By Sean Tubbs
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
has completed a comprehensive review of zoning fees and increased the fees paid by applicants seeking rezoning or special-use permits in order to recoup processing costs. The County’s zoning fees have not undergone a comprehensive review since 1991. In 2002, an across the board 25% fee increase was implemented.
“The cost of doing this is borne by somebody,” said Supervisor
Dennis S. Rooker
. “Most of it is being paid for with property taxes today.”
The process to increase the fees was put into motion in December 2007 when the board held a work session on adjusting the fees. The supervisors directed staff to develop a new fee structure comparable to other localities, and to attempt to recover a “significant” part of how much it costs the county to process the applications.
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The Planning Commission recommended the changes in November. The board
deferred action in December
again in February
due to concerns that the development community could not pay the additional fees during a recession.
The issue came back to the board because Mark Graham, the county’s community development director, did not have further direction on how to proceed.
Graham said if the county had adopted the fees in December, it would have collected an additional $170,000 in fees.
During his presentation to the board Wednesday, Graham used a hypothetical rezoning to demonstrate how costs are calculated. He said that application would cost the county $4,425 for reviews required by state law, such as traffic studies and a public hearing before the Planning Commission. That would also covers staff time at public hearings, review by the county attorney and assistance with questions from the public.
However, the current fee for that ideal rezoning application would be $1,250, translating to a 28 percent cost recovery.
“For a significant reduction in the costs, the county would need to greatly reduce its expectations and/or greatly reduce services,” Graham said.
Currently, an applicant who seeks rezoning of 9 acres would pay $1,020. Under the new fee structure, the fee will be $2,500, plus an additional $1,250 per review by staff in the case of multiple resubmissions.
“Applicants who come in with the approach of following the regulations and getting it done [get] through very quickly,” said board Chairwoman Ann H. Mallek.
The fee for a final site plan application will increase from $1,130 to $2,000.
Rooker pointed out that the fee increases are not as high as had been originally recommended by the Planning Commission.
“In two and a half years, we’ve gone from 100 percent recovery to what now is about 35 percent recovery,” Rooker said. He called on the board to adopt the fees rather than continue to debate them.
Jack Marshall, president of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, said his group wanted the fees to recover 100 percent of the cost of rezonings.
“The need for community oversight is created by developers,” Marshall said. “They should pay the full cost. Anything less than 100 percent foists the burden onto taxpayers.”
The board unanimously adopted the new fees without making any changes. The new fees will go into effect Jan. 1. The fee structure will be reviewed again in two years.
Boyd said the review should include a requirement that staff account for how much their time costs the county to make sure the fees are fair.
“I think it’s only good practice for us to have a good cost accounting system for this department,” Boyd said.