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Action delayed on plan to create formula for school-mitigation contributions levied on developers

August 06, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Attorney Scott Miller talks about the Alternate Mitigation Contribution during a public hearing Tuesday with the Washington County Board of Commissioners.
By Ric Dugan/ Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — After hearing several speakers express concerns during a public hearing Tuesday, the Washington County Board of Commissioners delayed action on a proposal to establish a formula for school-mitigation contributions levied on developers.

Speakers said adding such a calculation to the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, or APFO, is a positive step, but three of the five urged the board to make sure the formula is “fair and equitable.”

“I think the formula approach is good because it’s predictable. It’s easily applied. It works across all size projects ... it makes the process more efficient,” said local attorney Jason Divelbiss, who has negotiated several school-mitigation proposals.

Currently, the five commissioners do not have a set formula for determining what developers should pay when a project is expected to put student populations over their schools’ rated capacities.

The proposed amendment, called an Alternate Mitigation Contribution, is being considered to allow development to proceed when schools are over capacity by charging a cost under a formula developed by county officials.

Stephen Goodrich, director of planning and zoning, stressed that the mitigation formula only would be used if a development is projected to put a school at or over capacity — deemed 90 percent for elementary schools or 100 percent for middle and high schools.

The fee would be applicable up to 120 percent of rated capacity, according to Goodrich. Anything above that would need to be evaluated and negotiated on a case-by-case basis, as the commissioners have handled mitigation proposals in the past, he said.

Given a consensus to move forward last month, county officials have developed a mitigation formula that considers the cost of a school seat, life expectancy of a school building, pupil generation rates provided by the school board, the number of years students spend at each level of school and the number of units contained within a proposed development.

The proposed formula would charge developers between $1,600 and $3,000 per unit, depending on the type of development, officials have said. In the past, the average per-unit cost was about $6,800.

Several speakers questioned how each element of the equation is calculated, and variables that should be in play.

As proposed, the mitigation contribution would be calculated considering all three school levels being over capacity, even if only one were pushed over capacity, which raised concerns for Divelbiss and Scott Miller, an attorney representing a local developer.

Among other issues, Divelbiss suggested charging the mitigation fee at the time a developer applies for a building permit, rather than when preliminary site plans are submitted, because it is closer to the project’s actual construction phase.

“I do appreciate that you guys are attempting to tackle this issue, because it is needed,” Divelbiss told the commissioners.

After nearly an hour of discussion, Commissioner William B. McKinley suggested not to take action on the proposed changes Tuesday. Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham agreed.

McKinley said he would like to see an opinion from the Washington County Planning Commission prior to making a decision.

The issue is tentatively slated to be back before the commissioners Aug. 20.

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