The Montgomery County Council, after weeks of discussion on how to control and monitor the county's rapid growth agreed yesterday to place fees on developments in Germantown and the eastern section of the county to pay for half the cost of new roads there.
The impact fees -- proposed by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist -- will raise money for specific roads in congested areas along I-270 and Rte. 29. For homeowners and developers, the fees will add $1,300 to $1,500 to the cost of a single-family house in those fast growing areas. Office buildings will cost an additional $2,800 to $3,100 with the fees, according to figures from Gilchrist's office.
As approved by a 5-to-1 council vote, the impact fees will generate $108.7 million in the next 20 to 30 years -- $65 million in Germantown and $43.7 million in eastern Montgomery -- to build roads.
The decision yesterday came after weeks of debate by the council on the need to limit development in the county, but the vote is not likely to end arguments on the issue that has become a focus for political rhetoric in an election-conscious council. The debate during the last nine months sparked vigorous campaigns from developers, who predicted that the county would suffer financially from restraints, and from homeowners, who worried about how the landscape of the once-suburban county was changing.
Montgomery, much like other local jurisdictions including Fairfax, has sought concessions from developers in exchange for permission to proceed with their projects. Both Montgomery and Fairfax have sought to ease the county burden in high-growth areas by having developers privately finance some road improvements. But the impact fees approved by Montgomery yesterday go beyond those methods because the fees are mandatory and will raise much more money.
Council member David Scull, a candidate for county executive, was the dissenter in yesterday's vote and called the impact fees "a terrible way" for the county to generate money for roads.
Scull had suggested that the county raise money for roads and schools by taxing developers throughout the county. The council defeated that proposal two weeks ago. Last week, the council passed another measure originally proposed by Scull to limit the number of building permits that could be issued in the county, but Gilchrist vetoed it Monday. Scull was unable yesterday to muster enough council support to override the veto.
Scull expressed regret over the defeat of the building-limit proposal and repeatedly said that the impact fees would not generate enough money to build the number of roads needed to alleviate traffic.
Scull repeatedly argued that county developers were benefiting from a court ruling last year that eliminated a $1,500 fee for water and sewer expansion. That ruling in effect gave developers a "tax break," Scull said, and encouraged development.
Scull maintained that the county's impact fees, which would cost the developers about the same as the old water fee, would do little to dampen the enthusiasm for growth.
Council member Scott Fosler harshly criticized Scull for linking the court ruling on water and sewer expansion to the issue of impact fees.
Fosler also questioned Scull's motives, described his arguments as full of "blatant contradictions," and said Scull was making "it very difficult to conduct an intelligent debate."
Esther Gelman, who voted against the impact fees in council work sessions and was in favor of the county-wide taxes on developers that Scull proposed, said she agreed with the majority yesterday in order to "raise some revenue."
"I don't like this bill," said Gelman, who shouted several times at Council President William Hanna when he tried to end debate.
"I think it's the worst of all possible alternatives . . . but I will vote for it. Unhappily," she said. Gelman, who is running for Congress, said after the meeting that she didn't think the impact fees would raise enough money for roads.
The council members voting for the fees were Fosler, Gelman, Michael Gudis, Hanna and Neal Potter. Rose Crenca was absent for the vote.