LUDS Fees Are Duds

December 19, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — One of the first actions city commissioners are likely to take next year is to raise the enforcement fees associated with the city’s land-use ordinance.

But whether commissioners will also hike the related fees for applications and permits is another matter that may or may not be decided when the board takes up what has almost become a contentious issue again on Jan. 10.

After approving a new Land Use and Development Services (LUDS) program earlier this month and hosting a hearing on the program a few weeks earlier, commissioners decided to table taking any action on ratifying the fees despite strong pleas from city staff members to do just that.

“The fee schedule just supports direct personnel costs and not anything else,” said Victor Vasquez Jr., assistant city manager for planning and community services, who added that city taxpayers have been subsidizing the cost of its land-use services for a long time.

Vasquez told commissioners that the new fees and the increases on old ones would raise about $115,000 a year, money the city would use to hire two inspectors who would spend almost all their time in the field checking to see if developments were properly following stormwater management and soil erosion regulations. He explained that the higher fees amounted to two-tenths of one cent of every dollar.

But several commissioners weren’t ready to sign on the program’s dotted line.

“I don’t think you’ve come before us and given us a good enough rationale to pass this,” said 2nd Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala, who expressed concern that the application and permit fees might drive developments to the suburbs.

Tormala added that adopting the enforcement fees alone would rid the city of its biggest problem, namely following up on citizen complaints about developments.

“This thing isn’t fully baked yet. Take it back and bring it back to us,” he said.

Commissioners Lynn Rabaut and Robert Dean told Vasquez that they expected to see a different fee schedule following the public hearing that was held in November.

“Are we pricing ourselves out of the market?” asked Dean.

“From my perspective the answer to that is ‘no,’” answered Vasquez.

The proposed enforcement fees range from $200 for a re-inspection to $500 for a corrective order, hearing, or case preparation. Sixteen application fees run from $150 to $1,500 depending on the size of the property and the type of development. Nine suggested permit fees start at $150 and end at $3,000 based on the type of permit needed.

City Project Manager Randy Lemoine told commissioners that the developers he works with on a regular basis weren’t opposing the fee schedule and that the opposition to it was coming from Realtors. Developers have told city staffers that some companies get away with submitting low bids for projects in the private sector because these firms don’t intend to manage stormwater and soil erosion within the city’s guidelines.

“We have to have people out there to catch infractions before we can have enforcement,” said Lemoine, who added that the city has only one person currently doing inspections.

Vasquez said the fee schedule would require developers to carry a greater share of the cost burden, but would reduce the amount taxpayers bear. He also emphasized that only the personnel costs associated with LUDS, which does not affect city building codes, would be covered by the new fee schedule.

“I haven’t heard from any developers that this is bad,” said 1st Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak, “only from the Realtors — and why weren’t they at the public hearing?”    

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