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Archive for Wednesday, June 19, 1996

CITY OKS FEE FOR NEW DEVELOPMENT

June 19, 1996

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Hooking new lines onto the city's water and sewer systems will cost more beginning Jan. 1.

It will cost more to build a new house, business or industrial plant in the city next year, Lawrence city commissioners decided Tuesday night.

On a split 3-2 vote, commissioners agreed in principle to assess impact fees on all new construction beginning next year. The fees will raise money to help pay for improvements to the water and sewer systems caused by the city's burgeoning growth.

While commissioners had cast identical votes on the issue four months ago, Tuesday's meeting to discuss the ordinance's specific wording drew more than 75 opponents of the fees, many of them home builders, business leaders, contractors and developers.

In the end, their arguments -- that the fees would pit new neighborhoods against old; drive up prices for all homes, not just new ones; and drive away jobs by stifling economic development, which in turn would cause all taxes to increase -- couldn't turn the tide.

Instead, the buyer of a typical new home will face an extra $239 in fees to hook onto city water and sewer lines. By 1999, the one-time fee for a new home will increase to $725. Businesses and industrial customers will pay more.

In all, the fees will crank up an estimated $200,000 next year, and another $600,000 per year by 1999. The money will go toward defraying the $154 million in water and sewer projects the city has identified as necessary for the next 10 years.

In turn, the fees also could reduce future water and sewer rate increases by half. A rate study calls for a $1.80 monthly increase next year on a typical residential water and sewer bill; that would fall to an estimated 90-cent increase with the new fees.

"This is a drop in the bucket of what's going to be needed in the future," said Mike Rundle, a former commissioner who is president of the Old West Lawrence Assn., which voted to support the fees. "We think this is a good first step."

Commissioners Jo Andersen, Allen Levine and Mayor John Nalbandian voted in favor of the impact fees, called "system development charges" by city officials. Commissioners Bonnie Augustine and Bob Moody were opposed.

Moody said he feared that the fees would push development into rural areas surrounding Lawrence, where restrictions are more lax and future infrastructure upgrades more expensive.

Besides, he said, new water and sewer projects traditionally have been paid for equally by all city residents.

"Somewhere along the line we have lost our community conscience," he said. "It's become a `we' versus `them,' instead of an `us.' That concerns me greatly."

It sure concerns Ernest Angino, a former mayor who said the fees would add $6,400 to the price of a new home over the course of a 30-year mortgage.

And that's not all, he said. Commissioners soon could decide to charge new development for even more growth-related services, such as parks, schools or anything else.

"All you've done is open the door, and the camel's nose is underneath the flap of the tent," he said. "You are opening a floodgate."

An ordinance codifying the fees must be approved twice by the commission before it becomes law. The fees would go into effect for building permits issued Jan. 1 or thereafter.

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