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Leopold seeks to phase in housing impact fees

The Baltimore Sun

After wrangling for nearly a year over development impact fees that supporters say are vital to pay for schools, roads and other services, County Executive John R. Leopold announced a new plan Tuesday aimed at easing a difficult business climate for builders and developers, providing a 20-month reprieve from new fees that could spark hiring and avoid layoffs.

Leopold, who calls the plan an economic stimulus, says phasing in the fees would allow the construction industry time to recover from an economic downturn that has brought development to a virtual standstill in recent months.

"This represents as fair and balanced a compromise as this administration can put forward," he said. "And it will provide an economic and employment boost in the process."

Leopold and other supporters say the county has little choice but to impose fees paid by developers to cover the cost of infrastructure created by new residents and increased traffic. According to county officials, road construction costs have risen 150 percent since impact fees were raised eight years ago. During the same period, school construction costs have gone up by 165 percent.

"The idea is to raise the fees gradually for 20 months on most projects," said Alan R. Friedman, Leopold's top staffer. "This issue has been a moving target for nine months, since January and February. We've put in something we heard from contractors who are hurting, something that could help some businesses avoid layoffs."

Builder Eric M. Devito said he had not read Leopold's proposal closely, but he thinks it could spur work for the construction industry.

"Our position hasn't changed," Devito said. "Our industry is in a bad situation. It's as simple as that."

The bill, including Leopold's latest amendment, must be voted on Monday night, officials said. If approved, the measure would take effect 45 days after the council meeting.

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