ANNAPOLIS, AUG. 3 -- The Anne Arundel County Council voted unanimously tonight to charge impact fees for new houses and other construction to raise money to pay for the roads and schools that development demands.
The fees, the first of their kind to be imposed countywide in the Washington area, will total $2,929 for each new single-family house and $1,966 for each 1,000 square feet of new office space.
Builders will pay the fees when they obtain building permits. Developers testifying before the council have said they will pass the costs straight on to home buyers.
Although impact fees are common in fast-growing areas of Florida and California, they are a new concept in this area. Impact fees are imposed only in two small sections of Montgomery County, where they range from $1,489 to $1,591 for a single-family house.
County Executive O. James Lighthizer proposed the fees in April, arguing that new development should help pay for expanding the county's overburdened roads and schools. After an outcry from developers, real estate agents, potential home buyers and some County Council members, Lighthizer agreed to set up a committee to study the matter.
Two weeks ago, Lighthizer agreed to follow the committee's recommendations by cutting the size of his proposed fees, originally $4,820 for a single-family house, and phasing them in over three years.
It was clear during the council's public hearing tonight that Lighthizer's move lessened opposition to the fees. While several developers complained that impact fees are not needed and are unfair, many said they would support Lighthizer's latest proposal because it was the best compromise they were likely to get.
Council member Michael F. Gilligan (D-Glen Burnie), previously the council's most ardent opponent of impact fees, said he had "great doubts and reservations . . . . I fought long and hard against the impact fee bill, but a compromise has been reached which I think is a fair one."
"Anne Arundel is no longer the rural county it was in our youth," said council member David Boschert (D-Crownsville), an impact fee supporter. "It's now suburban. We have experienced uncontrollable growth. We may be the first county to adopt this, but we won't be the last."
Supporters of the impact fees have argued that it is unfair to make current residents of the county pay the cost of new development. Taxpayers have been supporting development that "is reducing Maryland's life style to that of northern New Jersey," complained Broadneck resident Robert Swafford. "We ordinary citizens suffer the damage from this building. Is it fair that we pay to support it? Effectively, we are paying to have our own throats cut."
Opponents point out that current residents did not pay impact fees when they moved into the county, and argue that the fees will hurt first-time home buyers who already are paying high prices. Developers of commercial property have argued that the impact fees will prompt profitable businesses to move to neighboring counties rather than pay impact fees in Anne Arundel.
Opponents also cite the opinion of some national experts on the issue that impact fees are appropriate for areas with swiftly growing populations -- those growing much faster than Anne Arundel -- and that recent court decisions restricting the use of impact fees in other regions have raised questions about the appropriateness of the Anne Arundel proposal.
Douglas Diamond, an official with the National Home Builders Association, told the council tonight that the impact fees are a dangerous movement away from public financing of basic public services. The fees are "a steep tax on an overwhelmingly small portion of the population" and, in effect, "an initiation fee, essentially, for access to Anne Arundel County public schools."
The impact fees will be phased in between now and July 1989. Of the $2,629 collected from the builder of a single-family house, $2,096 will be designated for school construction and $533 for roads.