Clark County extends traffic impact fee freeze

Commissioners hope break for developers will help protect housing recovery

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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Clark County commissioners say they hope to protect the housing recovery by again extending a freeze on residential traffic impact fees that reduces them by half in some cases.

The freeze was adopted as a post-recession emergency measure. The commissioners have approved the extension each year since 2010. On Tuesday, they voted 3-0 to do so for another year.

The freeze applies to housing developments that received preliminary approval between 2004 and 2011.

"The rate of development out there is very healthy," Commissioner David Madore said. "Hopefully, locking the rate in will be another incentive."

The freeze on traffic impact fees for residential construction — one-time charges that help pay for the infrastructure needed to serve growth — was a companion to a fee holiday for business development.

Before the residential fee freeze, if a developer subdivided property but didn't file building permits within three years, traffic impact fees were recalculated under the current rate. With the freeze, even if more than three years elapse, the builder still pays the lower rate from the year the development received initial approval.

Say a developer subdivided land in Mount Vista for houses in 2005, but never started construction. If the developer wanted to build today, thanks to the freeze, the traffic impact fee would be at the 2005 rate of $3,043 instead of the current $6,795.

"The decision was made not to punish those builders for being stuck in tough times," Commissioner Steve Stuart said.

Traffic impact fee rates went up substantially in 2007, based on a projected spike in development. The fees have been adjusted for inflation each year.

The county's anticipated update of its comprehensive land-use plan will account for the slower growth actually experienced, and is likely to lower traffic impact fee rates, said Mike Mabrey, a county planner.

Stuart asked him how many vacant lots are still languishing.

"I can't tell you, "Mabrey replied. "I would imagine it's a considerable number"

Even though they don't know for sure how many housing projects remain in the pipeline that might take advantage of the lower fees, the commissioners figured it was a good bet to extend the freeze at least through 2014.

"This gives us an opportunity to do our homework," Stuart said.