LUDS Finally Blooms

February 17, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The third time proved to be a charm for the Land Use and Development Service program.

But 1st Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak felt charisma played less of a role in settling the two-month-old fee dispute than the time-tested collective bargaining process did.

City commissioners unanimously adopted a fee schedule recently for the new LUDS program, something board members had failed to do on two previous attempts.

"This has been a rich process of dialogue," said Mayor George Heartwell, who added that LUDS will improve city services to developers and provide the city with new revenue.

Last month, commissioners rejected a revised schedule that contained fees ranging from 14 percent to 94 percent less than the original schedule presented to them in December. But many of the commissioners felt the fees were still too high.

So the board instructed city staff to meet with the groups that opposed the first two sets of fees, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors, and hammer out an acceptable schedule.

The result of those two meetings leaves the city with enough estimated revenue to cover all wages and benefits for the personnel who would work on LUDS activities, such as doing property inspections, while tax dollars will pay for the program's overhead costs. It's roughly a 50-50 split.

"We have to listen to the business community," said 3rd Ward Commissioner Robert Dean, before he resigned from the commission to seek the Democratic nomination for the 75th District seat in the state House this year.

But instead of hiring two inspectors, the city will likely only add one to the program, along with a part-time clerical worker.

The adopted schedule drops the cost of applications and permits for developers even further from the schedule presented to the commission last month — many by more than 40 percent — but also raises enforcement fees and civil penalties — some by 50 percent.

The city estimates that it will collect $325,000 during the next fiscal year in total revenue from the new LUDS schedule, but that figure is down from the December estimate of $503,275 and the January estimate of $421,210.

For developers, the new fee schedule saves them a collective $178,000 from the original one. For the city, the projected $840,000 LUDS program is now a $655,000 one.

"The chamber sees a value in the LUDS program, and the goal of serving our members at the lowest possible cost has been met with this proposal," wrote Jeanne Englehart, chamber president, in a letter to the city.

"We feel this alternative fee schedule is a comfortable compromise that allows the city to provide a necessary and quality service to developers, while reducing the excessiveness of permit and application fees originally proposed," wrote Lisa Lyons, vice president of government affairs and communications for GRAR and its commercial group.

Heartwell thanked the chamber and Realtors for their assistance in setting the schedule, and 3rd Ward Commissioner James White complimented both for their willingness to work with city staff. But Jendrasiak saw it a bit differently and credited the "collective bargaining process" with bringing the city and business groups together.

"It's a unique process that does work," he said. "Solidarity is good for everyone."

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