Concern for confusing subdivision code has city considering ordinance revision

Initially a great idea, buy-in fees may have stunted development

— “I want to get the discussion started,” said public works director Jeff McFrederick, who addressed the Grangeville City Council at its Jan. 17 meeting on existing codes for city development, specifically on reworking the subdivision ordinance.

Conversation with McFrederick and the council revolved around the code that has largely gone unchanged since it was enacted sometime during the 1950s. Concern is the code is outdated and inflexible, and that it imposes burdensome requirements and exorbitant costs on certain types of property splits and development.

Concerning development in the area of impact – that approximate mile-wide buffer between city and Idaho County jurisdiction – the requirements are confusing for developers attempting to comply with both entities’ regulations. Of continued concern for the city is protecting the integrity of its aquifer, and McFrederick raised a long-standing issue on well drilling within the area of impact: While the city can make recommendations, the county commissioners have final approval on allowing well drilling, activity from which can and has impacted the supply.

“Buy-in fees, I want to redo these,” McFrederick said.

McFrederick referred to the equity buy-in program, established in 2005, that sets fees for new developments, which do not have existing services, requesting city utilities. Currently at $1,540 for water and $2,860 for sewer, the buy-in fee is per equivalent residence; so, for example, a new single family home could be charged with one buy-in fee, and a new 10-unit apartment complex would be charged a fee for each unit. Buy-in fees are dedicated toward utility system upgrades and expansions.

However, what was initially set up as an equitable way to fund growing demand on the system, is now being considered as possibly having stunted development within the city. With one developer McFrederick talked with on simple water/sewer connection for a new project, besides the existing fees for these hookups, adding in buy-in fees per unit would add another $10,000 to $12,000 to the project.

“And he just can’t do it,” he said.

“It was a great idea at the time,” said Mayor Bruce Walker, on the buy-in fees, “but I think they’ve stymied growth.”

For McFrederick, he wants to see the ordinance revised to be more realistic and flexible whether both the city and developers get what they want out of the process, with Mayor Walker adding to keep in mind with this also “the city wants organized growth.”

No timetable was set on revisions; however, city attorney Adam Green commented the county is under way on revising its own subdivision ordinance, and that the council could, on its completion, review this for guiding its own work.

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