Albemarle County Planning Commission

January 13, 2009

 

The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a public hearing, meeting and work session on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Lane Auditorium, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

Members attending were Marcia Joseph, Calvin Morris, Bill Edgerton, Linda Porterfield, Thomas Loach and Eric Strucko, Chairman.  Jon Cannon, Vice Chairman was absent.  Julia Monteith, AICP, non-voting representative for the University of Virginia was present. 

 

Other officials present were Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning; David Benish, Chief of Planning; Mark Graham, Director of Community Development; Bill Letteri, Director of Facilities Development; Bill Fritz, Director of Current Development; Eryn Brennan, Senior Planner and Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Attorney. 

 

Call to Order and Establish Quorum:

 

Mr. Strucko called the regular meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. and established a quorum.

 

STA-2008-00002 Subdivision Fees

Amend Sec. 14-203, Fees, of Chapter 14, Subdivision of Land, of the Albemarle County Code.  This ordinance would amend Sec. 14-203 to impose new fees and to increase existing fees charged for almost all listed applications, permits, reviews, approvals, inspections and other services provided by the County in the administration of Chapter 14.  The following fees would be increased: (1) preliminary plats reviewed by commission: (a) 1-9 lots: from $720 to $4100; (b) 10-19 lots: from $1100 to $4350; (c) 20 or more lots: from $1330 to $4650; (2) preliminary plats reviewed by agent: (a) 1-9 lots: from $360 to $2100; (b) 10-19 lots: from $550 to $2100; (c) 20 or more lots: $670 to $2100; (d) 2 lots under section 14-232(B)(2) or lots fronting on existing public street: from $95 to $490; (3) final plats reviewed by commission: (a) 1-9 lots: from $720 to $4200; (b) 10-19 lots: from $1100 to $4430; (c) 20 or more lots: $1330 to $4650; (4) final plats reviewed by agent: (a) 1-9 lots: from $360 to $1950; (b) 10-19 lots: from $550 to $2200; (c) 20 or more lots: $670 to $2450; (d) 2 lots under section 14-232(B)(2) or lots fronting on existing public street: from $95 to $1050; (5) reinstatement of preliminary or final plat review: from $65 to $1000; (6) plat for rural subdivision, family subdivision; resubdivision, or boundary line adjustment: from $95 to $1350; (7) easement plats: from $95 to $950 if no deed, to $1500 with a deed; (8) bonding inspection for a plat: from $50 to $500; (9) groundwater assessment Tier 4: from $1000 to $1500; (10) waiver after preliminary plat approved, before final plat approved: from $180 to $1650; (11) waiver after final plat approved: from $830 to $1650; (12) relief from conditions imposed by commission prior to adoption of chapter 14: from $180 to $770; (13) appeal of plat to board of supervisors: from $240 to $540; and (14) extension of plat approval: from $45 to $240.  The following fees would be added: (1) each review of public road plans, including revisions after approval: $250; (2) each review of private road plans, including revisions after approval: $400; (3) authorization for one or more private streets within subdivision: $1350; (4) waiver of one or more street standards before preliminary plat approved: $1050; (5) waiver of curb and/or gutter requirements before preliminary plat approved: $1050; (6) waiver of street interconnection requirements before preliminary plat approved: $1050; (7) final plat for subdivision without approved preliminary plat: applicable preliminary plat fee plus applicable final plat fee; (8) bond estimate request for subdivision improvements: $500; (9) bonding inspection for bond reduction: $500; groundwater assessment Tier 1: $50; and (10) notices required by section 14-216 and 14-221: $200 for first 50; $1 for each notice beyond 50.  The following fees would be changed but not necessarily increased: (1) groundwater assessment Tier 2: from $250 plus $25 per lot to $330; (2) groundwater assessment Tier 3: from $400 plus $25 per lot to $1300.  The proposed fees and fee increases are necessary to assure that the fees cover the cost to the County to provide those services.  The proposed fee increases are authorized by Virginia Code § 15.2-2241(9).  The full text of the ordinance is available for examination by the public in the offices of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors and in the Department of Community Development, County Office Building, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. (Mark Graham)

 

Mark Graham presented a Power-Point presentation and reviewed the executive summary.  (Attachment – Executive Summary for Community Development Fees – Subdivision Ordinance dated January 13, 2009)

 

This is a follow up work session to one held in October which followed on the September Board of Supervisors work session.  He reviewed the background, as follows:

 

