Permit fees reignite builders’ frustration | SteamboatToday.com

Permit fees reignite builders’ frustration

Council approves water and sewer hikes, real estate purchase

Brandon Gee

— A plan to implement new building permit fees has reignited a prickly relationship between the city of Steamboat Springs and the local building community.

Although Steamboat contracts for building department services with the Routt County Regional Building Department, city employees still participate in the review process and sign off on permits. Officials say the city needs a fee to recoup its own costs.

“The city has never had any fees, yet we’ve done this work for decades,” interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said.

The city fee would be collected on top of county building permit fees for projects within city limits. Creation of the fee was a sticking point in negotiations between the city and county when the two bodies renegotiated their intergovernmental agreement earlier this year.

At a Tuesday meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council, local developers and builders complained they never were consulted about the fee and said it could be detrimental to a local construction economy that already is slowing.

“Here we go again,” John Shively said to council members during public comment.

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Shively, owner of Shively Construction and president of the Yampa Valley Construction Trades Association, also was an opponent of a city decision earlier this year to begin reconciling building-use tax collections as far back as three years ago.

For new commercial construction, the fee presented Tuesday would cost $1 for every $1,000 of a project’s estimated construction valuation. For other types of construction, a flat per-permit fee would be charged. For example, the fees for a single-family residence and interior alterations would cost $1,100 and $195, respectively, regardless of a project’s size or cost. Two weeks ago, when the building-permit fee ordinance was up for its first reading, the proposal was to charge $3.40 for every $1,000 of estimated construction valuation regardless of the project type.

Garrett Simon, a vice president of development with The Atira Group, said such large changes in a short period of time show that the proposed fee deserves more consideration.

“We want to pay our fair share, but we want to know that it is our fair share,” said Simon, who is responsible for Atira’s high-end Edgemont property at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. “To do this at this time when things are slowing down – we just question how that number was selected.”

Bob Weiss, a Steamboat attorney representing the proposed Steamboat 700 master-planned community, said new fees would exacerbate efforts to provide affordable housing.

DuBord and Finance Director Lisa Rolan admitted they did not consult the building trades and developers when developing the fee, citing a need to move quickly.

“We really need to get this in place, early in January, or the general fund will continue to subsidize our review of building permits,” DuBord said.

Revenues from the unapproved fee, about $220,000, were included in a proposed 2009 city budget approved Tuesday.

“I feel very comfortable with what we presented,” Public Works Director Philo Shelton said.

Council tabled the ordinance that would create the permit fee and instructed city staff members to do more public outreach. City officials were scheduled to attend a regular meeting of Yampa Valley Construction Trades Association on Wednesday. The association’s meetings are not open to the public.

“Let’s just move forward from here and try to communicate more fully,” Councilwoman Meg Bentley said.

Also on Tuesday, council approved 50 percent increases in its water and sewer rates, effective next year.

Also approved was the $1.3 million purchase of a 35-acre parcel adjacent to Howelsen Hill and the Yampa River. The parcel, owned by Jay and Jamie Biedenharn, includes a small portion of the public Yampa River Core Trail inadvertently built on the Biedenharns’ private property because of discrepancies between land surveys.

Last year, trail users were detoured from the trail for about 12 hours in an effort by the Biedenharns to prevent losing the property through a legal process known as adverse possession, which stipulates that a private property owner gives up rights to that property if he or she allows the public to use it for 18 consecutive years.

If the sale closes, the city’s plans for the property include an expansion of the Howelsen Hill trail network for recreational use.