By Karen Cimino Wilson
A soft economy has pushed one local developer to ask the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners to reconsider its rules regarding fees designed to offset the cost of building new schools.
Joe and Scot Collins, a father and son team who plan to develop an upscale 69-home subdivision called “Wyndham Estates” on Old Camden Road in Midland, asked to pay the fee when they have actually sold lots and are ready to start construction.
The county requires developers to pay the fees up-front when their plans are first approved. That means developers must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars before they know if they can sell the lots.
“It’s making a lot of projects now almost impossible, because your property has to be appraised to get the money. With the economy worsening, it can’t get appraised,” Scot Collins said. “It’s great for the county, but it just about puts the developer out of business.”
Wyndham Estates is expected to push the capacity at Bethel Elementary School over 110 percent, which is considered the maximum capacity by Cabarrus County Schools. Bethel is at about 78 percent capacity now, but will be at 117 percent after the project is completed.
Under the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, adopted in 2004, the Collinses will have to pay $4,034 per lot in Wyndham Estates, or $278,346 total, to help pay for schools.
Scot Collins said he was lucky to lock in the $4,034 fee when he started planning for the subdivision in 2007. But the fee is now $8,617.36 per single family home, and commissioners are considering raising it to $9,279.
“At $8,000 a lot, this subdivision could not have been done in this economy or even a better economy,” he said. “In order for the developer to afford that, the owner has to take less than they want for their land. If they can’t, it’s no good.”
Wyndham Estates was first planned with homes ranging from $400,000 to $600,000, but that may have to come down because of the economy, Collins said.
Cabarrus County enacted its Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance in 2004 to help pay for new schools. The county has spent $262 million in the last 10 years to build 16 public schools because of the area’s rapid growth. About 25,000 new single-family homes have been built in Cabarrus since 1998.
As of July, the county had collected about $5.2 million from the mitigation payments for new school construction, according to county records.
County commissioners agreed to allow the Collinses to pay $44,374 for 11 lots now while commissioners reconsider their stance on when fees are collected and when to collect the remaining $233,972 for Wyndham Estates. The county also recently tabled a vote to raise the fees because of the weak economy.
Commissioner Bob Carruth said he wanted to wait to vote because he wants to learn the outcome of a lawsuit against the county regarding its Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.
Scot Collins said Wyndham Estates is planning for a three-year build out, but in reality the project could take up to eight years to complete with the current housing market.
Nationally, builders started construction on 550,000 new single-family homes in December 2008, about a 45 percent decline over December 2007 when construction began on one million new homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Commissioner Grace Mynatt said she believes the fee should be charged when developers apply for building permits.
“It makes a lot more sense to put it at permitting,” Mynatt said.
Mynatt earlier this year also questioned whether the fee should be increased this year since the housing market and economy are in such bad shape.
Cabarrus County Schools is slated to receive funding in fiscal year 2009 to replace A.T. Allen Elementary School, providing relief to both A.T. Allen and Bethel elementary schools. There are also plans to build a new elementary school south of Harrisburg in 2013. That project will relieve crowding at Bethel and Harrisburg elementary schools.
Wyndham would also impact C.C. Griffin Middle and Central Cabarrus High schools, but school improvement plans for 2008-09 will keep those schools from going over capacity, according to school officials.
Commissioners are expected to review the school facility fee increase and the rules for when it is collected at their next meeting in February.
• Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.