State Politics

House votes to end Orange impact fees

N.C. lawmakers are considering a bill that aims to get houses on the market quicker by allowing homebuilders to hire their own inspectors from a statewide pool if cities or counties aren't inspecting fast enough.
N.C. lawmakers are considering a bill that aims to get houses on the market quicker by allowing homebuilders to hire their own inspectors from a statewide pool if cities or counties aren't inspecting fast enough. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Orange County would no longer have the power to charge development fees to fund school construction under a bill that passed the N.C. House on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s 80-40 vote sends the proposal to the Senate.

Only Orange and Chatham counties have authority to charge impact fees to fund schools, while other counties use similar fees to fund water, sewer and other infrastructure projects. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy, argued that Orange County has abused its power by approving massive increases in the fees.

Stevens said she’s intervening on behalf of a specific developer – the owners of Town House Apartments on Chapel Hill’s Hillsborough Street – after the impact fees for new construction there increased from $300,000 to $1.5 million. She said the fee hike by Orange County leaders was “a clear abuse of any authority that’s been given to them.”

She says legislative leaders are looking to address impact fees across the state by creating uniform fee powers for all counties and municipalities. “This one is such an egregious situation we need to correct it now.”

But two legislators representing Orange County urged their colleagues to defeat the bill. Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat, said he thought the impact fee hike was excessive but that local leaders have already fixed the problem. Town House Apartments has reached an agreement with the town to pay the older fee rate, and future UNC student housing developments won’t have to chip in for education because their residents typically don’t use K-12 schools.

“This would take $5 million out of the school budget,” said Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat. “This bill doesn’t hurt the county commissioners, it hurts the children, and we don’t need to be hurting our children.”

Another bill restricting impact fees, also sponsored by Stevens, was scaled back in a House committee last week. The new version of that bill would prevent local governments from raising or enacting new impact fees and orders the Legislative Research Committee to study the issue and propose new legislation next session.

That bill passed the House Tuesday in a 99-20 vote.

Meyer proposed a similar amendment for the Orange County bill Tuesday prior to the final House vote, but the attempt failed in a 59-60 vote.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the fees on the Town House Apartments development were imposed by Orange County.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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