Sandy Springs aims to boost the impact fees paid by new real-estate developments for the first time in seven years. With the city in the midst of a building boom, that could mean more money for parks, police and streets.

“Our fees have not been updated since 2008,” Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said at the Nov. 3 meeting of the City Council, which directed him to hire a consultant to revise the fee structure. “There is room for growth in our fees without pricing ourselves out of the market.”

Impact fees are intended to offset the increased costs the city pays to support new developments with services like policing or infrastructure like roads and sidewalks. In Sandy Springs, separate fees go to transportation, public safety and parks and recreation, with an amount that may vary depending on the development’s type and size.

The fee must be calculated based on the city’s actual costs—“you can’t just pick a dollar amount,” Tolbert said—so the formula can become complicated. But sample comparisons presented by Tolbert show that Sandy Springs’ fees are generally much lower than those of some neighboring cities.  “I think you’ll see other communities have gotten out ahead of us…We’re a little bit behind,” he said.

The highest total impact fee for a new residential unit in Sandy Springs is about $1,646. That’s higher than Atlanta, at around $1,500. But Milton and Roswell may charge over $4,000 and Alpharetta may charge nearly $6,500.

Sandy Springs currently requires the parks impact fee only on residential units at a rate of $165 per unit. Atlanta charges $246-$410 (only on single-family houses); Roswell charges $318-$713; Milton charges over $3,100; and Alpharetta charges almost $5,000. Alpharetta and Atlanta also subject office and commercial developments to parks impact fees at different rates.

“We’re due for an increase,” said resident Tochie Blad, speaking to the council in support of revising the impact fees. “We’re shy on parks and we’re shy on our parks budget,” she said, adding that higher fees also “might be a way to curb the rampant growth in our city.”

Councilman Andy Bauman said he hopes a higher fee could help to fund new sidewalks and “get the homeowner out of the sidewalk construction business.”

Tolbert will hire a consultant to conduct the complex analysis of city services required to update the impact fee rates. He said that in other communities, such consulting has cost $30,000 to $50,000.

“This will not happen quickly” due to the complexity of the analysis, he said, adding it could take several months. On the other hand, he said, the timing is good because the revised fees parallel the revision of the city’s Comprehensive Plan that sets development standards.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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