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Developers' requirements could include school land

October 19, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - While the Washington County Planning Commission on Monday discussed a proposal that would require developers to set aside land for new schools, some officials raised the possibility of increasing a county building fee to deal with rising enrollments.

Planning Director Michael Thompson said county staff probably would consider several options that might help keep schools under capacity, including raising the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (fee) for schools or forcing developers to reserve land for schools within large residential developments.

He said planning officials would discuss what size developments the proposed land requirement would apply to, how many acres of land should be reserved and whether developers could set aside land for schools outside of developments.

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Some Washington County Commissioners and the Board of Education have said growth in the county is driving the need for millions of dollars in school construction and improvements, including new schools, and that the county should act now to keep pace.

Planning Commission Chairman Donald Ardinger and member George Anikis questioned the need for the land requirement proposal, since developers already must pay the APFO fee for schools to build in some areas.

The county's APFO helps ensure schools, roads and other infrastructure is adequate to handle growth.

Developers who want to build in areas where schools are at 85 percent capacity must pay a $7,355 fee per dwelling unit. That money goes toward building schools or additional classrooms, to help make sure schools have enough capacity for growth.

"To make a developer say, 'This is where I want to build an 800-unit development,' and he has to put a school there, then what's the point of (the APFO fee)?" Ardinger asked.

"I don't think we ought to be forcing a developer to put a school site in," Anikis said. "I think that should be an option."

One of the problems with the APFO fee is that only the county can collect the charge from within its own jurisdiction, county officials have said. While they've been asked by the county, municipalities have not yet adopted such a fee.

Ardinger and Anikis said municipalities would have to approve the fee to make the APFO more effective.

"It seems to me there's got to be some way to collect the fee," Anikis said.

To keep schools under capacity, Anikis suggested that municipalities could deny developers building permits unless they pay the APFO fee to the county. That money could then possibly go toward buying land for new schools.

"You can call it blackmail ...," Anikis said.

Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said, if that were the case, then the APFO fee might have to be raised by at least $1,000 per dwelling unit to cover the costs of purchasing property for schools. The fee now just covers the cost of school capacity construction projects, he said.

Planning Commission member Bernard Moser said he thought having a school within the development might make the place more attractive to buyers.

"To me, a school site is going to add value to that ... developer's site," Moser said.

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