance of sec­ondary roads, cur­rently han­dled by the state.

At the urg­ing of county of­fi­cials, Kaine dropped the road main­te­nance re­quire­ment, ex­tended the im­pact fee power to 67 ju­ris­dic­tions and ex­panded the scope of the fees to in­clude com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial ar­eas. The ad­di­tion of com­mer­cial ar­eas would ben­e­fit parts of Fair­fax County that of­fi­cials have des­ig­nated for re­vi­tal­iza­tion, in­clud­ing An­nan­dale, Bai­leys Cross­roads and McLean.

Howell said he sup­ports Kaine. “This is very sig­nif­i­cant and some­thing that I have been push­ing for from the be­gin­ning,” Howell said, adding that Kaine “was open to sug­ges­tions and my thoughts.”

Crit­ics of Kaine’s pro­posal say the im­pact fees would place an un­fair bur­den on the build­ing in­dus­try, forc­ing de­vel­op­ers to pass the cost on to home­buy­ers and lead­ing to higher real es­tate prices.

“Vir­ginia has had as a hall­mark for decades, ac­tu­ally for cen­turies go­ing back to Thomas Jef­fer­son, a fo­cus on prop­erty rights, and this is an ef­fort of Big Brother to reach into the pocket of de­vel­op­ers,” said An­to­nio Cal­abrese, a land-use lawyer and a part­ner in the Re­ston of­fice of the law firm Coo­ley God­ward Kro­nish. “The irony of this is that it seems po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent be­cause you are tak­ing money out of de­vel­op­ers’ pock­ets, but it con­tin­ues to in­crease the cost of hous­ing.”

How much money the im­pact fees would raise for lo­cal gov­ern­ments is un­clear be­cause the for­mula is com­pli­cated. It in­volves the cost of trans­porta­tion “ben­e­fits” di­vided by the num­ber of new houses. How lo­cal gov­ern­ments de­fine those ben­e­fits could have a sig­nif­i­cant role in set­ting the level of the im­pact fees.

Ste­wart es­ti­mated that Prince William could raise $540 mil­lion by as­sess­ing im­pact fees on byright con­struc­tion cur­rently pend­ing. It is es­ti­mated there are 35,000 lots avail­able for build­ing in Loudoun County un­der ex­ist­ing zon­ing, 23,000 in Spot­syl­va­nia County and 26,000 in Prince William. Ste­wart said it costs Prince William about $20,000 for trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture for ev­ery new house built, and that is the im­pact fee the county should charge de­vel­op­ers for each house.

“The im­pact fee is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to the pas­sage of the bill,” said Ste­wart, who was elected board chair­man last year af­ter run­ning on a slow-growth plat­form.

The Home Builders As­so­ci­a­tion of Vir­ginia re­cently sent a let­ter to state law­mak­ers urg­ing them to re­ject the im­pact fee amend­ment.

“It is not fair to ask new home­buy­ers alone to fi­nance the trans­porta­tion needs of a lo­cal­ity,” the let­ter stated. “There is not enough money in new hous­ing to fi­nance the trans­porta­tion needs of a com­mu­nity un­less only the wealth­i­est Vir­gini­ans are to ex­pe­ri­ence the many ben­e­fits of home own­er­ship.”

Jim Wil­liams, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the North­ern Vir­ginia Build­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, said law­mak­ers in Rich­mond might have been bet­ter off rais­ing the tax on gaso­line to fund trans­porta­tion costs in­stead of im­pos­ing im­pact fees.

“You know, I was try­ing to re­mem­ber the last time I saw a house driv­ing down the road,” Wil­liams said.

Howell said he knows Kaine is “get­ting a lot of pres­sure from the home builders.” But he added: “It is an up or down vote. I may lose one or two votes if the im­pact fees are in there. They are go­ing to stay in.”

Some elected of­fi­cials said the im­pact fees are just a first step.

“I think it moves the agenda for­ward,” said Ger­ald E. Con­nolly (D), chair­man of the Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors. “It helps us to di­ver­sify our tax rev­enues and to fi­nance trans­porta­tion im­prove­ments with money we don’t have ac­cess to right now, and that is not triv­ial. We have got some­thing we can work with, but we don’t want to raise ex­pec­ta­tions and say, ‘We’ve done it; we have solved the trans­porta­tion prob­lems,’ be­cause the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, when it comes to trans­porta­tion, is on the ex­panded ci­cada cy­cle. Ev­ery 17 to 20 years, whether we need it or not, they do some­thing about trans­porta­tion.” Staff writer Amy Gard­ner con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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