Council set on raising fees for developments

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— In a move that council members believe will help put a stop to the city's subsidization of growth, the City Council voted unanimously on first reading Tuesday night to increase planning fees by many times their current rate.
With expectations of a "roomful of angry developers" when the ordinance comes up for a second reading, council members sent what they think is a strong message that the city is not willing to use taxpayer dollars to support development.
"This is not a change as much as it's an acknowledgement of a lack of change," said Council President Kevin Bennett.
According to Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg, the new fee structure would bring in an estimated $334,265 a year.
The city planning department has taken in about $75,000 a year from planning fees in the past few years, which falls far short of covering the costs of processing development permits.
Because taxpayer dollars finance the salaries and expenses of planning personnel, the taxpayers must pay for what Schulenberg believes are the interests of a select few.
"We have been subsidizing growth and it's painful to say that but it's true," said Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner.
Applicants for development permits, however, would not likely sympathize with the council's pain.
Developers will likely incur costs in excess of $3,500 to process a major development permit, when in the past they would pay only a few hundred dollars for the same service.
A conceptual review, which now costs developers $175, would cost them $2,375 if the new fees are adopted.
Of the three options Schulenberg presented to council Tuesday, the group chose the most costly one.
Councilman Ken Brenner pushed for an even more aggressive plan, hoping to recoup a higher percentage of the costs assessed by the planning department. The planning department's budget also includes such long-term projects as the Community Development Code and the West of Steamboat Area Plan, which council members also hoped could be financed outside of the city's general fund.
The proposed plan would recoup about 43 percent of the planning department's budget, Schulenberg said. ++The planning department's budget for 2001 came to $807,671, an increase of more than 7 percent over this year.
Schulenberg offered the recent approval of the Christie Club time extension as a case study of the current inadequacy of planning fees. Schulenberg herself, who makes about $40 an hour as planning director, spent almost 40 hours working on the project. The cost of her salary alone would constitute a $1,600 fee.
But the planning department, after going through the whole process, came out with only $384.
"It's substantial, I just have to caution you," Schulenberg said of the plan. "It's substantial yet it's realistic."

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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