Jan Gardner

Jan Gardner, Frederick County Executive.

County Executive Jan Gardner (D) will likely veto a bill for the first time during her terms in that office after County Council members approved an update to the county’s impact fees for public schools.

Council members approved bills regarding that topic and modifying water buffer language at its meeting Tuesday night—but the latter bill’s sponsor voted against his own bill, and Chief Administrative Rick Harcum said Gardner would veto it.

Harcum said Gardner did not agree with expanding impact fee waivers for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that were up to 1,000 square feet. Before an amendment from Councilman Phil Dacey (R) that council members passed weeks ago, those waivers were capped at 800 square feet.

Donald also opposed, choosing not to vote for his own bill based on that amendment. He had introduced the legislation on behalf of Gardner.

He said he got into local politics in the 1990s, fighting for impact fees to be established to order to avoid portable classrooms in public schools. Donald has taught in Frederick County Public Schools for several years.

Dacey’s amendment would weaken and “punch holes” in the county’s public school impact fees, Donald said.

Some, including Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Vice President Michael Blue (R), agreed with Donald, worrying that the extra 200 square feet could be enough for families to reside in those structures, and add kids to the school system. But Dacey argued the 200-square-foot increase was meant to encourage developers to build more accessory dwelling units.

The bill also gives developers a monetary credit if they donate land for a school site, and also prevents developers from paying the same impact fees twice. That latter would occur, for example, if a prior developer had already applied for permits but never built on a parcel of land.

Councilmen Kai Hagen (D) and Steve McKay (R) sided with Dacey on his amendment, and voting for Donald’s bill. They were joined by Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) in a 4-3 vote to pass it.

“We are trying to balance multiple policy initiatives ... the fact we’re talking and having such consternation about going from 800 to 1,000 square feet is blowing my mind,” McKay said shortly before the vote.

It would take five votes to override Gardner’s veto, per the county charter.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(10) comments

mrnatural1

I'm still curious as to why ADUs are being promoted.

mrnatural1

[No "+ Add Reply" button]

On Sep 16, 2020 @ 8:12pm, stevemckay wrote:

"I hear what you’re saying and parts I don’t disagree with. At the end of the day, I still think it’s about balancing priorities. You make good points about means testing. That conversation never once came up about the farm lots because the focus was on supporting inter-generational farming. Council members who i the past argued for means limits on other tax breaks were silent on this issue. I guess people pick where they focus, and weigh the broader policy goal against the dollar impact. For me, I admit that I implicitly focus my “means” thinking not on the builder of the ADU but who will live there, as a more affordable option."

~

Well, at least there are some areas where we agree. [cool]

Looking at the big picture for a second, all of us -- elected officials and citizens alike -- will have our priorities. Many of them would pass if a referendum were placed on the ballot.

The question then is, how are those priorities financed? Who foots the bill?

If you've read many of my comments you know that one of my main priorities (which I freely admit is unrealistic) is a moratorium on all residential construction -- or at least a drastic reduction. I'd like to see major employers locate in other areas of the country to reduce demand for housing in the D.C./Baltimore area. That would probably take large amounts of money. Who should pay? As long as it isn't me I'm all for it!

Whatever our priorities are, it's much easier to promote them if we do not have to pay -- if we use OPM.

There is an almost endless list of things that people think "the government" local/state/feds) should do. On a local level, one category is property tax breaks for certain groups of people. I've heard people say, for example, that those who have lived in FredCo for over X amount of time (say 20-30 years) should get a discount on their property taxes. Although that would include my wife and I (I bought my place in 1985) I would not support that idea because a) it's hard to justify, and b) it would give a tax reduction to people who (in some cases) do not need it -- at the expense of the rest of the county residents who must then pay more.

Tax breaks should be based on proven financial need, period.

Question: Why are ADUs being promoted? I'm not necessarily suggesting they shouldn't be, I'm just curious about the justification for the impact fee exemption. Is it the idea of increasing low income housing? If so, is there any guarantee any given ADU will be used in that manner?

You said, "I implicitly focus my “means” thinking not on the builder of the ADU but who will live there..." Shouldn't the builder be responsible for any impact fees? Are you thinking that if the builder must pay impact fees, the residents/tenants will have to pay higher rent? The fee(s) for an ADU would not be anywhere near what they are for a house, so any increase in rent should be minimal. One factor landlords use to determine rent is the amount of the mortgage. The increase in a mortgage payment attributable to a reduced impact fee would be very small -- just $23 per month @3.92% for 30 years for $5,000 additional.

I'm looking at this PDF:

https://frederickcountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/311428/2019-Annual-Report-and-Adjustment-Recommendations-to-Public-School-Development-Impact-Fees-and-Library-Development-Impact-Fees

There are categories for single family; townhouse/duplex; and 'other residential'. The fee for the latter is well less than half of the others.

If 'other residential' is considered inappropriate, how about adding categories for ADUs and/or homes built on farmland -- perhaps based on square feet?

A blanket exemption is extreme.

mrnatural1

Quote:

"“We are trying to balance multiple policy initiatives ... the fact we’re talking and having such consternation about going from 800 to 1,000 square feet is blowing my mind,” McKay said shortly before the vote."

What are those initiatives that are being balanced? It's not clear from the article. The donated land for schools, and developers not paying impact fees twice?

I find it interesting that some people seem to think that a person/couple living in a 1,000 s.f space could not possibly have children living with them.

The average 2 BR apartment is just over 1,000 s.f. The average 1 BR is about 750 s.f.:

https://www.rentcafe.com/blog/rental-market/real-estate-news/us-average-apartment-size-trends-downward/

My wife and I have 1,000 s.f of total living space, and find it more than adequate. We chose not to have children, but if we did have kids we could easily accommodate 1 or 2, maybe more.