          Community Development Fee Study completed in 2007

          December 2007 - Board work session on Fee Study

         Compare fee recommendations to neighboring localities in addition to the  study’s comparable localities

          April 2008 – Board work session to review proposed fees for Building Regulations and Water Protection Ordinances

          August 2008 – Board adopts new fees for Building Regulations and Water Protection Ordinances

          September 2008 -  Board work session to review proposed fees for Subdivision Ordinance

          October 2008 – Planning Commission work session to review proposed fees for Subdivision Ordinance

 

As part of the Board’s direction on the Subdivision Ordinance to the staff they adopted a resolution of intent and directed staff to work with the Planning Commission to get this to a public hearing. 

·         The public hearing needs to be advertised with the maximum fees to be considered

·         The resolution of intent only considers changes to fees in 14-203.  If additional ordinance changes are proposed with the fee changes, it may be necessary to revise the resolution of intent and hold a second public hearing based on that.

 

From the October, 2008 the Planning Commission’s direction was to do the following:

·         Consider Fees for 100% cost recovery and 75% cost recovery;

·         Consider applicant processed notices or fees for notices that recover the cost; and 

·         Consider outsourcing of plan reviews.

 

As noted in the staff report staff interviewed a number of localities on the notice issue. They found a couple localities that do require the applicants to prepare and submit the notices to the adjoining property owners. However, he noted that both of those localities have found it to be somewhat an inefficient process for them.  It has not provided the benefits that they had hoped.  What they have found is that they get into a lot of questions from neighbors who say they never received notices and the applicant is saying that they did send the notices.  Also, they found that there have been a lot of QC questions where an applicant thinks they have sent all of the notices to the proper property owners and then there is a search to try to figure out whether the applicant actually sent it to the right people.  By the time staff finishes with that they might as well have done the notices themselves. 

 

With respect to the outsourcing, staff talked to a couple localities that do that.  As noted in the staff report there are some issues with that.  That is something after looking and thinking about is something they should really consider at the time they are ready to try that program. Staff feels that there are going to be additional ordinance changes that will probably need to take place with respect to that.  If they go that direction they ought to craft it at the time they are ready to move forward on that.

 

The fees in the attached ordinance were based on that 100% cost recovery using the consultant’s study.  An attachment has been provided at the back of the staff report that compares fees for typical applications.  It looks at the current fees, the staff recommended fees and what that fee would be at 75% cost recovery and 100% cost recovery.  Some of the fees are not a straight multiplier because he had taken out for those applications where notices are required.  That would be the difference there.   In another attachment he compared those fees with respect to other localities both surrounding us and some comparables.  At 100% cost recovery staff found that a number of them, which are bolded, would be the highest they found in Virginia.  The other exception would be that they found that Stafford County had the highest fees in Virginia.   

 

 

Mr. Strucko invited questions from the Commission.

 

Ms. Porterfield asked when the fees were last adjusted.

 

Mr. Graham replied that a fee adjustment was done in 2001, but it was not a comprehensive fee adjustment.  It was just looking at the fees and doing a 25 percent adjustment.  The last comprehensive fee adjustment was either 1991 or 1992.  It has almost been 20 years.

 

Mr. Porterfield noted that the current fees shown are pretty old.

 

Mr. Graham agreed that the current fees are very out of date.

 

Mr. Edgerton asked about what the Board’s direction was on the amounts.

 

Mr. Graham said that when staff presented the fee study in December, 2007 to the Board one of the things they told us was that they had looked at number of similar localities, James City, Stafford County and places like that, one of the things the Board asked staff to do was also to compare the fees to neighboring localities.   That is why when they look at that attachment that staff looked at Charlottesville, Greene County and Fluvanna County.  Staff has used those with the building regulations and the water protection ordinance when they compared fees as well.  So staff is trying to be consistent as far as how they move forward with the other ordinances on these.  He noted that staff ended up recommending 50 percent of what the consultant has said our cost of providing the service is.

 

Mr. Edgerton asked in these tough economic times where is the other 50 percent going to come from.

 

Mr. Graham replied that it would come from tax revenue.  He noted that this would be a sufficient reduction on the amount of tax revenue as compared to the current existing program.

 

Mr. Loach said that with the cost recovery and the data he asked if it has lead staff to any expectations of the number of positions he would be able to put into place as a result in the increased fees.   

 

Mr. Graham replied that they are currently down seven full time positions and one-half time position plus they have shifted two people to other departments.  So effectively they are down 9 ½ people right now.

