Don’t extend fee holiday, Planning Commission says

In a 3-2 vote last week, the Planning Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors not approve another planning fee holiday.

“The unfunded part bothers me,” Midlothian Commissioner Reuben J. Waller, Jr., said. “It may look good, sound good, but is it really appropriate?”

The previous fee holiday was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 26, 2009, and ran through June 30, 2010. A total of 26 rezoning applications and 34 site plan applications were filed under the holiday, resulting in $180,942 in waived fees, or “lost” revenue, a staff report says.

At the commission’s Aug. 17 meeting, Clover Hill District Commissioner Russell J. Gulley said the panel has had “quite a bit of discussion” about another temporary reduction in planning fees. It’s the purview of the Board of Supervisors to develop and approve a budget, he said, but he wondered “where is the money to fund this type of holiday.”

Assistant Planning Director Glenn Larson said budgeted revenue not received because of a fee holiday would have to be covered by the general fund.

During a public hearing on the matter, Brennan Keene, an attorney, encouraged the commission to consider a fee holiday that would take in proposals “that are coming close to hitting the mark with the comp plan.” To qualify for the fee holiday that expired June 30, proposals had to be in accordance with the comprehensive plan.

Debi Girvin, of the Chesterfield Business Council, said the CBC urged the panel to recommend a reinstatement of the fee holiday. The CBC also recommended that electronic signs and cell towers not qualify for the holiday, and that the planning director have the ability to extend the fee holiday to projects that don’t meet the comprehensive plan.

Bob Schrum, of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, said the group commended the county and its leaders for letting people know Chesterfield is open for business.

“The proposal you approved last year was a good one,” he said, but it needs some tweaking. Schrum said he knew of several projects that would have come forward during the holiday if they had qualified, but they weren’t in accordance with the comprehensive plan. He also noted that the county’s site plan and rezoning fees are higher than those in surrounding localities.

After the hearing was closed, Gulley said he thought the Board of Supervisors expected the commission to take economic conditions into consideration when making recommendations.

“I’m not sure it is prudent from a financial perspective to give the Board of Supervisors an option that will cost money,” he said.

Matoaca Commissioner F. Wayne Bass said he was really disappointed the “economic development people” hadn’t come to speak to the matter. “This is their part of the game,” he said.

“I have to agree with Mr. Gulley,” he said. “I don’t feel this is the time. This last fee reduction did not generate any more construction than I think we would have had under normal conditions.” He said he would support looking at a comparison of Chesterfield’s fees to those of other localities.

Bermuda Commissioner Sam R. Hassen said he would still advocate a fee reduction for site plan submittals, though he wouldn’t waive the per acre fee.

Waller said he thought Bass said it “very concisely and plainly.”

“This is an economic development issue,” he said, and it would have been appropriate for someone from that department to be at the meeting.  

The county lost nearly $181,000 in fees during the last holiday, he said, but it would be interesting to see what has happened with those cases, what has been built and what’s generating revenue. He said he would support examining the county’s fee structure.

Commission Chairman William “Bill” Brown said it looked like he and Hassen agreed, but it also appeared they were in the minority.

The panel voted 3-2, with Brown and Hassen in dissent, to recommend that the supervisors deny another fee holiday.

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