ANNAPOLIS, July 8 -- An Anne Arundel County government committee recommended today scaling down County Executive O. James Lighthizer's controversial proposal to impose impact fees on new development, a move likely to please developers and potential homebuyers in the booming bayside county.
The committee, appointed by the County Council and executive, said the proposed fees should be cut nearly in half and phased over three years.
Lighthizer's plan, unique in the Washington metropolitan area, is an attempt to raise $15 million annually by charging fees to builders for new houses and other development.
The Anne Arundel proposal is being watched by officials in other fast-developing counties who are looking for new ways to raise money for roads, schools and other services needed to accommodate growth.
Among jurisdictions in the region, only Montgomery County uses impact fees, but they are limited to two areas of the county.
While the impact fee proposal in Anne Arundel has been welcomed by many community associations worried about crowded schools and clogged roads, it has been opposed by real estate agents, builders and developers, and people who are buying new homes. In addition, some business organizations argued impact fees would hurt economic development, giving neighboring Howard County an edge in the competition to attract new businesses.
The countywide plan first outlined by Lighthizer in April would require a builder to pay a fee when receiving a building permit.
Under Lighthizer's original scheme, the fees would have totaled $4,820 for each new single-family house, a cost that home builders complained would be passed on to home buyers.
Also included were fees of $2,006 per room for hotels and motels, and a range of fees for commercial space, such as $4,290 for every 1,000 square feet of retail space.
Last month, Lighthizer submitted a new plan that reduced fees for a single-family house by 13 percent, to $4,163, while fees were reduced as much as 40 percent for projects such as hotels and office buildings.
The committee recommended fees for single-family houses of $2,269, and said revenue should be matched by tax money specifically set aside for school and road construction.
The County Council, which has scheduled a public hearing on impact fees on July 29, is under no obligation to follow any of the committee's recommendations. But several council members have said they were eager to find ways to soften the blow of Lighthizer's plan, which they said would hurt low- and moderate-income families, young couples and other first-time home buyers.
One council member, Michael Gilligan, remained firmly opposed to the fees. "I'm not impressed," he said after the committee presented its report. "They still haven't answered the question about whether or not we need impact fees. I still don't believe we need them."
Modeling his proposals on similar impact fees levied in several fast-growing areas of Florida and California, Lighthizer said when he unveiled his proposal that impact fees were "a device to avoid raising property taxes for those who are already here. It's a partial approach to a big problem."
Yesterday Lighthizer called the fees recommended by the committee the "bare minimum" needed to make a difference in balancing out development costs in Anne Arundel.
"It is a start," he said. "The important thing is the principle, and apparently the committee bought into it."
Committee Chairman Ronald McGuirk, a banker and former council president, said committee members thought the reduced fees and three-year phase-in were necessary "for Anne Arundel County to remain competitive . . . . We also felt that, on the part of new homeowners, the phase-in was needed to help them plan. We all know young people need the opportunity to put together the amount of money needed at settlement."
Council Chairman Virginia Clagett, a supporter of impact fees, said she believes the fees recommended today are too low. She said that Lighthizer's first proposal of $4,800 per house would barely cover the county's costs for roads and schools needed to service it. "Now we're talking about something like 50 percent of that," she said. "I think that's rock bottom, and I think that's too low."