When my sister and her 2 girls lived here in FredCo about 35 years ago, they rented a very small (<400 s.f.) cottage. Her girls both attended FCPS.

It is ridiculous to assume that a child/children could not live in an 800 to 1,000 s.f. small house. A cynical person might say that the real reason to attempt to waive the school impact fee -- is to promote "smart growth" -- packing more people into smaller and smaller spaces. The problem of course is that here in FredCo those people still drive, still have kids in schools, and still require public services.

Let's say it is physically impossible to have kids in houses less than 1,001 s.f. -- can't be done. Defies the laws of physics. Or better yet, let's take a development that is restricted to "adults over age 55, no kids allowed". Why should a school impact fee not be assessed in either case? As I mentioned above, my wife and I do not have kids. We've never cost the FCPS a dime, yet in over 35 years we've paid TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in property taxes that have gone to FCPS. Had I not purchased an existing home, I would have paid the impact fees as well. We fully support teachers and public education but it makes no sense to have most county residents pay about 50% of their property taxes to support FCPS -- whether or not they have children -- but then turn around and carve out exemptions for certain favored types of structures or developments.

Put another way, IF it were true that 800 to 1,000 s.f small homes could never possibly have children living in them and therefore they should not be assessed an impact fee, then doesn't it follow that any property without children living there (and attending FCPS) should get an approx. 50% reduction in the tax assessed?

I don't want that and I'm not proposing it, but let's be consistent and rational. There are already FAR too many people living in Frederick County. The *least* the county government can do is assess fees that actually cover expenses, so that existing residents -- most of whom want no more development -- do not have to pay even more than we already are, for sprawl we do not want.

stevemckay

Let me give you an example. Only a few months ago, the Council passed a bill proposed by the administration to allow more family member lots on farms to be exempt from the School Impact Fee. Those can be full size homes with far more school impact than these Accessory Dwelling Units. None of these arguments about the effect of school funding were made then by the same individuals making the argument now. Why? Because that bill - which I supported - was seeking to foster a priority other than school construction - multi-generational farming.

In the case of the bill passed last night, we increased the ceiling from 800 sq ft to 1000 sq ft for an Accessory Dwelling Unit to qualify for the Fee waiver. That follows another bill only a few months ago, which also raised the ceiling from 800 sq ft to 1000 sq ft for ADUs to avoid going through the Board of Zoning Appeals. Both of these measures were done to decrease the cost of ADUs. This was about providing for more affordable housing options, which was the very purpose of the original ADU legislation. In supporting this, I'm not assuming that a family with children can't exist in a 1000 sq ft ADU - just like I didn't assume they wouldn't exist in those farm lot homes - I was simply trying to balance the need for more affordable housing options with our school needs.

mrnatural1

Excellent reply Steve, I knew I could count on you!

I really do appreciate your comments here and wish more county officials would follow your example.

I understand your concerns and what you are trying to do. I'm sure there are frequently conflicting goals.

FWIW, my brother is the co-founder of the Small House Society. He actually lived in a tiny (140 s.f.) house for 6-7 years. I support the small house movement.

What I cannot support is a blanket exemption for all ADUs. At a bare minimum, any reduction in impact fees should be means tested. Just because an ADU (or small house) is relatively small does not mean the builder/owner is low income. In fact, from my brother's work with the SHS, I know that ADUs have become popular with people who are well-off. Owners of relatively large, valuable homes sometimes build ADUs on their property. There is absolutely no reason why they should not pay impact fees.

The same goes for family member lots on farms. My wife and I are members of the Farm Bureau and we have family members who farm for a living (in Iowa), so I am sympathetic to those who are in that situation. Once again though -- it's not as if all farmers are poor. There should at least be means testing there as well.

It is not fair to expect others to pay increased impact fees and/or property taxes so that -- in some cases -- wealthy or well-off people can get an exemption.

Why should a struggling family pay more for their modest townhouse so that a couple with a $700,000 starter castle can get a multi-thousand dollar break when building an ADU?

Worse yet, if the impact fees do not cover expenses -- if the foregone fees from homes on farms and ADUs are not distributed among impact fee payers -- then existing residents must pay.

The bottom line is, all development costs the county money. Everyone -- including builders of ADUs and homes on farm lots -- should pay their fair share to the extent they are able.

stevemckay

I hear what you’re saying and parts I don’t disagree with. At the end of the day, I still think it’s about balancing priorities. You make good points about means testing. That conversation never once came up about the farm lots because the focus was on supporting inter-generational farming. Council members who i the past argued for means limits on other tax breaks were silent on this issue. I guess people pick where they focus, and weigh the broader policy goal against the dollar impact. For me, I admit that I implicitly focus my “means” thinking not on the builder of the ADU but who will live there, as a more affordable option.

DickD

Steve, you 2comparing apples and oranges and you know it. . What farmer is g to put more than one or two family buildings, on their property for family members or some employees. On the other hand there could be hundreds of the smaller buildings.

stevemckay

I disagree that it isn’t a valid comparison. In fact, these are both small number issues. We’ve had less than a dozen ADU applications approved since the original legislation and nearly of them have have been home additions for an independent living area.

FrederickFan

Gardner is right to not allow waiver of school impact fees for housing that will generate school students. Development is such a big issue and these decisions need to protect our schools not developers.

HappySeller2014

Single use plastic bag discussions argued and put on hold. Next, we get massive balloon release legslation. Then, we argue over setting up folks to look into 2050 climate changes. Now, we arguing over 200 additional square feet of living space.

I am having so much fun watching this circus I am now on my third bag of peanuts and second stick of cotton candy. I wonder if I switch to a bag of popcorn will this whole Frederick County Council fiasco get any better?

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