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Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 1996

REALTORS HEAR BOTH SIDES ON NEW HOME FEE

February 21, 1996

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The debate about "impact fees" for new houses continued Tuesday.

Two Lawrence city commissioners remain miles apart on a proposal to finance growth-related improvements to the city's water and sewer systems.

During a luncheon Tuesday, Commissioners Bonnie Augustine and Jo Andersen respectfully agreed to disagree before about 75 members and guests of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

The commissioners are working on a plan to charge "impact fees" on new homes in Lawrence to help finance part of the $154 million in water and sewer projects needed in town during the next 10 years.

An estimated $87 million in projects is directly attributable to new development, Andersen said, and that means new homes hooking into the systems should shoulder a larger share of the financial load.

Commissioners approved the concept of establishing such fees -- estimated to tag typical new homes about $875, or water-intensive businesses about $16,000 -- two weeks ago. They agreed to settle on a plan within four months.

"Every time you sell a new house," Andersen told the Realtors, "that increases the need for more services. ... You're adding to the problem."

Augustine, executive vice president of University National Bank, argued that builders of new homes already paid plenty for public improvements, such as local streets, sewer lift stations and street signs.

Asking them to pony up an extra fee for what can be argued is a communitywide benefit is unfair, she said. After all, all water and sewer customers share the same system.

"We live in a community," Augustine said.

Other arguments included:

  • Andersen's that current fees haven't been high enough to maintain water pipes in established areas of town, where "residents have red water running out of their taps because the pipes are so old."
  • Augustine's that the higher fees -- up to $16,000 per water meter for large businesses -- could hamper economic development efforts. "We're going to have some problems attracting new businesses to town."
  • Andersen's that continued fee increases for current residents could trigger a tax revolt. "I don't want to see things shut down."
  • Augustine's that the fees could reduce availability of affordable housing in town.

Ed Grosdidier, an associate broker for McGrew Real Estate, said he feared even further "impact fees" down the road: for police protection, schools, libraries and other services and buildings typically shared by the city as a whole.

"'We're not going to have a community any more' is what they're saying," he said. "They're not going to stop."

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