Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Fees cut again for land use permits

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Thursday, December 06, 2007

Palmer -- The fees adopted for mandatory land use permits were reduced again Tuesday night by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly. Previously the Borough Planning Commission had cut the proposed fees in half.

"We made our best estimate possible of what we thought it would take to process the permits. It's not our objective to recover 100 percent of the costs," said Borough Manager John Duffy.

The fees were developed by analyzing the processing fees of similar communities in Alaska and other parts of the country.

Assembly Member Cindy Bettine, of district 5, sponsored an amendment to further reduce the proposed fees. Among the amendments: reducing the fee for a new cabin from $50 to $25; reducing the fee for a residential addition from $100 to $50; reducing the fee for new construction for a category that includes up to four dwellings from $150 to $50; and removing the distinction of size and differences in cost for both commercial and industrial buildings. That flat fee would be $150.

Bettine said she wanted to start out the fees low in the new program. "We have to remember all these people are paying property taxes and paying for planning efforts. Let's start out small," Bettine said.

Deputy Mayor Lynne Woods said she, too, understands that the goal is not to assess fees. "But to make sure land use regulations are being followed. And at the same time to know if there needs to be roads in the planning scope, and where the schools need to be," Woods said.

The amendment passed unanimously.

The permit will be required beginning March 2008. It applies to any structure greater than 480 square feet. It also applies to additions to structures that are at least 10 percent of the size of the structure and result in a gross floor area greater than 480 square feet. Basically the permit is required for new construction on projects about the size of a two-car garage.

The permits were previously voluntary. But many property owners built structures without knowing the land use rules. Some of the development resulted in serious, costly problems. Among the most extreme cases, a landowner has built a home on his neighbor's property. The house had to be moved at great expense. Commercial businesses have built in the water setback and buildings had to be torn down.

The land use permits will help the Borough to plan for new infrastructure for this growing community. Presently, assessors must drive around to learn where new buildings pop up.

"We'll be able to get a better idea on where development is occurring," Duffy said. "We'll do a better job of planning for our road network. We'll be able to predict where traffic is going and coming from and do a better job of comprehensive planning and economic development planning, because we'll understand trends better. We'll understand where businesses are located and what kind of infrastructure they'll need."

The Borough has begun a public information effort on the land use permit. A total of 110 people attended two open houses that were held in September. More open houses will be offered in the spring. A mass mailing went out to Borough property owners. Already up to 100 phone calls have been answered. Professional luncheons with surveyors, builders, developers, and realtors will be held. An upcoming dedicated web page will allow a property owner to fill out the permit online and submit it. Planning is also proposing a mobile permitting station so staff can be accessible in more remote parts of the Borough. The applications can arrive by mail or can be personally brought in as well.

Depending on the complexity of the application, the permit would be reviewed and could be issued over the counter.

For more information contact the Planning Dept. at (907) 745-9556.