Albemarle County Planning Commission

October 7, 2008



                  Work Session:


                  Subdivision Fees (Mark Graham)


The Planning Commission held a work session on Subdivision Ordinance fees. 


Mark Graham reviewed the executive summary.  (Attachment – Executive Summary for Community Development Fees – Subdivision Ordinance dated September 3, 2008)


·         This is the first of the fee discussions with the Planning Commission.  In addition to the subdivision ordinance fees, staff will be bringing forward fee discussions with the zoning ordinance at the start of the next calendar year.  Staff has been working with the Board since last year on fees and in trying to set a fee policy.  What they have found is that the County has never established a fee policy as related to development activity.  The last serious discussion that happened prior to December 2007 was in 1991.  What they found in 1991 was that the subject became so complex that everybody walked away from it.  They could not figure out how to resolve it.  He was trying to take each ordinance separately and move it forward.

·         To date they have already done the building regulations and the Water Protection Ordinance.  Both of those ordinances did not require action by the Planning Commission.  However, both the subdivision and zoning ordinances require Planning Commission input and recommendations to be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors.    The executive summary provided was given to the Board of Supervisors back in September.  There is a resolution of intent to move it forward.  Before bringing the ordinance amendment to the Commission, he wanted them to understand what they were doing, why and answer any questions.

·         Staff completed a comprehensive fee study in 2007.  The entire study is 250 pages long, which includes the diagrams and charts that show how they calculated the fees.  Staff held a work session on the fee study with the Board.  One of the recommendations that came from the Board at that time was that staff should look at some of the surrounding counties in addition to the comparable counties.  Based on the direction in April, staff brought forward the building regulations and Water Protection Ordinance.  The Board said that those looked good and asked that they be put into ordinance-amendment language.  That was taken to the Board, approved in August and implemented.   

·         A work session immediately followed on the subdivision fees, which is the executive summary that is before them.  In the subdivision fee consideration, the Board’s direction was that the subdivision fees should be comparable and not equal or necessarily the same to what they see in other localities.  The fees should attempt to recover a significant part of the services.  There was an interest on the Board’s part to see that the fees were recovering as much of the cost as they could while still maintaining fees comparable to other localities.  Everybody agreed that there also needs to be a policy to establish regular updates of the fees.          

·         With respect to future fee adjustments, about 80% to 85% of the cost, depending on the application, was found to be associated with the staff time spent on the application.  When they looked at it staff realized that if they based those on the merit pool, which is the annual increase given to staff, that would closely match the County’s cost and would provide a very accurate annual cost adjustment.  Staff recommended that revisions be done on a bi-annual basis which would be consistent with the policy adopted with the building regulations and Water Protection Ordinance.  

·         With the subdivision fees, staff proposes to recover one-half the cost of the services.  It balances the cost recovery and comparable fees to other localities.  It keeps us in the ballpark as the same as some of those other localities while maximizing the cost recovery.  The fee amount should be adjusted bi-annually based on the annual merit increase, which would be consistent with the building regulations and the Water Protection Ordinance.  Also, the Board requested that consideration of future ordinance changes should include the changes in the proposed cost of service.  They need to look at any resulting changes in the cost of service and whether the fee should be adjusted as a result of that change. 

·         The Board adopted a resolution of intent, which is in the executive summary as attachment D and directed staff to proceed with the Planning Commission public hearing.    If there is an interest in higher fees than proposed, the Commission needs to make a recommendation to the Board to adjust that before going to public hearing before the Board.  The resolution of intent proposes changes to the fees in 14-203.  If there is interest in additional ordinance changes to fees in the resolution of intent, it may be necessary to revise the resolution of intent and hold a second public hearing.  The main purpose of the work session was to give the Commission some background before staff writes the ordinance amendment and brings it forward for a public hearing.


Mr. Morris invited questions from the Commission.


Mr. Strucko asked why staff did not use the consultant’s fee recommendation.


Mr. Graham replied that he found the consultant’s recommendation hard to understand and therefore felt it was appropriate to simplify the fee-calculation process.  From staff’s analysis, it appears the consultant’s recommendation and staff’s recommendation will generate very similar revenues in an average year.  He wanted to keep it simple.


Mr. Morris asked why it was based on 50 percent and not two-thirds or 60 percent.


Mr. Graham replied that he struggled with the parody with other localities.  He was not saying that 50 percent was the magic number.  There is no certain reason why it should be 50 percent except, as shown in attachment C, he was trying to keep it reasonably close to what the other localities have. 


Mr. Edgerton noted that he was confused by the units.


Mr. Cilimberg noted that the units were the number of applications.


Mr. Loach asked if there was any consideration to outsourcing to contractors and then having fee-for-service for them to provide additional services.


Mr. Graham replied that they have tried that especially with some of the positions that they have had a hard time filling such as engineers.  But, it is turning out to be a little more complicated than he hoped.  Therefore, staff wants to go ahead and take this forward. The idea is that they would provide fee-for-service in the future when they get the details worked out.


Ms. Joseph asked if staff has an idea of how often this should be done.


Mr. Graham replied that staff suggests that a detailed review be done every five years with an automatic adjustment every two years based on staff’s cost increase.  Every five to six years they would take another exhaustive look at the fees to see if something significant has changed.  Part of that entails implementing time sheets, which everybody hates.  But it is the only way to track time.


Ms. Porterfield suggested that the fees decided upon should be at 100 percent recovery of the cost of staff time and materials (or in the case of Mr. Loach’s suggestion—outsourcing).  Basically, the fees imposed are a cost of doing business for the applicant. 


There was consensus on the Commission that staff should look at 100 percent cost recovery as well as 75 percent. 


Mr. Graham agreed to bring back the information for fees for 100 percent and 75 percent.  The fees have already been calculated at 50 percent.  That would provide a good range for consideration at the next meeting.


Ms. Joseph asked if staff was coming back to the Commission with ordinance language.


Mr. Graham replied yes for a public hearing.  He noted that the Commission wanted staff to advertise an ordinance amendment at 100 percent and then the Commission can look at whether they want to go someplace else.


Mr. Kamptner said that they need to break out the notification costs.  He asked if the notification costs were now averaged into these estimates.


Mr. Graham replied yes that he would review the spreadsheet to see if the notification costs could be separated.


Ms. Joseph noted that if it was possible to look at numerous revisions to see if it made sense to do that on the roads and maybe anything else that staff has some ideas on.


Mr. Graham replied that he would bring that up.


·         In summary, the Commission discussed the Subdivision Ordinance fees, provided direction to staff as noted below and asked staff to bring the requested information back for further review.  No formal action was taken.


Ø      The Commission asked staff to look at the notice questions to see if they found any other opportunities there.

Ø      Staff requested to look at an ordinance amendment based on 100 percent cost recovery, but also provide information with regard to 75 percent cost recovery. Staff has already done the analysis for 50 percent.  The Commission will be able to look at that information and decide what percentage to recommend. 

Ø      Mr. Loach asked that they have the ability to outsource if they had to—then billing a fee for the service.



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