They could say they could use the additional revenue to justify funding these positions.  The Board may go there. They did that at the time of the Water Protection Ordinance and the Building Regulations and funded two positions.  As a result of that one was an engineering technician and one was a planner.  No sooner than they did that the county found that the revenue situation was even worse than they anticipated.  They had two other people leave and those positions were properly funded.  So in the end they did not end up with any of the additional positions as a result of that.

 

Mr. Loach said essentially if they got additional revenue into the department to hire additional staff those services would actually go back to the same people for the most part who are using those services.

 

Mr. Graham said that was correct.  It could be used to justify funding.  He noted that with the number of applications down these fees are based on the assumption of an “average” year.  If the number of applications drops to 50 percent the number of fees drop to 50 percent.   So they really are not covering those costs even if they thought they were going to.

 

Mr. Strucko noted that the current fee revenue from the staff report is roughly about $145,000.  If they go with staff’s recommendation to 50 percent of cost it moved from $145,000 to $467,000.  If they recover 100 percent of costs it jumps to $790,000.

 

Mr. Graham replied that was correct.

 

Mr. Loach asked if he broke it down on a fee or per hour basis so that there was true cost recovery for the time put in.

 

Mr. Graham replied that they have talked about that, but frankly to get to that level of detail they would have to go to detailed timesheets.  They have not found anybody in their business in Virginia that is doing that.  It is something they could do.  There are some engineering consultant firms that do that.  They could certainly do that and then get it closer to a full cost recovery at that point.

 

Ms. Joseph noted that from several phone calls people are concerned about the cost that has been projected as part of the review process and wondering how valid that was with the consultants. 

 

Mr. Graham replied that he felt it was pretty good.  When they add up all of the potential fee revenue versus the departmental budget it came out around two-thirds if they went to 100 percent cost recovery based on the consultants estimated costs of our services.  That would cover about two-thirds of the departmental budget.  The other third would come from services such as Comprehensive Plan changes, Master Plans and other things that they work on where they don’t have potential fees.  His gut reaction on that is that it is a pretty good average.  Whether it fits really well on each individual fee is another question.  That is where they would have to look at the detailed time sheets.

 

Ms. Joseph asked if the other localities they spoke with are doing 100 percent recovery.

 

Mr. Graham replied that the only one he found who does that with any of their programs is Stafford County.  As a result of that they are looking at fairly sizeable reductions in force right now because the fees dropped and the assumption has always been that they were going to be funded by fees.  Therefore, they are cutting all of their staff.

 

Mr. Morris thanked staff for laying out the figures. 

 

Mr. Graham asked for guidance from the Planning Commission.  Staff is ready to try to move forward to get this to a public hearing.  He has given them the three ranges at 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent.  He asked the Planning Commission to tell him which number they are the most comfortable in moving forward with the idea that would be the maximum fee amount that they would be interested in taking to public hearing. 

 

Mr. Strucko invited public comment.

 

Neil Williamson, of Free Enterprise Forum, said that he had spoken to a number of people about this proposal and had come before the Commission during their work sessions. 

 

·         The Free Enterprise Forum Board of Directors actually met today and discussed this at length.  They strongly oppose this measure moving   forward at this time.  There are a lot of reasons for that opposition including the insignificant changes that have been made at the direction of the Development Review Committee that two members of the Planning Commission sat on.  He described the changes to be made to the Board that was approved last week as “getting a Dixie cup of water in the desert.”  It is a small step and they are hoping that is a first step.  But there is a lot more stream lining that can go on.

·         Other questions have come up with regard to the base line data which has been referenced.  Has the consultant’s report been examined regarding the normalcy of the study period and of the staff productivity level? He was not certain how those numbers were put together.  But he found that any staff when asked would define their 8 hours of work and what they have done the way Parkinson Law dictates that the work expands to fit the time. He was not directing this towards staff. But, it has in every business that he has ever been associated with.

·         Secondarily are these reality based costs.  Roger Ray called him this morning.  He had gotten word of this and was concerned.  He said that a lot of these things are going to cost more to get approved than it costs for him to do it.  One example that another person gave was the 100 percent Planning Commission fee that is on the board for a 20 lot subdivision that is $4650 for that application.  If they estimate by picking a number of $35 an hour it would allow 137 staff hours to review a 20 lot subdivision.  He asked if that is a reasonable number.  He asked how long it takes the engineer to put together that plat.  Those are real questions that he has in digging down to the detail. 

