Alexandria, like Montgomery, runs its building permit operation as a self-sustaining enterprise. But, unlike the DPS, Alexandria’s Department of Code Administration doesn’t enforce the zoning code or compliance with site plans — detailed drawings, sometimes required of developers, that depict roads, parking, landscaping and other promised features.
Mallory Square, for instance, is a site plan project. That’s one reason an Alexandria building permit for a similar project would cost about a third as much as a permit in Montgomery.
“A lot of their fees are more comprehensive than what we have,” said James Hunt, Alexandria’s permit center division chief.
How jurisdictions calculate fees for building permits can vary widely. Gaithersburg charges a straight 1 percent of construction costs. Fairfax County takes the total square footage of a project and applies a multiplier set by law. Montgomery applies multipliers to construction costs based on recommendations by the not-for-profit International Code Council.
Developers have also expressed frustration that a permit for a high-rise apartment building in Montgomery costs less than for a mid-rise, such as Mallory Square.
For example, builders of a 17-story apartment tower on Ripley Street in Silver Spring, which has 351 units, or roughly as many as Mallory Square, paid $289,000 for a construction permit, according to county records, far less than the $1.1 million fee Woodfield faces.
The reason, according to DPS officials, is that Mallory Square is treated as if it were five buildings because mid-rise, wood-frame apartment structures are divided by fire walls. It means they usually have separate stairwells, alarms and sprinkler systems. Concrete and steel high-rises, while larger, turn out to be less labor-intensive for regulators.
Kaufman said the Mallory Square project is on hold until the permit fee comes down.
Woodfield partner Margaret Smith Ford did not respond to phone messages seeking comment. In an Aug. 20 letter to Leggett, Ford thanked him for his willingness to entertain the issue of fee reductions and his “commitment to keeping Montgomery County competitive with our neighboring jurisdictions.”