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Message - comments on intended land use fees amendment
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Posted by  Kevin Matthews on August 14, 2002 at 16:46:30:


Jan Childs, Planning Director
City of Eugene

Dear Jan,

These are comments on the "Notice of Intended Amendment of Land Use Application Fees", publication date July 30, 2002, which are due today. I am very concerned, and indeed opposed, to the proposed three- to six-times and even greater increases in appeal fees for planning director decisions on subdivisions and partitions.

First I'd like to thank you for the information you have provided in response to inquiries regarding the background of the proposed dramatic increase in certain appeal fees.

It is clear that there is established policy direction in Eugene for increased cost-recovery for land use applications. The original application fees are typically a proportionally small business expense for well-funded developers who typically expect to make a proportionally large profit.

It is not at all clear that the same cost recovery policy applies to appeal fees, which may or may not be set low by state law, and which are typically brought by parties who have little or nothing to gain economically, no business interest to write off expenses against, and minimal funding.

On the other hand, there is also established clear policy direction in Eugene for supporting public involvement in land use planning processes. The city makes ongoing investments in such involvement which far outweigh the small potential revenue from the proposed appeal fee increases.

Nearly all the fees in the proposed new schedule represent reasonable-seeming 5% increases. But buried deep in the schedule, on the bottom of page 4 and the top of page 5, are two items that would increase the fees for appeals of planning director decisions (on subdivisions) by some 300% for affected neighborhood organizations, and by some 600% for anyone else.

These increases are presented as a change from a $250 flat fee, to 25% of the original application fee for appeals by the neighborhood, and to 50% of the original fee for general parties. Since subdivision application fees (for instance, the proposed $3,245 plus $25 per lot) can easily top $3000, the new fees can therefore be $810 or $1620, respectively, or even much more.

Such a dramatic increase in appeal fees for planning director decisions, which could make it much more difficult for a neighborhood to get to the first public hearing on such matters, would seem to represent a significant new policy choice in itself.

For the record, this seems to approximate the recent history of the appeal fee levels:

pre-1991 - appeal fees = $0 for neighborhood, $0 for general party
1991 - appeal fees = $150 max for neighborhood, $300 max for general party
1993 - appeal fees = $225 max for neighborhood, $450 max for general party
1999 - appeal fees = $0 for neighborhood, $250 max for general party

2002 (proposed) - appeal fees = $810+ for neighborhood, $1620+ max for general party

Is the public notice in error where it lists the current appeal fee for the affected neighborhood as $250? According to the history you sent by email, as shown above, it appears the current neighborhood fee is actually $0.

I do not see how established public involvement policies can be rationalized with the proposed appeal fee increases.

Given the lack of a written legal opinion supporting the novel theory behind the fee increases, it would be prudent and appropriate for the City to either grant an extension of time to comment, or simply drop the contentious proposed increases for selected appeal fees.

And unless the citizens of Eugene are provided reasonable documentation of the basis for these fee increases, administrative, legal, (and political?), the small amount of additional potential revenue to be gained is likely to be lost in avoidable litigation. The predictability of such litigation in itself seems as a practical matter to render moot the cost recovery argument.

It is disturbing to see such a barrier to public participation in land use processes promulgated through a mid-summer administrative notice by an acting City Manager, without documented basis. Whatever level of fees are continued or established, they stand between citizens and neighbors and their very first opportunity to have a public hearing on a disputed subdivision.

On balance, an ill-timed, possibly inaccurate, and surely inadequate public notice should not be used to throw the weight of subdivision and partition appeal fees all in favor of cost recovery policy, and all against public participation and government access policy.

Even if state law does allow these fees to be raised far out of proportion to other related appeal fees, as I must dispute, should the City raise these fees? Overall, the city is far from achieving full cost recovery in land use application handling. What is the moral justification for singling out these particular fees for disproportionate treatment? "We can," is not enough.

For all these reasons, and still-open questions, please do not raise the fees for "Land Use Appeal of Planning Director Decision, Subdivision and Partition."

Respectfully,

Kevin Matthews
President, Southeast Neighbors


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Kevin Matthews, matthews@artifice.com
Southeast Neighbors - http://www.SoutheastNeighbors.org
Friends of Eugene - http://www.FriendsofEugene.org
541-345-7421 vox, 541-345-7438 fax, PO Box 1588, Eugene, OR 97440
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