Combatants in the battle over Oro Valley’s development impact fees have dropped the gloves.
Some town leaders say they plan to go forward with higher fees, while the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association has threatened to sue the town if the raft of increases gets passed.
“We’ll probably end up in legal battles,” SAHBA President Ed Taczanowsky said last week.
The Oro Valley Town Council on Sept. 3 could vote to approve news fees to pay for parks, libraries and police services.
The council also plans to consider increasing existing fees for roadways and water connections.
All told, impact fees would total nearly $14,000 for every new house a developer might build in town.
SAHBA leaders said they spoke with their lawyers, who in turn compiled a list of examples of how the Oro Valley study’s recommendations run afoul of state law, Taczanowsky said.
But the group won’t release the findings to the public, at least not until its lawyers first file a claim against Oro Valley.
“I’m not concerned,” Oro Valley Town Manager David Andrews said about threats of litigation.
If the group decides to sue, then it would have some legal grounds for doing so.
In the 1990s, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona won a lawsuit against Apache Junction over an impact fee charged to build a public school.
The state Supreme Court found that the city could not charge the fee because, according to state law, public schools do not fall under a city’s responsibility.
In Oro Valley, SAHBA leaders contend that officials want to use impact fees as revenge for the group’s support of legislation to reform how towns and cities impose and collect impact fees.
“This is not motivated by need, this is motivated by vindictiveness,” Taczanowsky charged.
Tensions surfaced earlier this year when the group helped write the proposed impact fee reforms.
The law would have kept towns from raising fees even as a developer began work on a project, SAHBA leaders said.
Andrews said the law amounted to a subsidy for the building community.
Gov. Janet Napolitano ultimately vetoed the bill, but in Oro Valley, the tensions linger.
Town officials said SAHBA’s actions attempted to nullify a hard-fought deal the group reached with Oro Valley to phase in an increase to water impact fees over five years.
The town council approved that agreement in June 2007.
“We felt they had not negotiated in good faith with the phase-in,” Andrews said.
SAHBA leaders, though, say the town misread the legislation.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Bee (R-LD 29), offered a clarification that would have exempted water impact fees from the law, Taczanowsky said.
Also in June 2007, the town council hired consulting firm TischlerBise to study whether to raise fees and create new ones.
Completed in April, the study recommends imposing fees for parks, police, library and other general government needs.
SAHBA contends the study’s authors got the math all wrong, calling the document “erroneous.”
SAHBA officials also said that some town council members wouldn’t return their phone calls to discuss impact fees.
“The two new council members don’t have any expertise,” Taczanowsky said. “You’d think they would want to hear both sides.”
SAHBA contends that high impact fees slow economic growth and make homes more expensive.
Councilman Bill Garner disagrees.
“I don’t buy the argument that impact fees will slow growth,” Garner said.
Development creates the need for new infrastructure in the first place, he added.
Impact fees cover the costs development creates and keep a local property tax at bay, Garner contends.
Garner and Councilwoman Salette Latas, both elected this year, refused to meet with SAHBA, Taczanowsky noted.
“I would be a little hesitant to sit down and talk with people who threaten to sue us,” Latas said.
Garner said the same, adding that meeting with representatives of SAHBA to discuss pending ordinances that the group has vested interests in could violate open-meeting laws.
Latas agreed that impact fees provide the town with money for infrastructure like roads and sewers.
But SAHBA officials contend that fees would only hurt the government.
The group says that even a modest decrease in single-family home permits issued in Oro Valley has the potential to cost the town $2.5 million in sales taxes and permits as well as impact fees.
In addition, SAHBA officials say new fees would put the cost of a new home out of reach for first-time buyers.
“It’s the new homebuyers,” Taczanowsky said, “that pay for it.”
OV Impact Fees
If passed, the following fees would apply to a newly built single-family home:
• $2,699 for parks and recreation
• $694 for libraries
• $513 for police
• $389 for various other government needs
• $1,908 for transportation improvements
• $7,749 water*
• Total: $13,952
*Includes two categories of water-related fees.