·         Another question that has come up is does the high rate of turn over in Community Development impact the speed of applications.  He would generally say that it probably has to.  He asked if they should be addressing the retention issues.  The public benefit is one of the big keys.  He thought that was why they were getting into this weighing of percentage. Every time a measure is called up and it comes from a preliminary review to a PC review the applicant would be okay if they got an administrative approval.  This organization in this county has made a decision that they would like to take all of those things forward to a Commission review.  The Commission’s staff report in October indicated of the ten localities interviewed ten of them had administrative approval on site plans.  The Commission has decided not to do that.   That is a clear decision and he could understand their reasoning for it.  But who benefits from that decision.  It would be his inclination to suggest the public benefits from an additional review at the Planning Commission level.  But the applicant probably does not get a great benefit out of that should the applicant carry 100 percent of those costs.  Should there perhaps be one cost and whether the Commission calls it up or not it is the one cost. 

·         Finally the last point is the cost complexity that he has talked about before.  He really appreciated about two months ago when they had a church that wanted to put up a shed for their lawnmower and it was a nonconforming use in the rural areas.   Mr. Graham explained that to process that application Albemarle County spent $6,000 to put a shed for a lawnmower behind a church.  He thought that there was more broken here than the fees.  He suggested that they examine more of the Development Review Task Force results and look for streamlining to perhaps help this case.

 

There being no further public comment, Mr. Strucko closed the public comment to bring the matter before the Commission.

 

Ms. Joseph pointed out that they also got an email from Jay Willard.  One of Mr. Willard’s comments had to do with the fact that the expectation is from a community that develops legislation that imposes it upon developers and therefore the community should share in some of the responsibility for paying for some of the review.  She agreed with Mr. Willard in that because the community does place these requirements on the process in that they want them reviewed properly.  Therefore, it does not bother her that they take on some of the responsibility of paying for the review.

 

Mr. Loach noted if there is no commercial development then there is no cost incurred.  As he understands the work done by the planning staff is to protect the health and safety of the public from the effects of development.  Therefore he had no problem with the fees associated with commercial development. But he did have some problem with the family subdivision costs.  He thought that Mr. Williamson brought up a good point that ought to be looked into as far as process improvement through department streamlining to bring those costs down.    He thought that those costs were an obligation that should be borne by the developer.  If in fact the monies from these projects is going back into staff most of the benefit for those additional staff members is also going to be accrued by the developers who are bringing these projects into them.  He asked that the fee for family subdivision be lowered and if the property sold outside the family it should be incurred.  He noted that the times are tough for the taxpayers at this time too and should be taken into consideration.

 

Ms. Porterfield agreed with Mr. Loach that it is the cost of doing business and the cost should be borne by the developer.  The fees should be reasonable.  If the fees are close to 20 year old numbers, then the numbers being looked at are not realistic.  What is shocking everyone is the fact that they are looking at 20 year old numbers and trying to compare them with 2009.  Even if the amounts were updated by 25 percent in 2001 that is still 8 years ago.  She agreed with Mr. Loach that it is tough on the tax payers. In this county they have got to stop having John Doe or whoever that are supporting things for other people and gain no benefit out of.

 

Mr. Morris thought that with development there was an overall benefit to the general public. With these figures it really brought home exactly what he had asked for.  With 75 percent it is a huge fee.  Because of the figures coming out he felt that the 50 percent staff is recommending is more logical.

 

Ms. Porterfield asked if staff is still recommending that. 

 

Mr. Graham replied that he was still recommending 50 percent cost recovery. It is primarily because when they originally submitted the consultant’s study the Board of Supervisors indicated a desire to have fees somewhat comparable to other localities.  When he did that comparison and started trying to come up with fees that are reasonably comparable to other localities that he thought that 50 percent is where he ends up.

 

Ms. Joseph agreed with Mr. Morris that they gain good development through the review and the whole community benefits as a result of that.  There are a lot of extraneous things that go on with reviewing a plan.  There is a lot of work with neighbors and people who are not necessarily going to financially benefit from it.  There is just a lot going on that makes it complex when reviewing something.  She did not mind paying for part of the review in her taxes because it keeps people honest.  Staff is not only working for the developers but the community.

