Developers in Anne Arundel County are protesting a proposal by County Executive Janet S. Owens to raise residential and commercial subdivision fees more than sixfold in some cases, increases that could boost the purchase price of a new house by thousands of dollars.
The increase, which needs the approval of the County Council, would make Anne Arundel one of the more expensive jurisdictions in the Baltimore region in which to construct homes and commercial projects.
The proposed fees - $30,150 total for a 25-acre residential subdivision and $42,950 total for a 50-acre commercial subdivision - would be more than double those in Howard and Baltimore counties, according to the Anne Arundel budget office.
"What we are trying to do is more adequately recapture our costs," county budget officer John R. Hammond said yesterday.
The revenue proposal, part of the fiscal 2004 budget package, was made as Anne Arundel officials struggle to identify new ways to lower the cost of homeownership for residents. The median price for a single-family house in the county is high, $398,500 according to Meyers Real Estate Information Inc., which based that figure on year-to-date sales.
"This could add another $20,000 to the price of a new house," said Susan Stroud Davies, co-director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, referring to the combined effect of the proposed increases in fees, which also include inspections, building and grading permits, and water and sewer hookups.
She said it raises the question: "Why are we doing work force housing studies."
Brenda Desjardins, chairwoman of the county's work force housing committee, said members of her group are upset by the proposal. "They are calling me and saying, `Why are we doing this?' " Desjardins said. "They are frustrated."
Robert Walker, the county's land-use and environment officer, said it is "premature to assess how these fees will impact ... housing initiatives." It is most important to update the fees, which were last reviewed in 1991, he said.
Builders and developers were set to discuss their concerns about the proposed fee increases at a budget hearing before the County Council last night.
As they awaited their turn in the commons of Arundel Center in Annapolis, Michael DeStefano, president of Sturbridge Homes Inc. of Gambrills, said, "I think it's a rip-off. Only in government can they deliver a bad product and increase the cost by 650 percent."
Karen McJunkin, vice president of McLean, Va.-based Elm Street Development and president of the county chapter of the Home Builders Association, said members understand the need to reflect inflation in local fees. But many builders were shocked at the extent of the proposed increase, she said.
"Anything that goes up based on the Consumer Price Index, we are in full support of," she said.
McJunkin said that for every additional dollar assessed through fees, the price of a new house increases by $1.25. She said that those with the least money to spend on a new house could be hit hardest. Lending institutions base home loans on individual or family income.
As proposed by the county, total review cost for a 25-acre residential subdivision could increase from $4,526, to $30,150. In Howard and Baltimore counties, developers pay about $11,000 and $16,000, respectively, to process similar subdivision plans.
Commercial subdivision fees could also increase. Total review costs for a 50-acre commercial subdivision could increase from $18,776 to $42,950. In Howard and Baltimore counties, it costs developers about $16,000 and $21,000, respectively, to process similar plans.
Hammond said he could not explain why Howard and Baltimore counties assess smaller subdivision fees. He said those counties might not be recouping the full cost of processing subdivision permits.
The proposed subdivision fee increases could increase county revenues by about $1 million annually. Other proposed fee increases, including those for grading and building permits, could bring in an additional $1.3 million annually. Grading fees could be increased again in future budget years, according to a fee survey by Hammond's staff.