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Committee would deal with prospective developers

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By Chris Sardelli

How do development agreements affect the county? Is there a benefit between rooftop or impact fees? And who should developers talk to as they look to build in the area?
County Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis says these questions are proof that Lancaster County Council needs to form a development agreement committee for the county. Karagounis discussed the idea during council’s meeting March 25.
With signs that the economy is slowly bouncing back after years of recession, Karagounis recommended creating the committee to help field these questions as developers ramp up their interest in the county.
“Because we have so many inquiries now, we need a three-member committee,” Karagounis said.
County Administrator Steve Willis said the committee would be the point of contact for developers with questions.
“The main thing Penelope needs it for is what if someone comes in and they want to talk to the county about a development agreement? This committee would give them someone to talk to,” Willis said.
He said development agreements are common contractual agreements between developers and County Council.
“Usually the developer gets some favorable treatment, such as more units per acre or smaller setbacks. In exchange, County Council gets a benefit that can be used for the community, whether that’s a fee for infrastructure or land for the community,” Willis said.
The proposed committee would serve as a forum for applicants who want to renew old development agreements and would also help with the crafting of new agreements for planned development districts, Karagounis said.

After listening to the request, Councilman Jack Estridge expressed the need for increased oversight of development agreements.
“A lot of times I understand staff’s position, they may think it’s a good thing putting ‘x’ number of houses in a district and it may look good, but on County Council’s side we need to look at what’s best for the county,” Estridge said. “We need to slow down a little bit before we just approve houses.”
Estridge said the committee could help streamline the process for both the county’s planning staff and the planning commission.
“They put a lot of time into it and we need to give them good, clear direction,” Estridge said.
Council members also discussed the need for research on the county’s position toward rooftop and impact fees.
Rooftop fees are sums paid per house or structure built within a large PDD by a developer or whomever obtains a building permit, Willis said. Impact fees can be imposed by the county on the construction of any structure, whether it is located in a PDD or not. Both are used to offset costs by the county.
Karagounis and County Attorney Frannie Heizer said both fees are acceptable to use as incentives for the county during the creation of development agreements.
“This was a much hotter issue before the financial collapse and the recession, but as things heat back up, we can look at that,” Heizer said. “You can’t just pick rooftop fee numbers. I remember one County Council member in particular just picked a number once and that ended up being the rooftop number. As developments start knocking, it’s better to get ahead of it, so we can have all the research and data ready.”
Councilwoman Charlene McGriff told council she needed more information about the county’s development agreement process.
“I want to make sure when we make a decision we have information,” McGriff said.
Consistency is key for Councilman Larry Honeycutt, who said several of the county’s previous agreements were not effective.
“We’ve got to be consistent because there’s one development with $5,000 rooftop fees and another with $8,000 rooftop fees,” Honeycutt said.
Karagounis agreed with the need for clarification.
“That’s the key word. I haven’t had any direction from you all about development agreements. We need a committee because things are picking up again,” she said.
She also asked council to hold a workshop to discuss options such as impact and rooftop fees.
After consensus from his fellow council members, Council Chairman Larry McCullough said council will name a development agreement committee at its April 8 meeting.
“Also, we need to schedule a workshop because it’s a bigger issue,” McCullough said.
There was no formal vote on the issue during the meeting.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416