Big-Time Builders Insist Proposed "Effective Business Strategies" Are Quite the Opposite

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Earlier this month, the city council's Economic Development Committee was briefed on something called "Effective Business Strategies to Support Sustainable Growth." Translated, that means hiking building inspection fees in order to "recover the true costs of delivering services to our customers" -- to the tune of $169,925 in the coming fiscal year, according to the briefing doc's tally of proposed fees.

But a group of developers associated with the North Texas Commercial Association of Realtors and Real Estate Professionals -- among them Chad Cook, president of Ross Perot Jr.'s Hillwood Investment Properties; Manny Ybarra, chair of The Real Estate Council's Government Affairs committee; and Carol Longacre of the Home Builders Association of Greater Dallas -- don't think much of the hike in fees. So much so that yesterday, they sent Mayor Tom Leppert, the city council and City Manager Mary Suhm a missive in which they say it's a bad time for a price hike -- considering that "for the past year, we have heard from our members about their frustrations with the level of service provided and the delays in permitting."

They also write that the new fees "seem high when compared to our surrounding municipalities, and we are concerned about the impact they could have on deterring economic development in the City of Dallas."

The entire missive follows, but one of the chief concerns deals with the hike in costs for permits involving work on homes in historic districts. Right now, it costs nothing for a permit review -- and that's for a very good reason, says preservationist Virginia McAlester.

"In historic districts we're asking people to do so much more than they have to do in other parts of the city," she tells Unfair Park. "Before they change their paint color, before they change their planting bed, they have to file a Certificate of Appropriateness. And because people have to do extra paperwork and visit with the city, we're not going to charge them. People in historic districts are providing a valuable service to Dallas at their expense -- keeping up our history and keeping with our rules."

RIght now, there's some confusion over what the proposal is. Per the briefing, there will be a "building permit surcharge for performing review" that will run "10% of valuation." McAlester asked Carolyn Horner in Sustainable Development to clarify -- which she did yesterday, twice. McAlester provided two e-mails from Horner, the first of which said the permit fee is based upon the value of the work listed in the paperwork: 10 percent of the value of the proposed work." Meaning, if you're having $50,000 worth of work done to your historic house, the permit review will run you $5,000.

That's what preservationists fear. But Horner -- who could not be reached by Unfair Park this morning -- sent another letter explaining that the 10 percent refers to the permit fee itself, which is set by building inspection based upon the amount of work that'll be done. So, a $500 permit will cost $50 -- which, McAlester says, "is more reasonable."

Nevertheless, she says, it still shouldn't cost anything. After all, she reiterates, historic-home owners have to jump through enough hoops as it is. Adding another fee to the process goes against the very rationale that eliminated fees in the first place.

Bob Stimson, a former council member and president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, also signed the letter to City Hall. And even after meeting with city officials, he's unclear: Is it 10 percent of the work, or 10 percent of the permit? "Because the way I read it, if you're going to do a $50,000 improvement to your house, that's a $5,000 fee," he says. "Sorry, but that doesn't make sense."
Letter to Mayor Concerning Hike in Permit Fees

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