By Katie Fallon

After its Dec. 11 work session, the City Council is now poised to vote on an impact fee ordinance that will assess a cost to developers for new growth.

The ordinance will cover monetary payments imposed on developers as a condition of development approval to pay for a proportional share of the cost of the city’s system improvements needed to serve new growth and development. The city’s impact fees will only apply to new development and can not be applied retroactively.

Final adoption of the ordinance is scheduled to occur at the Dec. 18 regular session of the council.

Authorization for implementing an impact fee program comes, in part, through the Capital Improvements Element (CIE) of the Comprehensive Plan. The CIE includes a list of projects eligible for capital funding through an impact fee program. Final approval of the ordinance can only come now after the city officially approved its own Comprehensive Plan at its Nov. 20 regular meeting.

In February, the Impact Fee Advisory Committee (IFAC) began meeting with Deputy Development Director Vann McNeill. The seven-member IFAC team includes Donna Gathers, executive director of the Sandy Springs Business Association, J. David Nickles, Joel Griffin, Bill Gannon, Neal Nodvin, Seth Weissman and Patrick Dennis.

McNeill said one of the first things the IFAC looked at was the impact fee programs of surrounding jurisdictions of Roswell, Alpharetta, City of Atlanta and Cherokee County.

“One of the consistent ideas that the community felt was very important was to ensure that we are consistent with the surrounding jurisdictions of Sandy Springs,” McNeill said. The potential maximum per-unit impact fee the city could charge for single family homes is $11,000. However, the IFAC has recommended a fee between $2,000 and $3,000. For example, a $2,000 impact fee on a single family home costing $500,000 and built on a vacant lot would equate to 0.4 percent of the home’s cost.

Because impact fees address needs due to new development, capital improvements needed to mitigate current deficiencies are not eligible for impact fee funding, according to the city. Transportation projects that do qualify for the application of impact fees are roadway widening, new roads, intersection improvements and sidewalks. The cost of impact fee-eligible improvements is $56,799,307.

The impact fee will not, however, be a new expense for developers in Sandy Springs. Once implemented by the city, it will simply replace a similar fee formerly levied by Fulton County. Since the city incorporated, neither the county nor the city has collected impact fees.

The impact fees would not affect developers who simply tear down an old house to build a new one. Even if square footage is increased, the change is considered a one-for-one replacement and thusly, not an additional burden to the city.

Some members of the council expressed concern about an aggressive impact fee ordinance.

“I don’t want to scare developers out of redevelopment in Sandy Springs,” said District 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins.

Mayor Eva Galambos will now likely make good on a promise she made in her July 11 “State of the City” to the Sandy Springs Business Association when she said impact fees that would require new development to pay for infrastructure improvements to support the growth and development were coming.

Galambos, however, has cautioned that even after months of hard work, the IFAC’s ordinance may not be passed as they intended, even though their specific expertise outweighs the expertise of city council members.

“It is advice and it could get changed,” Galambos said.

Similarly, Community Development Director Nancy Leathers has said the ordinance will not cover all of the costs of the effects of development.

“Impact fees are not the end-all, be-all of financing improvements,” Leathers said.

Before the final vote at the Dec. 18 City Council meeting, residents will have a chance to comment in a final public hearing.

The implementation of impact fees is allowed by virtue of the Development Impact Fee Act, which is designed to ensure an equitable program for planning and financing public facilities, to attribute new growth and development and for new growth and development to pay more than a proportionate share of costs.

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