Lebanon officials at odds over new development impact fees
By MEGHAN PIERCE Union Leader Correspondent
LEBANON — City planners approved new development impact fees last week to help fund the city’s recreational infrastructure, but the new fees could hinder growth, Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce president Paul Boucher said.
“It’s a deal breaker for companies coming in trying to put a project in and money is tight in the first place and you want to put another imposition on them, especially for a small company,” Boucher said.
Senior City Planner David Brooks and Planning Board member Joan Monroe disagree, saying the new recreation impact fees are based on the square footage of a project, so the fee is proportional to the project.
“It’s all proportional. If it’s a tiny little business, it’s a tiny amount. If it’s large, it’s a large amount. It seems fair to me,” Monroe said.
Boucher said the city doesn’t have an economic development position, so the chamber often meets potential developers first, when they either call or drop by the chamber of commerce for information about Lebanon.
“I’ve often taken people for a ride around the countryside to see what is available,” Boucher said.
The chamber works hand in hand with city officials to encourage and enhance the city’s economic vitality, he said.
He supports city recreational projects like the current $2.5 million Mascoma River Greenway project that the new fees would help fund, but said that based on his experience with businesses looking to come to Lebanon, the new recreation impact fees that range from 5 cents per square-foot for nursing homes to 18 cents for offices and commercial services would be an impediment to prospective businesses.
A 100,000 square-foot office and commercial development would incur $18,000 in fees, while the same size retail and restaurant complex, would be charged $11,000.
“It’s substantial and we have enough issues in Lebanon that do not encourage growth with the number of projects we have going,” Boucher said.
Brooks said residential development impact fees that were enacted in 2010 are higher.
Residential development is charged recreation impact fees at 67 cents per square foot for single family homes and 92 cents per square foot for all other housing units. The city also charges a school impact fee to residential development and police department impact fees to residential and business development.
“It’s a pretty small amount. It’s five cents to eighteen cents per square foot, where the residents are paying sixty-seven to ninety-two cents per square foot,” Brooks said.
Brooks and Monroe both said it makes sense to charge the recreation impact fees to business development since they city’s recreation facilities are for workers who live outside of the city as well.
Monroe added well-maintained and extensive recreational facilities in a city are attractive to prospective businesses as well as employees.
“There are lots of businesses who have employees that do a lot of exercise either on their lunch hour or after work or ride into work on bikes. People use the rail trail and other trails and mountain biking trails,” Monroe said.
The new recreation impact fees could fund a variety of recreation projects in the city. Efforts are currently underway by the recreation committee and volunteers to raise money to complete the Mascoma River Greenway project that completes the last four miles of the northern rail trail and connects downtown to West Lebanon, Brooks said.
The plan is to pave the path, making it a smoother and quicker path for cyclists, as well people using strollers and wheelchairs, Brooks said.
“We hope it will be attractive to incoming residents and workers and visitors,” Brooks said.
He said the new recreation impact fees would supplement funds raised for the project.
“We have lots and lots of trees here, large sections of the greenway are in total nature. You are not seeing buildings, you’re not seeing highways. It really quite delightful,” Monroe said of the greenway.