Supervisors Support Reducing Developer Costs

The county’s General Plan Update is changing direction as a majority of the Board of Supervisors supports deleting or changing policies that would charge new development for service costs.

A shift in policymaking has been demonstrated with the supervisors’ revisiting of the update’s Infrastructure Element. At a March 11 hearing, most supervisors supported eliminating level of service standards for development and excluding minor subdivisions from a policy that proposes mitigations for the county’s infrastructure costs.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace was the lone dissenter in several non-binding straw votes that supported reduced requirements on new development.

His dissent was most strongly stated when other supervisors supported eliminating a policy on “fair share” cost responsibility. County Planner John Miller described the policy as a call for covering the costs of new infrastructure associated with residential projects.

Developer impact fees are controversial and Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg asked Miller if they’d be the mechanism for the cost coverage. Miller said impact fees are an option, but others include formation of tax assessment districts.

An ad hoc stakeholders group is making recommendations on the update and its review of the Infrastructure Element includes split opinions, often with environmentalists supporting policies and pro-development members lobbying for their elimination.

The ad hoc group’s recommendations for the fair share policy fell along those lines – supervisors were advised to apply the policy to road and drainage infrastructure in one option, and to get rid of it in another.

Lovelace supported retaining it – which supervisors had tentatively agreed to do when the element was reviewed last October. He emphasized that under the policy, new development would only be responsible for paying service costs that directly benefit it.

“If it doesn’t pay that, who does?” Lovelace asked. Answering the question, he said the service costs would be paid for “by the taxpayers, generally.”

But adding costs to residential development has become unpopular and is often associated with lack of affordable housing. Supervisor Estelle Fennell suggested that when people who want to build face mounting costs, they end up not doing anything.

“It all comes down to that feeling you get when people have come before us over and over again and said, ‘We’re just being over-burdened with fees and taxes,’” she said. “And I’ve seen people throw their hands up and say they just can’t move forward because they can’t afford it or it’s too cumbersome.”

She added, “Unless it’s really egregious, I just don’t see putting these extra burdens on people who are trying to make things happen.”

The 4 to 1 vote, with Lovelace dissenting, was one of many seen during the hearing.

Supervisors will continue with their review of the element at a hearing on March 25. More policies and implementation measures on controversial items like impact fees lie ahead.