Development fees: where, how used?

Increasing development fees appears to be one idea coming out of the county’s comprehensive plan currently under consideration.

At a meeting last week, Nora Bland of Cushing Terrell, the firm hired to draft a comprehensive plan, told Chaffee County Housing Policy Advisory Committee members that housing is the county’s No. 1 issue.

From information gathered, Ms. Bland said local residents reported a lack of housing diversity and a lack of multifamily housing, such as apartments and duplexes, were part of the problem.

She noted that a county survey found 26 percent of 111 responses stated they do not support a dedicated housing tax and that the same number of respondents supported development impact fees.

As noted previously in this space, higher fees of almost any sort, whether sewer and water, building permits or, in this case, development fees, all drive housing costs higher.

With average home sales now approaching $500,000, putting development fees on top of existing fees will drive home prices just that much higher, resulting in higher prices for all housing.

It’s important to understand that raising costs on one element of housing has an impact throughout housing markets. That is, raising costs for homes built or purchased in the county will see a related market impact on homes in municipalities.

If the county does include adding development fees in its comp plan, as appears likely, how would these fees be used to mitigate the county’s No. 1 issue?

Would fees simply go to the general fund or would they be dedicated to developing apartments and duplexes in the county? Or would fees go toward similar projects in municipalities?

Noting how such fees would be applied should be a part of the discussion and, ultimately, part of a completed comprehensive plan.

Tongue in cheek?

Did County Commissioner Keith Baker have tongue firmly in cheek when he talked about large trophy homes built in rural or national forest areas at last week’s housing/comp plan meeting?

“We don’t want 12,000-square-foot trophy houses up against national forest areas,” he said. “We need to encourage small, modular homes, so people can have their 800-square-foot retreat. Nobody is saying you can’t have a house up there, but a 12,000-square-foot home that is only lived in three weeks out of the year, with a heated driveway and all that, it isn’t what the county is about. We don’t want this ... they can go to Big Sky, Montana, and hobnob with Hollywood producers there.”

OK, so we’re going to have rural subdivisions in forested areas with 2-acre lots – in all likelihood soon to be 5-acre or larger minimum-size lots – and the county is going to “encourage” 800-square-foot modulars on $300,000-$500,000 building tracts?

If 800-square-foot modulars are to be the norm on the county’s choicest prime land, why not “encourage” similar structures on all rural county property, or in municipalities for that matter?

Presuming Mr. Baker “just got carried away” with hyperbole in the discussion, his comments are nonetheless disturbing. They display a lack of respect for individual and private property rights from an elected official who, regarding the comp plan, is expected to consider information presented before making an informed vote.

Otherwise, why bother with studies, surveys, meetings and hiring firms to prepare comp plan drafts? Save time; save money: Just write the plan and be sure to note that anyone wanting anything more than an 800-square-foot modular should go to Montana.

— MJB