After a 101′ proposed building on W. Main Street laid bare the murky process of proffers—those extra improvement or bundles of cash offered by developers to offset their project’s impact—the city is working to create proffer guidelines for developers. But if a bill that would kill the state’s proffer system is passed in Richmond, the city may as well toss its guidelines out the window.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker says that under impact fees, the county would be left footing the bill to mitigate a new project’s impact on the county’s infrastructure.
Senate Bill 768, which the senate finance committee passed on February 6, would scrap the current proffer system in favor of impact fees. This change would drastically reduce localities’ power to mitigate the impact of large developments that require rezoning. The impact of the change would be relatively minimal in Charlottesville. Most of its construction is by-right, meaning that developers are rarely beholden to the city to build. The most recent exception—the 101′ W. Main building—proffered $300,000 toward affordable housing before City Council approved rezoning.
But the impact to Albemarle County, with its proffer policy of $17,500 per single-family detached house, would be huge. Along with capping the amount of money that localities receive from developers, the bill would also eliminate off-site transportation improvements, one of the major issues in recent county proffer wrangling. Not surprisingly, the Board of Supervisors unanimously opposes the bill.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker sent an e-mail to Creigh Deeds, Emmett Hanger, Rob Bell and David Toscano urging them to fight the bill. In his e-mail, Rooker wrote that with impact fees, the $41 million Biscuit Run proffers would have been reduced by more than half—$25 million.
Under the new system, wrote Rooker, the county would lose $12,500 per single-family detached unit, cutting the county’s current standard of $17,500 to just $5,000. With that money staying in the developers’ pockets, the county would be left footing the bill to mitigate a new project’s impact on the county’s infrastructure (think roads and utilities) and services (police, schools, etc.).
John Cruickshank of the local Sierra Club says passing the bill would be a “disaster.”
“It would make it very difficult for localities to get developers to pay for the true cost of their new projects,” he says. “The result will be that current residents will have to pay for new growth with increased taxes.”
Sponsored by Republican Senator John Watkins, the bill came out of committee on the last day possible. “The bill has been a moving target,” wrote Rooker, “with each iteration being a worse deal for localities.”
The timing of the bill coincides with the downturn in the housing market. So it should come as no surprise that, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, Watkins’s second-biggest donor (behind Dominion Power) for his 2007 re-election was R.F. Ranson, a real estate developer, who gave him $10,500. In 2003, Watkins received $5,300 from the Virginia Association of Realtors in Glen Allen, $4,850 from R.F. Ranson and $3,150 from R.F. Ranson General Contractors Incorporated.
“I think the developers view this economic downturn as an opportunity to get something done that they’ve wanted to get done for a long time,” says Rooker. “What you’ve got is several people who’re carrying the water on this bill who are big recipients of developer money.”
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