Diff’rent strokes for different Supes when it comes to applying fees
Developer impact fees, or DIF as they’re commonly called, are a bit like taxes. Somebody has to pay them, but (particularly in a recessed economy) most folks, from big-time developers to small or one-off single-family homebuilders, find as many ways as they can to avoid them.
One of those homebuilders is June Lake resident Jim Gonzales, who brought an appeal over $5,000 in DIF fees to the Mono County Board of Supervisors earlier this month.
Gonzales, who wants to build one single-family home, bought property, located at 247 Lakeview Drive in June Lake, in the summer of 2007 as a “vacant” lot.
The property’s previous owners determined at the time that demolishing the 1928 cabin on the site, which occurred in 2005, would have made building a new structure easier in terms of “remodeling.” The previous owner had filed plans for new construction later that year, but those plans never made it past the conceptual stage and were later abandoned.
In his appeal, Gonzales argued that his plans to build a house on the property constituted “reconstruction,” based on the fact that a previous structure (the 1928 cabin) had previously stood on the land. That, he said, means he also wouldn’t be on the hook for most, if not all, of the County’s $4,999.96 bill for development impact fees.
All parties agreed that the County’s definition of “reconstruction” is vague at best, and needs more specificity. DIF is usually collected to offset impacts of “new” construction. Gonzales argued that his plans are not “new” development, since the home is in an already existing residential area, and further would be at least the second dwelling to exist on the lot. He also cited what were, in his estimation, potential contradictions in how the DIF fees were applied or waived in the past relative to “reconstructed” property.
Gonzales said he would be agreeable to paying incremental fees that could be applied to the difference in the square footage between old and new dwellings, a position supported by Supervisor Vikki Bauer.
Supervisor Tom Farnetti, however, said he thought Gonzales was asking for something that was unfair to other builders who have been charged full DIF fees for new construction. Farnetti said Gonzales’ plans essentially add up to “new” construction, in that the property is vacant and, with the exception of some water and sewer lines, essentially barren.
Supervisor Hap Hazard sided with Bauer, though he took a different route to get there. He concluded that Gonzales’ plans constitute “new” construction, but said the language is confusing and therefore opens the door to “tolerance” and allows for pro-rated rather than full fees.
Other properties have gone through a similar process, but none of these brought appeals before the Board. Chair Byng Hunt cited that fact, in addition to the road system already in place, in his comments. While he said he wasn’t going against the ordinance per se, he did support the pro-rated compromise.
A motion to shift the fees to a pro-rated scale died for lack of a second, motivating Farnetti to defend his position and urge the Board to be “consistent.” Supervisor Bob Peters also advocated not singling out any particular developer, saying the contractors know there will be fees. Gonzales replied with his take that the County hasn’t been consistent, not pursuing DIF fees on some new construction, yet collecting DIF fees on another project he maintained was deemed “reconstruction.”
The Board voted 3-2 to find the project was “new” construction and that all fees applied. Hunt and Bauer dissented. Hazard flip-flopped his position and voted against what he expressed in his initial comments. Hunt asked for staff to revisit the County’s building codes and look at potentially vague language that can and should be tightened up to prevent these sorts of misunderstandings wherever possible going forward.