County proposes building fee cuts for homes, stores

Battered land values likely will allow most developers to pay significantly lower building fees throughout Stanislaus County, according to a new proposal.

The county has been reviewing its development fees for the past year, and officials were poised to increase most of the charges in June before builders, manufacturers and some cities complained.

This version lowers fees for new homes, stores and offices, while it increases charges for warehouses and gas stations.

County leaders scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday to review the plan, but its most expensive component will be delayed again because of arguments from outlying cities.

Predicting impacts is difficult because officials are not going to discuss fees for future road projects, the most costly and controversial aspect of the evolving plan.

Aside from roads, development fees pay for county buildings, vehicles and equipment for animal control, mental health services, the sheriff's department and more. Builders in a given city pay a county development fee as well as the city's.

Tiered fees still possible

A two-tiered approach to charging county fees in the June proposal -- one for projects north of the Tuolumne River and another for those to its south -- disappeared in the past nine months. But it could re-emerge in the next three months as cities negotiate with the county, said Stan Risen, county assistant executive officer.

Some cities objected to the latest formula dedicating much of the new-road fees to the North County Corridor, a future expressway linking Highway 99 in Salida to Highway 108 east of Oakdale, running north of Modesto and south of Riverbank.

Newman threatened to become the only one of the county's nine cities to terminate its agreement to collect and send development fees to the county, according to a draft letter dated Wednesday, before the county agreed to table the fees' transportation component.

Newman objected to 76 percent of fees being earmarked for the North County Corridor plus improvements to two north county interchanges on Highway 99.

"These projects will have minimal, if any, benefit to Newman businesses and residents," the letter reads.

Patterson leaders noted that a new fast food restaurant could save $46,000 by building just outside the city limit, while the same number of vehicles likely would travel Patterson's streets to get there.

Turlock awaits next phase

Waterford said small outlying cities would be punished by being forced to collect fees from new stores. The county's logic links shoppers' vehicle trips to the cost of building new roads, while the city contends that new stores in Waterford would reduce shoppers' need to drive to Modesto or Oakdale.

Turlock was happy with the latest version, despite its focus on the North County Corridor, Mayor John Lazar said, because later dollars would go to a South County Corridor linking that city's industrial area to Interstate 5 near Patterson.

In the current stagnant building climate, Risen acknowledged that the county, by immediately adopting nonroad components, isn't likely to capture many new development fees in the next three months. On the other hand, there is no good reason to delay the 11 other components, which have generated much less controversy, he said.

Leaders will not drop fees to stimulate building, as the county and Modesto did during the last economic downturn, Risen said.

"They're coming down because that's all that can be legally justified," he said, pointing to land values as the primary driver.

For example, the June version lists downtown Modesto values at $2 million per acre, compared with a new study showing a $958,300 value per acre.

Tuesday's meeting of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.