Cary has been charging developers a transportation development fee for almost 30 years to augment its roads funding. Morrisville, a town with traffic problems of its own, recently began to wonder whether it should pursue a similar practice.
But analysis by Morrisville town staff reveal that the fee would net the town less than expected and that it would be prohibitively difficult to implement. Council members directed the town’s legislative liaisons at the Feb. 28 council meeting to drop the matter.
Cary, faced with rapid growth in the late 1980s, was granted permission to charge developers through a local bill passed by the state General Assembly in 1987. The fee is assessed by the unit for residential developments and per thousand square feet for commercial ones.
Morrisville would need the same legislative approval to charge the fee, and Town Manager Martha Paige said making the fee policy legally bulletproof would require an immense administrative effort.
“This might be one of the most difficult and complex things I’ve ever evaluated as a town manager,” Paige said of her conversation with Cary officials. “It took two of them to explain it to us with white boards and a stack of paper.”
Paige said Morrisville officials also consulted with development stakeholders in the Triangle, who indicated that any effort to obtain legislative permission for the fee would be met with considerable political opposition by lobbyists for national building advocacy groups.
Cary, a much larger town, has also struggled with the legal and political complexities of the fee, but its larger base of development means the marginal return on that effort has been more worthwhile, Paige said. Morrisville would have to fight the same battle, but ultimately would receive far less money because its volume of development is smaller.
“We saw it as a way to have additional revenues from developers when they develop a property that impacts our traffic,” Mayor Mark Stohlman said. “But what we found out from talking with stakeholders was that they are given credit for roadwork Morrisville or Cary would ask them to do anyway. Very often, they were getting a bigger credit than the fee, so there was very little new money to the town.”
Developers are often asked to improve intersections or add turn lanes to roads near their properties, and these improvements are often credited against various development fees the town already charges. Cary grossed $2.3 million from the fees last year, said Jerry Jensen, Cary’s acting transportation and facilities manager. After roadwork credits and rebates, the net amount was just $1.6 million.
Morrisville, which is about one-seventh the size of Cary in populations, might be expected to net $228,000, roughly the equivalent of a half-cent on Morrisville’s property tax rate.
Instead, Stohlman said, the town will focus on digging through its development ordinances to ensure its maximizing existing fee revenues, as well as preparing to take advantage of the 400-or-so acres of industrial and commercial land that McCrimmon Parkway Extension will open to development when it connects Aviation Parkway and Airport Boulevard.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan