P&Z charges drop in ‘phase one’ of fee-reduction plan

Published 10:31 am Thursday, October 5, 2017

The costs of doing business through the Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning office are getting simpler and in many cases, cheaper.

The P&Z Commission overhauled its fee structure and rates on Wednesday, lowering the prices for numerous development activities and simplifying how the charges are explained on a single price sheet.

P&Z Director Steve Hunter described the changes as “phase one” of changes to the rates. Many of the rates changed this time around are for less frequently used P&Z services or don’t have much of an impact on the P&Z budget, he said. The two types of fees that do bring in substantial revenues for P&Z — site plan approvals and zoning permits — have been left unchanged for now.

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“Phase two would be after the budget committee reviews how we budget, how our funding arrangements work,” Hunter said. “Then we could possibly talk about zoning permit fees — or maybe we don’t. But I left site plan approvals and zoning permit fees exactly the same. Those are the ones that drive our budget right now. The rest of these have very little impact for our budget.”

Among the changes made:

• the price for a letter certifying how a property is zoned has dropped from $162 to $20;

• the price for an application to put up a cell tower has gone from $2,500 to $725;

• zone-change prices have fallen from between $844 and $1,066 to between $275 and $495; and

• the price for a developer to seek a variance from the Board of Adjustments has gone down by $60.

Hunter said prior to the changes, Danville-Boyle County had, for some services, the highest fees in the state.

One of the more interesting changes Hunter proposed and the P&Z Commission approved was the creation of a $0 charge for creating new “farm plats.”

Hunter said many old farms are defined on their deeds with language that today seems ridiculous.

“If you all have ever bought a farm or owned a farm, you’ve got this goofy deed that says ‘start at the mimosa tree and go 10 feet; smoke a cigarette, spin a circle, look for the hummingbird, go 80 more feet,” he said. “… That’s funny how those are written.”

When a piece of property is split off from an old farm, it gets a “clean” deed that has proper surveying, but the old farm deed remains the way it was — it isn’t even changed to specify that the acreage is now less, Hunter explained.

The $0 fee for a new farm plat is P&Z’s effort to make it as likely as possible that the owner of a property will opt to have their entire farm surveyed and get a “clean deed” for the farm as well as the piece of property that has been split off, Hunter said.

“We sure would like to get these farm plats in here if folks want to record them, and we need to make that bar all the way down there to the ground, which is free,” he said. “… That’s what we’d like to see in the future, because it just helps consumers for the next 50 years understand what they’re buying.”

A $36 charge would still apply for getting the new plats recorded with the county, Hunter noted.

Hunter said he hopes when the P&Z Budget Committee looks into “phase two” of changing fees, something can be done to make the zoning permit fees more “customer-friendly.”

P&Z currently charges 16 cents per square foot for residential permits on projects like construction of a new deck or a shed, he explained. While businesses don’t necessarily have a problem affording the 20-cents-per-square-foot charge on commercial permits, the 16-cent residential rate is “impacting the smallest users in our community.” And P&Z doesn’t have to do much work on residential permits, so there isn’t much actual cost, he added.

“Zoning permits are a good thing for the community; these fees aren’t in-scale for what we do as a staff. So I’ve been outspoken about these — that’s what I’ve been outspoken about: I just don’t know what we’re doing on the residential side of this,” he said. “… I’ve really been uncomfortable about the 16 cents. When I collect those at the window — $100 at a time or $300 at a time — I really feel like we’re negatively impacting homeowners in this community or people who are building new houses.”

Hunter said currently, P&Z is “not in a position to change” the zoning fees “just because of the way our budget is structured.”

“But I think it’s something we have to address if we really want to meet the goal you guys have set to be customer-friendly,” he said. “… We’ve got to address these fees in a different way. I’m leaning toward a flat fee for each type but we just cannot do that today. So they’re staying the same until we can study as a budget committee and a planning commission the impact.”

P&Z Commissioner Jeffrey Baird made the motion to approve the new fees.

“You certainly have moved us way down the road on what we were wanting to achieve,” Baird said. “Some things we can address as we get some more information.”

P&Z Chair Jerry Leber said he appreciates the effort of P&Z staff to “streamline these fees and make them hopefully more business-friendly.”

“I hope that becomes good public record and that our (Danville city) commissioners and (Boyle County) magistrates see that we are working in that direction,” Leber said. “That was one of the things that was conveyed to me from them — that they would like to see Planning and Zoning … become more customer-friendly.”