 

Mr. Loach recommended cost recovery on the basis of what ever it costs.  He was a programmer in a cost recover department.  They wrote programs for departments within the University. Those programs that they wrote benefited the entire University.  The department that wanted the programs is the department that paid for the program.  There was a more careful oversight of the project. If Mr. Williamson’s request is that he wants to watch the pennies that people are spending to get these through then that is the best way to do it. They would know what the project entailed, who worked on the project, how many hours of each expertise went into that project and then there is not much question.  He felt that it was a more honest way of doing things. 

 

Mr. Strucko supported staff’s recommendation for cost recovery for 50 percent of the cost. 

 

Mr. Edgerton suggested cost recovery at 75 percent of the cost.

 

Ms. Porterfield noted that this would be the maximum amount to advertise.

 

Mr. Graham agreed that it was the maximum amount. If the Commission wanted to go down they could, but they could not go up.

 

Mr. Morris and Ms. Joseph supported cost recovery at 50 percent.

 

Mr. Kamptner noted that the consensus of the Commission on the percentage of cost recovery was just to provide guidance as to what they should advertise.  A formal vote was not necessary.

 

Mr. Strucko noted that Ms. Porterfield had suggested 75 percent which left it open after a public hearing in making a determination and recommendation to the Board of something lower.  They just can’t go above it without another advertised public hearing.

 

Ms. Porterfield asked that something be put in the ordinance to give staff the ability to adjust the fees without having to come back.

 

Mr. Kamptner pointed out that it has to be done by ordinance and can’t be tied to the cost of living.

 

Mr. Graham pointed out that once they agree the second bullet is what they have already done with the Water Protection Ordinance and Building Regulations Plans to allow the bi annual review by using the cost of living of staff to adjust fee adjustments.  Therefore, they won’t be in the same position again.

 

Mr. Kamptner noted that it would be a very simple process.

 

Ms. Porterfield suggested it state “plus postage” so that the postage is in addition to the staff cost.  The cost of postage is increasing.

 

Mr. Graham pointed out that when he came up with the estimate he included the cost for preparing the notice and the postage with creating the first 50 notices.  Then for each additional notice above that it would be $1.00 extra.  For most subdivisions that is not a factor, but there have been some rare instances like Glen Oaks that 900 notices were sent out.  It can be a significant amount of postage in rare instances.

 

Mr. Strucko noted that the advertising would cover fees that are 75 percent of the cost figures.  That is the ceiling that when this comes before the Commission for a public hearing they can consider fees that are lower. 

 

Mr. Kamptner said that there was a comment made by Mr. Williamson that tie into attachment 2, which is the study of other localities, regarding the administrative review versus Commission review and the disparity in the fee.  Apparently they are a fairly unique locality to the extent of Planning Commission review.  There is a discrepancy and a fairly significant difference in the fee between administrative review and review by the Commission when an item is called up.  For example, in looking at a 5 lot subdivision for an administrative approval at 75 percent cost recovery it is a $1,575 fee.   If a neighbor calls it up and asks the Commission to review it that fee almost doubles. 

 

Mr. Graham asked who should bear that cost.

 

Ms. Kamptner said that Mr. Williamson’s point was that once it goes to the Commission there is a public involvement.

 

Mr. Loach asked to see the data that shows the differential in these costs and how they are incurred.

 

Ms. Joseph pointed out that when it goes to the Planning Commission there is usually a waiver request.  Therefore, it is two different scenarios they are dealing with a waiver or modification that has to come before the Commission.  She assumed there was more review time on that. 

 

Mr. Graham said that the other thing that was noted when they were doing this is that typically the projects that get called to the Commission are the more complex projects.  The simple projects don’t have the issues or questions.  The additional costs come from the preparation of the staff report and the complexity of those projects.

 

Mr. Graham said that they will advertise with a separate rate for the Planning Commission just to follow up on Mr. Kamptner’s question as proposed in the table and in the ordinance right now.

 

Mr. Strucko replied yes, that it was agreed to by the Planning Commission.

 

In summary, the Commission recommended that staff proceed to a public hearing with a Subdivision Text Amendment incorporating their recommendations, as follows: 

 

It was the general consensus of the Planning Commission by a vote of (4:2) (Morris and Joseph voted nay) to direct staff to proceed to public hearing with the maximum fee cost recovery for Subdivision Ordinance fees of 75 percent cost recovery.  That is the ceiling and when this comes before the Commission for public hearing it could be lower. 

 

In addition, the Commission asked staff to advertise with a separate rate for the Planning Commission review as proposed in the table and in the ordinance right now.

 

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