Buying a newly built home will mean paying newly instituted fees, city commissioners decided Tuesday.
The city needs $154 million worth of new sewers and water lines over the next 10 years, and buyers of new homes will pick up a larger share of the bill.
During their meeting Tuesday night, Lawrence city commissioners approved, 3-2, the concept of assessing "impact fees" on new development to help defray costs for a torrent of new water and sewer projects through the year 2005.
Because about half of the new water mains, sewer lines and treatment facilities will be needed in growing areas of town, residents of those new areas will have to pay new fees to hook into the existing system.
Lawrence residents past and present already have contributed at least $55 million toward existing water and sewer facilities, and buyers of newly built homes should have to pay an extra price to use them, commissioners decided.
"It at least puts a nod toward a system that is equitable," Commissioner Allen Levine said. "If you're putting a new burden on the system, you pay a little more. Not a lot, a little."
Current proposals would hit buyers of typical new homes in newly developed areas with fees ranging from $725 to $875. The cost on larger homes could go up to $4,480, while water-intensive businesses could pay up to $16,000.
Exact fees will be formulated during the next four months, but Commissioners Levine, Jo Andersen and John Nalbandian all agreed that some form of payments must be made.
"I want this to be fair," said Andersen, who helped develop the proposal. "Every time there is a new home that has new water or sewer service, that's a new burden on the system. That home would buy in."
But not everyone buys into the fee plan.
More than a dozen home builders, developers, business owners and their representatives attended Tuesday's meeting to oppose the fees.
Attorney John Immel predicted that neighborhoods will be pitted against one another based on their investments in public projects. Newer neighborhoods, he said, will feel cheated by having to pay for repairing problems in older neighborhoods.
"We will be charging an admission fee to the city of Lawrence," he said. "We will be charging an initiation fee into the city of Lawrence."
Several people argued that by raising the cost of new homes, the fees also will push up the value of existing homes and rental properties. That, in turn, will reduce affordable housing, slow job growth and attack a building industry that contributed $66 million to the Lawrence economy last year.
"You're creating a snowball that eventually becomes an avalanche," Immel said.
David Reynolds, president of Apple Tree Homes, said it was the public that's being snowed over. Two-thirds of all newly built homes in Lawrence are bought by current Lawrence residents "trading up" to larger or more valuable homes.
Impact fees, therefore, represent a "double whammy" for people moving from an older area of town to a newer one.
"Why are we even considering it?" he said. "It's appalling."
The fees are far from adopted. Commissioners will accept public comment for the next two months, before turning over discussions to a committee of city staffers and Andersen and Commissioner Bonnie Augustine.
- For more on Tuesday's city commission meeting, see page 3B.