Impact fee draft study could be posted April 6: Council disagrees about when to start year of public hearings, meetings

Members of the Queen Creek Town Council agree there needs to be an increase in the town’s transportation impact fee rates.
However, they disagree about a proposed calendar in which the rate increase draft study document will be released for the public to view before a series of public hearings and other stakeholder input begin.

At the March 15 council meeting, Councilwoman Emilena Turley asked that the town not “pull the trigger” on the rate-increase statutory process. Instead she asked that it be postponed for 60 to 90 days to give the businesses more time to review the proposal before the start of public input.

“The business community is anxious (about the rate increase),” she said during the discussion of the matter.
Mayor Gail Barney said by phone he was comfortable with a short delay in the process.

However, Vice Mayor Jeff Brown, who led the meeting in Mayor Barney’s absence; and council members Robin Benning and Julia Wheatley opposed delays of any kind.

Councilwoman Dawn Oliphant did not comment during the discussion. Councilman Jake Hoffman was absent.
Impact fees

Impact fees are a one-time fee assessed to new development to pay for the proportionate share of infrastructure costs new developments place on a community. The town has eight impact fees: wastewater, water, parks and recreation, transportation, library, fire, town facilities and public safety.

The current transportation fee is $1,263 for a single-family home, according to information presented by Queen Creek Finance Director Scott McCarty at the council’s March 1 meeting.

Transportation impact fees are used for “necessary public services.” These include arterial and collector streets, traffic signals and right-of-ways.

The proposed increase to the transportation impact fee, which is an estimate and not a final recommendation from staff, increases the fee for a single-family home from $1,263 to $4,800, Vice Mayor Brown said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The town council feels the fees increase is necessary to help offset the transportation infrastructure improvement plan it approved in which the plan identified $196 million in roadway needs while adding 91 new lane miles through 41 projects over the next 10 years, he said.

The process
The process to change an impact fee is defined by state law. The two-phase process takes about 11 months to complete and requires four public hearings and extensive input by stakeholders and the public, Mr. McCarty told the council at the March 15 meeting.

The finance director then presented the proposed calendar for public hearings and community involvement.

During Phase 1, the council could approve or disapprove the land use assumptions and infrastructure improvement plan. The former estimates the number of single-family homes and retail square-footage in a 26-mile service area of the town, according to Mr. McCarty’s presentation.

The latter deals with the town’s transportation master plan. It includes a list of transportation-related projects as well as traffic volume, congestion, level of service and vehicle miles traveled, according to Mr. McCarty.

Phase 1 would officially begin at the April 5 council meeting, at which time the council could set the date for the first public hearing about LUA/IIP as July 19. The town would post the draft study and notice the public hearing on April 6.

The July 19 public hearing would include a presentation only — no discussion — of the draft study. The council could then scheduled the second LUA/IIP public hearing for Sept. 6, during which public comments would be heard.

In addition, the town would conduct multiple stakeholder meetings between April and June. The meeting format would consist of a presentation by the town staff or a consultant followed by a question-and-answer period.

At the Sept. 6 meeting, council members could approve the LUA/IIP draft study.

Phase 2 would kick off on Sept. 7, when the town would issue a public notice scheduling the first public hearing about the impact fee increase on Oct. 18.

The Oct. 18 public hearing would include a presentation — no discussion — of the impact fee increase draft study. At that same meeting, the council could set the second public hearing date for Dec. 6.

The council could approve the impact fee increase at its Dec. 6 meeting. If that happens, the new fee would take effect on March 1, 2018.

Councilwoman Turley said the proposed fee hike could increase the cost to build a residential subdivision by $2 million or a retail building by $100,000.

She said she reached out to other communities and that it is not uncommon to publish the entire draft impact study for the public to review before the statutory process begins.

She also said she discussed the matter with Town Manager John Kross who told her a short delay, based on the proposed calendar, would not harm the process.

“My thoughts are if that creates a comfort level for the business community, we’re not harmed. Why not?” Councilwoman Turley said.

Mayor Barney gave input by phone. He said he had spoken to developers who were anxious about the proposed rate increase that was scaring them.

“I see nothing wrong with postponing the time frame about 60 days,” the mayor said.

Councilwoman Wheatley said she understood how local stakeholders, such as developers, could be anxious about the matter. However, she said since the process will take nearly a year they will have ample time to comment.

“I don’t see a point to delaying it,” she said. “… We can hit the pause button at anytime (during the process).”

Councilman Benning agreed.

“I feel 11 months is a very good amount of time to maintain transparency and move the process along. I’m very concerned about delaying the process even by 60 days,” he said.

Councilwoman Oliphant feels the calendar can be discussed again at the April 5 meeting, she said during an interview after the council meeting. She said there is enough time between the April 5 meeting and July 19 public hearing for people to review the draft study.

“Let’s see what happens at the first public hearing and go from there,” she said. “We don’t have to jump the gun now.”

Town council meetings are generally held starting at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at the Queen Creek Town Hall, S. Ellsworth Road. Public hearings are not held before 7 p.m.

Agendas and live streaming video of the meetings may be viewed on the town’s website at www.queencreek.org.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at qcnews@newszap.com, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123.

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