Frederick County’s Board of County Commissioners are encouraging Frederick city officials to change their planning ordinance in the hopes of raising more money for needed school construction.
The city’s policy, which officials adopted in December, allows developers the option of paying construction fees when schools that feed their planned developments are at 120 percent capacity or higher, instead of waiting three years to build in the city and not pay the fees.
The test for school capacity is done when a site plan is submitted or when a final subdivision plat is given to the planning department. The fees are calculated based on the type of housing and school level, and are paid when subdivision plats are recorded.
The county’s policy requires developers to pay a mitigation fee in all instances in which they are building homes in an area where schools are at least 20 percent over capacity. However, the county policy does not include a waiting period that allows developers to avoid the fee.
The Frederick Board of Aldermen discussed the issue with county Commissioner’s President Blaine Young (R) at a workshop on Oct. 17. Young said that changing the city’s waiting period to five years would make developers more inclined to pay the mitigation fees and less likely to wait.
The proposed change would generate more money for schools to be built in the city, he said.
“If they are purposefully waiting, they won’t,” Young said. “They'll mitigate.”
Alderman Karen Young (D) spoke in favor of the change. A five-year period would dissuade developers from waiting, she said.
“The new normal is we don’t have the funding at the state or local level to fund schools or roads or other infrastructure adequately,” she said. “And the only way we’re going to be able to do it going forward is through creative financing. If there’s something wrong with this, I’m missing it.”
Young asked the aldermen to consider the change as a way of generating more money for building schools the county will need as it continues to grow.
“We need money to build schools,” he said. “The development community supports it. They support paying the mitigation fee.”
Under the city’s law, when builders construct homes that feed an overcrowded elementary school, they must pay fees of $3,870 per single-family home, $4,053 per townhouse and $897 for other types of homes.
In the case of an overcrowded middle school, builders pay $2,530 per single-family home, $1,996 per townhouse and $336 for other housing types. In the area of crowded high schools, builders pay $3,646 per single-family home, $2,584 per townhouse and $420 for other types of housing.
City officials must use the money collected from the fees for school construction or rehabilitation projects.
Alderman Shelley Aloi (R) also spoke in favor of the ordinance change, although other aldermen questioned the proposal.
Alderman Michael O’Connor (D) said the three-year policy might be an incentive for creating development in the city, and that changing it might remove a possible advantage.
Gabrielle Dunn, the city’s manager of current planning, said she had discussed the ordinance with developers, noting that most don’t view the three-year wait as a significant impediment.
“Right now, I don’t see the three years as being that much of a deterrent, really, in the development process,” she said. “That’s my experience in just talking to the development community.”
Bruce N. Dean, a land-use attorney and president of the Frederick County Builder’s Association’s Land Use Council, said he believed a five-year wait would encourage more developers to pay the fee.
“Three years or five years; to answer the question, I would advise my clients to pay the fee and move forward,” he said. “...If it’s five years, they’re probably less likely to argue with me.”
Jeremy Holder, the vice president of residential development for Ausherman Properties, said the difference between waiting three or five years would depend on the project, noting that the timing of development is what makes the most impact.
He and other developers likely would prefer to have a shorter waiting period, but that a five-year period wouldn’t necessarily guarantee faster development, according to Holder.