Portland Planning Board to review impact fee study

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PORTLAND — The associated effects of development could soon cost developers money as city staff moves toward creating a schedule of impact fees.

“We think it is a more transparent and fair way of doing business,” city Planning Director Jeff Levine said May 11 about impact fees he expects to be enacted by the end of the year.

The types of fees and amounts are not yet determined; the Planning Board will hear details of a study done by consultants TischlerBise of Bethesda, Maryland, when it meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 17 in City Hall.

The consultants have been looking at data on city housing, housing units, wastewater use, tourism and daily vehicle trips to help guide how and where fees can be applied and used.

The study cost $69,000, Levine said Monday.

It used projections to forecast the city’s population would be more than 71,000 by 2030, and noted Portland had almost 746,000 overnight visitors and 930,000 daytime visitors in 2016.

Impact fees assessed for development projects are negotiated on a piecemeal basis now, Levine said, although a more encompassing approach was used when it came to approving the master development plan for redeveloping the former Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St.

Levine said an ordinance setting out impact fees can raise revenue for transportation, stormwater and open space projects in the city, with revenue earmarked for specific areas as is already done with the Housing Trust Fund. The trust is funded with fees collected from inclusionary zoning rules.

The revenue would also resemble money set aside from tax increment finance zones, as it would be used for specific infrastructure purposes.

Impact fees would also make the development process smoother as applicants would have a clear picture of what they would be paying when submitting site plan applications, Levine said.

“Certainty is very important to development community,” Levine said. “They can plug into the spreadsheet, and know they need to pay ‘X’ per square foot.”

The fees add an element of fairness, city Senior Planner Nell Donaldson said in a May 11 memo to the Planning Board.

“The system often penalizes the ‘last one in,’ whose development causes an intersection level of service to fail, rather than addressing the incremental impact of all prior developments.”

Donaldson noted impact fees are used in cities that include Burlington, Vermont and Concord and Manchester, New Hampshire.

Locally, impact fees are collected in 10 southern Maine municipalities, including Brunswick, Freeport, Lewiston, Saco, Scarborough and Windham, and applied to funding areas including transportation, sewer, fire departments and open space projects.

In Scarborough and York, impact fees are also used to fund education.

Donaldson noted the current city site plan ordinance allows fees to be negotiated and requires traffic movement permits for developments adding 100 or more vehicle trips.

“Because this process is conducted on a case-by-case basis, it is neither as systematic or predictable as many would prefer,” Donaldson said. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Waterfront development in Portland, seen May 15 from Fore Street, is burgeoning. Impact fees may be enacted for new projects by the end of the year.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.