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House OKs charge limiting bill

The Oregon House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday to limit the amount of money The Dalles can charge for a lot partition.

House Bill 3479-4 was approved by a 46-10 margin and sponsored by Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles. He believes most of the elected officials who weighed in against the measure did not fully understand how it would work so they feared that it would impede their ability to make street improvements.

“I believe once they get the facts of the bill, they will see that it does not affect anything they have been doing and will not negatively affect their ability to assess and collect development assessments in the future,” he said.

Huffman plans to engage in conversation with his peers from Eugene, Gladstone, Coos Bay and other dissenting communities within the next couple of weeks. He said the bill that caps the fee for carving a second lot out of a piece of property will now go to the Senate for consideration.

“Right now I don’t see any problems with it passing,” said Huffman. “HB 3479-4 found a lot of sympathetic ears in the Oregon House. The Land Use Committee members were in disbelief when they heard testimony from The Dalles residents about the amount of assessments being levied for the partition of a lot.”

Under HB 3479-4, the maximum that could be charged for minor property divisions is $5,000, and that amount does not have to be paid until a development application is sought. The bill also stops The Dalles from requiring that property owners sign a “nonremonstrance agreement” when they partition a lot. That agreement strips away their right to oppose an LID but the author of the bill, Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of Oregonians in Action, contends that it might be years before the district is formed and the cost for improvements might have skyrocketed by them.

“I understand that the city needs to pay for infrastructure but we all need to work together to figure out a proper and affordable way to reach that goal,” said Huffman following Thursday’s vote.

Currently, the city imposes a $351 per linear foot (according to the city’s most recent estimate) assessment on the street frontage of properties where a second lot is being created. The final cost to landowners of large tracts on the eastern edge of town has ranged from $52,000 to $150,000, which led a group of these individuals to appeal for help from Huffman and Hunnicutt.

Gene Parker, city attorney, said during an interview last week that the charge was a pre-payment on the cost of improving streets, sidewalks, curbs and storm drains to accommodate population growth. He disagreed with Hunnicutt’s assertion that The Dalles has higher fees than elsewhere in the state. He said the difference between the local municipality and others is that the bill for street improvements is imposed as soon as the lot is created instead of when development occurs.

“The assessment is based on what it would cost to buy materials and the labor involved in making improvements,” he said.

Linear assessments will be one of the subjects of discussion at Monday’s town hall meeting hosted by the city council. The public forum at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center, 1112 West Ninth Street, starts at 5:30 p.m. and includes a conversation on the formation of Local Improvement Districts to pay for street improvements.

Hunnicutt said an LID is the proper way for the city to impose assessments for infrastructure upgrades.

He said The Dalles officials are required by their own code to go through a specific process to levy additional taxes for street work, which is not being followed when fees are tied to a minor property use changes.

Parker disagreed with that assertion and said state statutes allow cities to charge pre-assessments for work that will need to be done to provide increased services to areas with new development.

Dennee and other residents sought assistance from Huffman and Hunnicutt out of dissatisfaction with the city’s “compromise” plan in Febraury.

The elected body kept the amount of the assessment the same but tied payment to the development of the new lot instead of when the property sold or after a 10-year period had passed.

Opponents said no new traffic was generated by a land partition and construction on the lot might lie years in the future. They also protested that the fee was often more than the lot was worth and said it was not right for future buyers to inherit such a high bill.

The May 6 town hall will also include a discussion of how to maintain under-developed streets and other issues tied to residential in-fill development.

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