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City promises fee change

Landowners in The Dalles will soon not have a fee associated with carving out one or two new lots from their property.

Nor will they be required to sign any agreement that obligates them to pay for future infrastructure improvements when a minor lot partition takes place.

“I just think that is one of the easiest solutions because a partition doesn’t call into play any improvements whatsoever,” said City Councilor Bill Dick at Thursday’s joint meeting with the planning commission.

He said the discussion about development fees should take place when a property owner comes forward with plans for new construction.

The elected and advisory bodies were told by staffers that it would take several months to make these changes official in the city’s land use ordinance.

Dick Gassman, director of the Community Development and Planning Department, said the state Land Conservation and Development Commission had to be notified about the proposed changes. Then, following a mandated 35-day wait, the city had to hold two public hearings before adopting a new code.

“It will probably be one or two months at the earliest to get this adopted,” he said.

Until that process is completed, he said landowners will still have to comply with standards that remain intact after the enactment of House Bill 3479.

He said the new law applies only to residential infill within the city limits so, for the time being, property owners in urban growth areas will still have to prepay for street and utility work.

The council has also requested that staffers make the rules consistent for all properties because those in the urban fringe area will one day be annexed.

Eliminated by the passage of House Bill 3479 are the non-remonstrance agreements that the city previously required with a lot partition.

In order to create a new lot, landowners had to agree not to object if a Local Improvement District was formed to assess properties along their street for improvements.

Nolan Young, city manager, suggested that a deferred development agreement be required but met with strong opposition. That agreement would trigger payment of the $351 per linear foot assessment when a building permit was sought, something that Young said created financial certainty for the city.

“It just acknowledges the fact there is an obligation to bring streets up to urban standards,” he said.

Councilor Carolyn Wood agreed with his suggestion.

“I think it only makes sense to include it because people buying property know there is an obligation,” she said.

Mayor Steve Lawrence said in reply, “A deferred development agreement is a non-remonstrance agreement with another name.”

The majority of councilors and commissioners agreed with his statement.

“I think it detracts from future development,” said Commissioner Jeff Stiles, who believed fees for construction should be levied when the actual plans were brought forward.

Councilor Dick said, “It doesn’t mean (not having agreement in place) that we are going to grant building permits to everyone without collecting for improvements.” Discussion at the July 18 meeting centered on the passage of HB 3479 that changed the way The Dalles does business in regard to lot partitions.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, sponsored the measure that eliminated the city’s ability to require that people prepay into a fund for street and utility upgrades at the time a new lot was created.

In a Thursday interview, Huffman said “every community needs to ask for every decision made, ‘Does this create jobs or does it deter jobs?’ If jobs are not being created then you cannot keep people living and working in that community and it starts to slip backwards.”

The prepaid assessments that were eliminated by HB 3479 ranged from $50,000 to $152,000 on larger lots on the east side of The Dalles.

The measure was approved by large majorities in both the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber out of the belief that these fees were unreasonable.

“We know it was a pretty strong mandate,” said Lawrence, who is advocating for a “broad discussion” of the city’s development standards.

He said referring to a landowner who wanted to build one house as a “developer” set the stage to impose fees that were prohibitive to growth.

Councilors and commissioners agreed that reference needed to be changed in the amended version of the land-use ordinance.

“The discussion we may need to have is our philosophy,” said Lawrence.

He said 90 percent of the people who had purchasedhomes within the core of the city had already had street improvements done so they were not faced with huge costs for that work. Therefore, he said development of areas on the outlying edges of town needed to be done in a way that did not financially harm the landowners or diminish the value of their properties.

Lawrence also asked if roadways on the edges of the city had to be built with curbs and sidewalks, which significantly increased the cost.

“Maybe a rural road should stay a rural road because that’s the way they like it,” he said.

Wood said that she and other landowners might have bought into developed areas of the city but they had also had to pay for some street improvements, such as new sidewalks.

Councilor Linda Miller said the city needed to take a hard look at all of its development fees when the amount of money charged for something as simple as a minor partition had driven citizens to seek help from the legislature.

She gained agreement from both elected and appointed officials that, once the lot partition issue had been dealt with, the city revisit the entire fee structure for developments.

Several of the officials participating in the July 18 meeting said the city had been working on a local solution to the controversial issue of partitions when the legislature intervened.

For example, code amendments had been proposed to stall payments of the $351 linear foot assessment until a development application was sought. The old standard had been to have that fee paid when the property sold or after a 10-year period had passed.

However, Randy Hager, an East 10th Street landowner, said he had been seeking a minor partition since 2006, when the issue of costs began to be debated.

He lives outside the city limits and said that plan was held up by an $80,000 assessment that will remain applicable until the land-use code is updated.

“I’ve been in line and keeping my patience for seven years,” he said.

Morton Street resident Larry Loop told the council that the entire burden for infrastructure improvements should not be placed on the back of landowners.

He said the city owned the street and utility lines and should be responsible for more of the expenses.

“These costs need to be spread out a little,” he said.

Councilor Tim McGlothlin asked Gassman and Young how many people had inquired about a partition but been turned away by the cost for improvements.

Gassman said the situation involving higher fees primary applied to the east side of town, which is more rural with larger lots. He said 10 people from that area of town had actively sought to create one or two new lots on their property since debate on the issue began in 2006. He said none of these applications moved forward due primarily to the cost involved.

Gassman said twice that many people had come into the planning office to inquire about partitions but had not submitted an application after learning what they would have to pay.

“The costs are so high it’s preventing growth and development,” said McGlothlin.

Councilor Dan Spatz said the role of the council should be to encourage residential infill in a way that did not financially burden landowners, but also did not require other citizens to “subsidize” development on the east side of town.

Young said staff and the planning commission would come up with some recommendations for change that would be brought back to the council for review. He compared the debate over lot partitions as a “burr under the saddle” and said dealing with that issue would “calm the horse down” for a discussion of the city’s overall development strategy.

“The planning commission can develop something and we can have another work session,” he said.

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