Sunday, June 19, 2011

Impact Fees for Dunwoody?

Dunwoody City Council is considering adding new impact fees for those choosing to develop new land uses in the city.  Impact fees, if approved by council, would be assessed mainly to residential and commercial developers.  These fees could be used for roads, additional public safety projects, parks, and stormwater systems. Impact fees are a common way for government agencies to generate revenue to fund projects that would be needed due to the new land uses.

Certain changes in land use will require additional resources from the city.  New apartment buildings planned for the PCID (Perimeter Mall area) are an example of why the city needs impact fees. The Perimeter Center Community Improvement District (PCID) recently completed a study, giving great details of its future.  The plan includes projections for new office and retail space, new apartments, and many other items.  The plan is quite interesting so look for it on the website.  Of interest to local homeowners will be the staggering amount of rental apartment demand projected for the area.  Keep in mind the PCID study covers the entire PCID area, part of which is Dunwoody with the other part being in Sandy Springs.

The PCID plan suggests the demand for another 5000 apartments within ten years.  But looking out 25 years, the plan suggests a total demand of 17,495 new rental apartments.  Do you think our city will be ‘impacted’ by perhaps 50% or more of 17,495 apartments?  In regards to future growth, the PCID document states as a goal, “to integrate transit and have vibrant Transit Villages at each of the MARTA stations with mixed-income housing”. Sounds like something I’d take a pass on.

Unfortunately, apartment builders (and home builders) cannot be assessed impact fees to build schools.  The PCID document in discussion fails to address school capacity and does not mention schools, but does call for “civic realm with art works”. I’m sure the parents of Dunwoody school kids spending eight hours a day in an old rental trailer will be thankful the PCID is planning on art works throughout the PCID. To be fair to the PCID, they don’t control schools.  The goal of the PCID is to increase everything (office space, density, population, retail, etc.), not to build schools.  But is the PCID communicating with the school system?  Until a last-minute change, the school system did not have any plans for new schools in Dunwoody.  If the PCID truly is interested in being a partner with the rest of Dunwoody, perhaps they can form a committee to coordinate with the DeKalb School System, or perhaps form a PCID charter school.
Can the city create impact fees that promote smart growth while protecting quality of life for city residents?  The city could require green space be included in new land use plans.  Many city residents are actively involved in a debate regarding the parks plan for our city.  If some feel green space is in short demand now, what’s the impact of 8,000 or 9,000 new apartments going to have on our limited parks?  

Would it be appropriate to use impact fees to aid in building a new police station?  Crime increases with density so I think impact fees for public safety are appropriate.  With more apartments (and businesses) you have more impervious surfaces and increased stormwater runoff.  Stormwater infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain.  Impact fees can be used to offset these costs. One of the city’s biggest liabilities is rarely mentioned; it’s our stormwater system.  

Impact fees for single-family homes?  Obviously a single-family home has less of an impact on city services and infrastructure than does an apartment building or condo complex.  I suggest city council look to provide waivers for single-family homes, with some limits.  

Would a business choose not to relocate or not build here because of impact fees?  Excessive fees, yes. Fees on par with Sandy Springs and Roswell, no.  As the city and PCID seek new businesses to relocate here, the city should expect some new residents to follow.  Council needs to act now and establish an impact fee schedule that does not hamper business growth yet will provide revenue (and perhaps green space) once the developers start breaking ground for thousands more apartments in the PCID.  I hope city council does not allow the PCID to be the tail wagging the dog; the dog being the City of Dunwoody.

At last week's council meeting, the agenda was long, as usual.  The 'impact fee' issue was kicked to the curb.  Will someone on council insists on bringing the issue back to the table, or will non-elected staff members run the show? Did the PCID, who was present for last week's meeting, pressure city staff to pull impact fees from discussion for the rest of the year?  Hopefully someone on council will insist this issue be discussed and implemented, regardless of its affect on 'Kingdom Building'.

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