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Cities delay fees to boost building

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Sunday, March 01, 2009
SPRINGFIELD In an attempt to boost residential building, the Springfield City Council in January approved a new program that authorizes it to defer all planning, building and systems development fees for builders until final occupancy permits are secure. Then in February, after hearing the testimony of the Homebuilders Association of Lane County, developers and business owners, the city decided to go one step further and offer the deferral of the transportation system development charge, which requires builders to cover the cost of wear and tear on roads damaged by their development. The city had previously planned to nearly double the fee.

“We wanted to help stimulate the housing market,” says Springfield development services director Bill Grile. “The deferrals are just some of the things on the table to help those who want to build new homes.”

Springfield acted fast. But it wasn’t the first and it may not be the last city to offer such incentives. Bend began offering similar deferrals almost a year ago, but not one builder applied for them, says Bend community development director Mel Oberst. “The problem is that the housing industry [in Bend] is bankrupt,” says Oberst. “We’ve got 1,300 finished homes sitting vacant.” Grile is more optimistic. Within a week of the program going into effect, two builders had filed for Springfield’s deferrals. Portland has similar plans in the works: It’s looking to consolidate permitting functions, which would streamline the permit process, making it more cost-effective for the customer, according to spokeswoman Alisa Cour.

Local builders see Springfield’s deferral program as an act of goodwill and are happy that the city has taken a leadership role, says Laura Potter, director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Lane County.

To ensure Springfield recoups its fees, the city will retain liens on all properties until the fees are paid in full. Each builder must apply for deferrals by Oct. 15, and each is allowed up to six single-family or duplex housing units. The city council will meet again before the deadline to discuss whether or not an amendment to the deferrals is necessary.

For now, the reality remains unchanged. “There’s no financing for the commercial market, and no demand for the residential market,” says Oberst.     CHRIS MILLER

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