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W.Va. developers seeking fee break

July 06, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Charles Town City Council members decided Tuesday night not to act on a request by developers of the Huntfield project to give them a break of about $6 million on school impact fees.

After hearing concerns from local residents that taxes could increase from the proposal and that the city needs to be "pro-kid," City Council members unanimously agreed that the Jefferson County Commission should decide whether Huntfield developers should get the break on the fees.

Developers building the 3,200-home Huntfield development about a mile south of the downtown area along U.S. 340 are looking for a nearly $6 million break in school impact fees for an 821-unit senior living component of the development.

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School impact fees are paid by developers to help offset the cost of new school facilities required because of population growth. Developers have to pay a fee of $7,279 for every single-family home constructed.

Huntfield developers believe they are entitled to an exemption from the school impact fee for the senior living community because it will not generate any children who will attend local schools.

The people who will live in the senior living community of Huntfield must be at least 55 years old and will not be allowed to have any children living with them, the developers have said.

Huntfield representatives brought their request to the city council since Huntfield is in the city and since the city and Huntfield agreed to a proffer agreement that controls collection of impact fees in Huntfield.

Jefferson County Schools officials and local residents spoke against giving the break during Tuesday's meeting.

Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley complained that the school system had no notification of Huntfield's request and said the school system needs to have a chance to examine it.

Stilley and others asked how the restrictions on who will live in the proposed Four Seasons at Huntfield would be enforced.

"Many questions remain unanswered," Stilley said.

Other speakers said they are worried school operation costs would be passed onto city residents if the fee break is given or that taxes will increase.

Charles Town resident Greg Cobb said he was "appalled" that such a request was made.

"I urge you not to do pro-developer here, but to go pro-kid," Cobb said.

Jim Duszynski, chief executive officer of Greenvest L.C., the Vienna, Va.-based company that is developing Huntfield, said the request was not being made as a favor, for convenience or to make the company more money.

Duszynski said Greenvest is entitled to the break on impact fees because of an impact fee agreement between the city and the developers that says the fees Greenvest pays will be designed "to offset its proportionate share of capital improvements" to local schools.

Duszynski said opponents are saying, "we don't care. Make them pay. It's not what our agreement said," Duszynski said.

Challenge a sure thing


Mayor Peggy Smith said no matter what decision it made on the fee break request, it will be challenged. Therefore Smith asked for an opinion from attorney Hoy Shingleton, who is representing the city.

Shingleton said the reference to Greenvest paying a "proportionate share" of school costs is important for council members to keep in mind. Shingleton also said it is a confusing issue because the Jefferson County Commission - which passed impact fees - recognizes the city's ability to collect impact fees through proffer agreements with developers.

But the city is collecting fees for a county impact fee system, Shingleton said.

Shingleton recommended that the city council send Greenvest's request to the county commission for consideration. The council supported Shingleton's recommendation and agreed to have Shingleton write up a formal request to be sent to the commission for them to review.

Commission member Dale Manuel, who spoke against Greenvest's request at Tuesday's meeting, said afterward that he is ready to debate the issue. Manuel said he did not know how the rest of the commission might feel about the issue.

In a telephone interview earlier in the day, County Commission President Rusty Morgan said he believes any exemptions to the school impact fee are a matter for the commission to decide.

Morgan said there is a lot of opposition to the request.

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