When Edward R. Carr applies for building permits this fall to start phase three of his Wellington Green town-house development on Franconia Road in Fairfax County, he will pay $601.89 for each unit, up $150 from what he paid for permits to build the units under construction.
"It's just another cost I'll pass along to the guy who buys the house," said the veteran builder, president of Edward R. Carr and Associates Inc. "This is just something else to aggravate the housing industry."
Carr's sentiments are being echoed by dozens of builders in Northern Virginia who have watched Fairfax and Prince William counties recently raise their building permit and inspection fees in an effort to make builders shoulder 100 percent of the cost of running the county permit and inspection departments.
Similar fees in Alexandria and Loudoun and Arlington counties already contribute about 100 percent of the cost of running the departments there. Fees in Montgomery and Prince George's counties cover only 56 and 83 percent of their departments' costs, respectively.
"It's all part of a trend of sorts," said Martin E. Crahan, director of Prince William's Department of Development Administration. "We are all trying to get the fees to cover 100 percent of the cost to the county for providing development services."
Newly approved permit and inspection fees set to go into effect Friday in Prince William will cover 75 percent of the cost of running the development department, but members of the County Board of Supervisors have said they will eventually raise the fees to equal 100 percent.
"There is a philosophy at work here," said C.G. Cooper, head of the Fairfax Department of Environmental Management. New rates in Fairfax effective Oct. 1 will supply 65 percent of the $10.3 million budget of his agency, which issues building permits and inspects construction sites.
"People who are here should not support with their taxes the people who are coming in," he said. "New development should pay for itself."
Tony Ahuja, a staff director for the Northern Virginia Builders Association, said most builders agree in principle with Cooper's sentiments. "We have no objection to pulling our own weight," he said.
But Ahuja said it is unfair to ask builders to pay for 100 percent of the cost of running a permit and inspection office when much of the office staffs' time is spent handling requests from county officials and the public.
In Montgomery County, James M. Hicks Jr., chief of the Division of Construction Codes and Enforcement, said, "It never has been Montgomery's desire to get to that magic 100 percent. We do a certain amount of work that doesn't relate to builders, and we don't think they should pay for it. To do so would be a subterfuge tax on the builders. Ethically, you're not supposed to do that."
Builders and permit officials interviewed yesterday all said they doubted the fee increases will prevent developers from undertaking new projects or seeking rezonings.
"If we are going to apply for an RPC residential planned community zone, then we're committed to a large cash outlay," said Tony Sala, vice president of Ridge Development Corp., when told the cost of such an application in Prince William will jump from $9,250 to $22,220 starting Friday.
"Fees don't stop the plan," said Sala, whose company has developed the large Lake Ridge community in eastern Prince William. "They simply establish an increase in the final selling price."
For developer Carr, the raised fees are what he sees as another in a long line of antidevelopment actions in the area. "There is an ingrained attitude against residential developers that has the Powers That Be make things more difficult for us," he complained. "It takes longer to get things zoned here than the rest of Virginia. It takes longer to get permits and now it takes more money. It's all worked to raise the cost of new housing in Fairfax."
It is an argument that has two sides. "Builders will get the benefit of county services for years to come," said James C. Pan, an engineer in Alexandria's Public Works Department.