After originally passing a bill to provide relief to developers on impact fees, the Frederick County Council voided its passage due to an amendment that requires the bill come back for a public hearing.
Frederick County Council members voted early in the evening Tuesday to provide some relief to developers by updating how impact fees are enforced countywide, including for some small homes like in-law suites. But hours after a split vote on an amendment to allow increased sizes of in-law suites and tiny homes known as “accessory dwelling units,” Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said the amendment was “substantive” to the bill, which requires it to come back to the council for a public hearing at a later session. The vote to pass the bill became “null and void” and will need to be voted on again.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D) introduced the legislation on behalf of County Executive Jan Gardner (D), and said it was an update to a bill from him and Councilman Steve McKay (R) last year. That bill changed the impact fee levels based on the type of property.
Impact fees are fees paid by developers to fund the growth in libraries and schools that the development brings.
The new bill makes two changes: it gives developers a credit for the land component of the school impact fee, if they donate land for a school site. That credit is usually worth hundreds of dollars depending on the type of development, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.
The other major change the bill proposed prevents developers from essentially paying for the same impact fees twice, if the land was transferred from one developer to another after building permits expire.
Council members passed those changes in a 7-0 vote. Lengthier debate, however, centered around the amendment introduced by Phil Dacey (D).
Dacey’s amendment proposed increasing the square footage of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) which qualify for a public school impact fee waiver from 800 to 1,000 square feet. He said in an interview and during the meeting that failing to alter that part of the bill would “disincentivize” people from building ADUs, otherwise known as in-law suites or tiny homes that are built on the same property as a primary home.
Waiving the impact for accessory dwelling units is predicated on the idea that because the home is not a primary residence, it’s unlikely children will be living in it. So, schools and libraries are likely to see growth due to the accessory dwelling unit.
But Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said she couldn’t support the amendment. She said she went looking at apartments with her son in Annapolis, and that some three-bedroom apartments were 1,000 square feet — enough space to house children.
Keegan-Ayer said because of that, those developers should pay for the impact and cost of those kids in the school system.
“There needs to be some sort of way to recoup the cost of those [seats],” Keegan-Ayer said.
But other council members, including Councilman Kai Hagen (D), said not providing that waiver for bigger ADUs could prevent county officials from addressing a lack of affordable housing countywide.
Hagen said even with the waiver, there wouldn’t be a great amount of accessory dwelling units immediately being built. He added there wouldn’t be neighborhoods of them popping up, or that they would necessarily add to the school-age population.
“I’d like to see some of these things actually get built,” said Hagen, adding there aren’t many ADUs in the county.
Donald, however, said the fees needed to be collected, in part in order to prevent school crowding, an issue in many parts of the county.
”I want to be there when they drag out the last portable [classroom] from the last school,” said Donald, who taught in portables for multiple years. “And the quicker we can get to that point, the better off we’ll be.”
County staff, including Steve Horn, director of the county’s planning and permitting division, said if the ADUs were large enough to have children in them, then those developers need to pay the fee.
But McKay sided with Hagen and Dacey. He called the gap between 800 and 1,000 square feet “arbitrary” and a “magical mystical zone” and that it didn’t line up with the county’s affordable housing goals.
Before the vote was voided, McKay, Hagen, Dacey and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) supported Dacey’s amendment. Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D), Vice President Michael Blue (R) and Donald voted no.