SHEPHERDSVILLE - The passage of an ordinance regulating future subdivisions and the maintenance of a storm water program in Bullitt County appears murky - at best.
Members of the Bullitt County Joint Planning Commission listened as developers feared that the proposed 61-page document might be the straw that brought the back of an already wobbling construction future.
Local legislative bodies are required by the federal Clean Water Act to have regulations in place to deal with storm water issues. The regulations are part of a permitting process through the state.
While the technical standards of the proposal drew only a few comments, it was the fees associated with future development that drew the ire and concern of builders and developers.
Richard Miles, owner of Dogwood Homes, has spoken with Bullitt Fiscal Court and the planning commission on numerous occasions. Unless there are drastic problems existing in subdivisions, Miles didn’t understand the drastic changes outlined in the proposal.
In driving all over the county, Miles said he found only one drainage issue involving retention basins and that was in an older development.
However, under the proposal, an impact fee of over $1,000 per acre would be required up front to take care of future retention/detention basin issues.
“Why are we doing this?” asked Miles. “I just don’t see the problems out there.”
His solution remains to have the homeowners associations be responsible for paying dues and maintaining the drainage areas. In his developments throughout the county, Miles said that has worked well.
If the requirement for the homeowners association to maintain the drainage areas is placed in the plat, Miles said it must legally be done.
Building an estimated one-third of the new homes in the county, Miles said the economy is soft and price is a key. Without the proper pricing, it will costs sales and ultimately jobs.
Chuck Kavanaugh, executive vice president of the Homebuilders Association of Louisville, said his organization has worked with other counties on similar issues.
None of the other six HBAL counties in Kentucky have fees close to those being proposed in Bullitt County.
“We believe there are many other options,” said Kavanaugh. “We think there are other alternatives.”
He offered his services to meet with local planners to look at other options before moving forward with the proposal.
Strengthening the duties of the homeowners associations is one of the key alternatives, said Kavanaugh.
He guaranteed that builders would stay away from communities that have fees which are too high.
Ted Korfhage, one of the developers of Heritage Hill Golf Community, said if the developers paid the money upfront for the retention basin maintenance, then the associations should be able to use that money for the normal care.
He pointed out that in talking with someone in California, that state’s financial woes are due in part to the new fees that have been imposed on development.
Mitchell Elder, broker and owner of Coldwell Banker Action Realtors, said construction and real estate are both facing tough challenges in the current economy. Additional fees will only hurt the area even more.
“I don’t know if we can take any more fees,” said Elder.
The top challenge to builders and realtors today is the foreclosure business. Elder said people can buy foreclosure homes cheaper than a new home.
“Everybody is operating on a very thin budget,” said Elder.
He pointed to the increase in water and sewer tap-on fees in Mount Washington as a point where he felt building permits began to drop.
“I don’t know how long some of us can survive,” said Elder. “It will be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Jesse Flynn said he was impressed with the body of work produced by the planning commission. However, the developer asked for more time to see what the economic impact the fees would make.
In the business of luring commercial and distribution businesses to Bullitt County, Flynn said there is much competition with large cities in the eastern part of the United States.
“The competition is very tough,” said Flynn. “Every little cost is analyzed.”
Even though they are often multi-million dollar deals, Flynn said a decision on where to local often comes down to very small issues.
He asked the commission to delay any action for further study.
Surveyor John St. Clair has worked for developers for many years in the county. While having some technical questions over the proposed regulations, St. Clair said he believes there is an alternative to the impact fees.
“Everyone can be a developer,” said St. Clair. “But not everybody knows how to be a developer.”
He proposed looking at a performance bond be put up by developers to ensure all the proper parts of the subdivision are completed. Or the fee could be $1,000 for acre of the retention basin, not for each acre of the development.
St. Clair said the plan also called for surveyors to perform duties that an engineer should be doing and vice versa.
He agreed with Elder that the higher tap-on fees in Mount Washington have slowed development in that area.
Speaking as a proponent of the plan, Glen Roby has seen how homeowners associations work.
Roby lives in Nature’s Cove, which has had problems since the original developer faced financial issues and didn’t complete the subdivision.
“The developer is the key to make this happen,” said Roby.
He’s tried to get payments from residents for homeowners association dues and it is difficult. Roby said developers need to be held accountable for the various issues.
Daryl Lee, a commissioner who served over 20 years as planning administrator, said he was opposed to the fees proposed in the plan.
He said it was a tax that could hurt developers and that would hurt jobs and the economy.
While the federal Clean Water Act may require some document on how to deal with storm water, Lee said it didn’t need to be the one proposed.
If Mount Washington and Shepherdsville are pleased with their development plan requirements, maybe the county should look at those.
“I’m opposed to this completely at this stage,” said Lee.
Commissioner Russell Price has been vocally opposed to the impact fees from the first discussion.
Planning chairman Martin Riedling said the commission unanimously voted to move forward with the fees, which are lower than originally discussed.
He said it wasn’t a tax but a one-time impact fee.
But Richard Miles said that out of a 400-acre tract, all of the land couldn’t be developed. Even though 40 percent of the property may be green space, the developer would still be paying over $1,000 an acre toward the fund to take care of future problems.
The $450,000 he would be paying up front on such a developments would be far more than the $300 per residential lot mentioned by Riedling.
He once again recommended looking at the development plans already in place in the two largest cities. As a developer, he would enjoy having a single set of standards to follow throughout the county.
Commissioner Larry Watkins agreed the fee was too high. And commissioner Sam Beichler agreed that more review was needed and it might require more meetings.
Commission attorney Rob Flaherty said Bullitt Fiscal Court has had a first reading on a post-construction ordinance, which is part of the state permitting process. The five cities in northern Bullitt County - Hillview, Hunters Hollow, Pioneer Village, Fox Chase and Hebron Estates - have agreed to work with the county on a joint permit process.
The planning commission will meet on Thursday, July 30, at 7 p.m. in the courthouse annex. The public is invited.
Riedling said the meeting could still include a vote on the proposal. However, it could be an opportunity for commissioners to continue its discussion.