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Martinsburg's plan to collect 'fee' on hold

June 29, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The City of Martinsburg's plan to collect a "community development fee" for new business and residential developments is on hold, for now.

Responding to an outcry Thursday night by developers or their representatives, City Council decided to defer the third and final reading of an ordinance that proposes to collect a $3,500 fee for each new housing or dwelling unit and a 35 cents-per-square foot fee for business development.

After the meeting, city Manager Mark Baldwin said city officials would review state code, but reiterated his belief that the municipality had the authority to enact a fee to provide municipal services.

"We're not proposing this as an impact fee," Baldwin said.

City leaders had hoped to use the additional money to help pay for additional city employees, equipment and capital improvements, including a proposed expansion to city hall, a police/fire substation and possibly a parking garage.

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During the public hearing, attorney Richard Gay, who told council members he was representing Toll Brothers, a nationally known luxury home builder, challenged Baldwin's position in a lengthy statement.

"This (proposed) fee came as a real surprise," said Gay before noting his client had spent millions of dollars on a residential project on the city's west side, west of Interstate 81.

Gay challenged whether the ordinance was amending the correct section of city code, arguing it was a planning and zoning matter that required review through the city's planning commission.

Gay also described the fee as a tax under the guise of a development or impact fee, which he said were only allowed to be enacted by county governments in West Virginia, not municipalities.

Tim Shaw, describing himself as a developer with The Gallery subdivision, also west of I-81, asked for city leaders to reconsider the amount of the fee and delay implementation by nine months.

"Everyone is operating on a very thin market," Shaw said of the current housing slump.

Shaw said there were about 1,500 Berkeley County homes on the Multiple Listing Service, up 200 from last month.

Shaw said lot production has been scaled back and prices have been reduced, and he asked city leaders to consider the impact of their fee because Berkeley County does not have one in place.

"In this market, every penny is being looked at," Shaw said.

In prepared remarks provided to the media that he read aloud to City Council, Fred Blackmer of the Eastern Panhandle Home Builders Association questioned the validity of the development fee study used to implement the proposed charges.

"This study and fee are focused only on new residents," Blackmer said. "There is no consideration of creating equal services for both new and old."

"The presumption of fairness in the calculation and implementation of this fee just isn't there," Blackmer later said.

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