The Chesterfield Planning Commission voted unanimously last week to lower fees on residential, office, commercial and industrial conditional-use applications by more than 20 percent. The fees were raised in July to cover a larger share of the planning department’s operating costs.
Under the recommended changes, base fees for residential applications would drop from $5,300 to $2,200. For commercial applications, the base fee would drop from $4,100 to $1,130. Higher fees will still apply to certain commercial uses, such as communications towers, landfills and quarries.
The Board of Supervisors asked the planning department to review the fee increases in light of a sharp decline in the number of conditional-use applications.
County Planning Director Kirkland A. Turner said the volume of applications has fallen more than 50 percent from the previous fiscal year.
“I think the Board of Supervisors realized the fees they set were prohibitive in today’s economy,” Turner said.
Turner attributes most of the decline in applications to the economy, but he said lowering the fees could make it easier for new businesses to get off the ground.
“Rather than find work with another company, many people who are laid off start their own business, and have to operate out of their homes,” Turner said. “By reducing the fees, it will make it easier for those folks to start a new business and hopefully grow the number of residential conditional-use applications.”
To run a business from a home, in most cases a proprietor would have to file for a conditional-use application. Recent requests include for permission to run a kennel, a contractor’s office and a beauty shop in areas zoned as residential.
The lower fees will also benefit the homebuilding industry. Warren Wakeland, head of governmental affairs for the Home Building Association of Richmond, said the reduction will help improve the builders’ cash flow.
“When you help the cash flow, you help the developer make the project work,” Wakeland said.
Wakeland said it is hard to tell how big an impact the fee reduction would have on stimulating new housing, but he said that anything that cuts costs will help builders struggling through the housing slump.
New housing starts have slowed to a snail’s pace in the county. Wakeland said that, based on the number of residential building permits in the first quarter, the projected number of new homes this year will be around 500. Three years ago, the county issued more than 2,200.
“Part of the problem in Chesterfield is the economy, but development hasn’t fallen off in any other county like it has there, and a lot of it is regulation that developers can’t meet,” Wakeland said.
The Board of Supervisors originally raised the fees hoping to recapture 80 percent of the department’s cost for residential reviews, and 65 percent for commercial work. But with fewer applications coming in, fee revenue has declined. Even with the fee increases in place, the department is projected to recover only 13 percent of its costs this fiscal year. That is down 6 percent from the previous fiscal year.
The planning department is anticipating a reduction of $592,200 in the coming year’s budget, part of a $53 million cut countywide. Turner said his department will cut eight full-time and two part-time positions to meet the budget demands. Some of the jobs are vacant and remain unfilled; the remaining positions will be eliminated through retirements and transfers.